Russian president, Vladimir Putin has suggested that Yevgeny Prigozhin’s plane was brought down by a hand grenade that exploded inside the aircraft while the Wagner leader and his fellow mercenaries were drunk or high on drugs.
The crash happened weeks after Prigozhin, 62, had led a revolt against the Kremlin.
The Wagner leader was travelling by private jet from Moscow to St Petersburg on August 23rd when it burst into flames.
The executive Embraer jet then plunged to earth, killing Prigozhin, his bodyguards, and other Wagner commanders including Dmitry Utkin.
Shortly after the crash, fingers were pointed at President Putin, who had fallen out spectacularly with Prigozhin over the war in Ukraine.
In an apparent attempt to distance himself from responsibility, Putin suggested the explosion was a result of a hand grenade detonating inside the aircraft by accident.
‘Fragments of hand grenades were found in the bodies of those killed in the crash,’ Putin told the Valdai forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
‘There was no external impact on the plane – this is already an established fact.’
Putin also suggested that the hand grenades could have detonated while they were being handled by Prigozhin or his Wagner mercenaries who were drunk or high on cocaine.
He also claimed that 5kg of cocaine had been found during a search of Prigozhin’s private mansion in St Petersburg earlier this year.
The despot said he thought it was wrong for crash investigators not to conduct alcohol and drug tests on the deceased when their bodies were recovered from the crash site.
‘Unfortunately, no examination was carried out for the presence of alcohol or drugs in the blood of the victims,’ he said. ‘In my view, this should have been carried out, but it wasn’t.’
But former Wagner commander Marat Gabidullin, who left the group in 2019, dismissed Putin’s claims.
‘I don’t believe this. I never noticed any signs that [Prigozhin or Utkin] used drugs. And neither of them drank,’ Gabidullin told The Times.
Western intelligence officials also believe the explosion which damaged the plane in mid-flight was internal rather than external.