Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested on Thursday that mercenary Yevgeny Prigozhin’s fiery death in a plane that went down was due to cocaine and grenades, not a coordinated assassination in retaliation for his uprising, as many suspect.
Prigozhin’s days were numbered the moment he led the Wagner Group—his paramilitary mercenary group—in a short but surprisingly robust uprising against Putin’s military last June. Prigozhin also openly criticized the Russian Defense Ministry, calling the invasion of the Ukraine as more or less a dumpster fire, and saying their reasons for the invasion were lies.
On Aug. 23, an Embraer Legacy 600 business jet crashed near Kuzhenkino in Tver Oblast, about 60 miles north of the Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow, where it departed. Yevgeny Prigozhin, Dmitry Utkin, and Valery Chekalov—three key figures of the Wagner Group—were aboard and killed. Just before flying, Prigozhin was reportedly oddly given permission to leave Russia for Belarus, but that could’ve been a trap. It’s widely believed to have been an assassination.
CBS News reports that “The Kremlin has dismissed suggestions that it orchestrated the crash in revenge for Wagner’s march on Moscow.”
Pressure was building for Putin to provide an explanation, and he did not disappoint. NBC News reports that in a speech on Oct. 5 at the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, Russia, about six weeks after Prigozhin’s plane fell from the sky, Putin spun a “wild tale that drugs and grenades caused the fatal crash,” claiming the plane had 11 pounds of cocaine and grenade fragments. A simple drug test would have proven this, he suggested.
U.S. officials told NBC News that intelligence suggests sabotage is the leading theory for the crash.
“I know there must be a question hanging in the air as to what happened to the company’s top management,” Putin said. “The Investigative Committee head [Alexander Bastrykin] reported to me just the other day that hand grenade fragments had been found in the bodies of those killed in the plane crash.”
“Unfortunately, tests on traces of alcohol or drugs in the blood of those killed were not taken, although we know that after the events we all know about [the uprising] the FSB [Russia’s intelligence agency] found not only 10 billion [rubles] in cash, but also 5 kilograms of cocaine in the Saint Petersburg office” of Prigozhin’s company, Putin said.
Putin denied that any missile or projectile was a factor in the crash.
“There was no external impact on the plane,” Putin said. “This is an established fact, a fact established by the examination that Russia’s Investigative Committee has conducted. The investigation still continues.”
U.S. intelligence agrees no missile was involved, but says Prigozhin’s plane crashed due to an explosive that was intentionally set off on board.
Putin Opponents Tend to Die Horrible Deaths
Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian FSB (the new KGB) spy who defected to England, died in 2006 after drinking tea poisoned with a radioactive substance called polonium-210, “the most dangerous substance known to man.” It’s a rare radioactive isotope that caused him to die a slow painful death. And it’s only produced in Russia.
Litvinenko was loudly against Russian policies and spoke out about it often. Litvinenko said he himself was hired to assassinate Putin’s adversaries. On Nov. 23, 2006, Litvinenko succumbed to radioactive poisoning.
Litvinenko said he was poisoned by Putin despite living thousands of miles away. The Daily Beast reports that even the men who are believed to have allegedly delivered the poison are known. Like Litvinenko’s obvious assassination by poisoning, Prigozhin’s death is believed to be an act of retaliation.
A post on Telegram reads, “A short summary: the most combat-ready unit in the history of modern Russia was commanded by alcoholics and drug addicts who, being professional soldiers, did not know about the rules for handling hand grenades.
“However, the people of Russia will forever remember them differently.”
Putin is not only losing the war in the Ukraine, but also the War on Drugs.
High Times reported that Russia has the highest number of heroin users per capita of anywhere in the world, according to a Brookings Institution review. Over 2% of Russia’s entire population inject drugs. In 2020, a total of 18,013 people overdosed on illicit drugs and 7,366 died as a consequence, which is a 16% increase compared to 2019, a 2022 study found. Injection drug use also led to sky-high HIV rates in the country.
The suspicious deaths of Putin’s enemies aren’t’ helping the country’s image.