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Ukraine live briefing: Russia calls Prigozhin assassination allegations ‘lies’ as speculation continues

A photo of Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner mercenary group, is displayed on an informal memorial in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Thursday. (EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

The Kremlin has dismissed speculation that it ordered the assassination of Wagner’s mercenary leader Eugene Prigojine, calling them “lies”, after Western analysts and officials suggested the crash of a plane listed of the passengers included Prigozhin’s name was likely an assassination planned by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday Western speculation presented the air crash ‘from a certain angle’ – although the crash is also widely viewed by Russia’s elite and Russian society as a whole. as being instigated by the Kremlin, according to analysts and Russian business executives.

Peskov did not directly confirm Prigozhin’s death, saying “all necessary investigations” and forensic examinations should be carried out. In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Brig. General Patrick S. Ryder said Thursday that Prigozhin was “probably” killed in Wednesday’s plane crash, according to an initial US assessment.

Here is the latest news on the war and its impact around the world.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister has slammed President Biden for suggesting that Putin may be behind Prigozhin’s alleged death. In comments published Friday in Russian state media, Sergei Ryabkov said Biden’s remarks illustrated Washington’s contempt for diplomacy. “It is not for the American president, in my opinion, to talk about such tragic events of this nature,” Ryabkov told the Tass news agency. “I’m not surprised” by the plane crash, Biden told reporters. “Not much happens in Russia without Putin behind it, but I don’t know enough to know the answer.”

Yan Petrovsky, a fighter affiliated with Wagner and subject to US and European sanctions, was arrested in Finland on Friday. at the request of Ukraine – which identified him as a key figure in Task Force Rusich, a unit fighting with the Wagners in Ukraine described as a “neo-Nazi paramilitary group” by the US Treasury. “Preparations for the extradition are underway,” Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement posted on Telegram.

An explosion was detected in the plane’s path, but there was no sign of a missile launch, according to U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a preliminary assessment. The initial uncertainty leaves open the possibility that the plane was sabotaged in some way, but what exactly happened to the Embraer private jet remains unclear, The Washington Post reported.

Here’s what we know about the Russian plane that crashed on August 23 and had Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin among its passengers. (Video: Naomi Schanen/The Washington Post)

It is “very likely” that Prigozhin is dead, although there is no “definitive proof”. British Ministry of Defense said Friday. “Very likely” means that the ministry estimates that the probability that he is dead is between 80 and 90 percent. “Prigozhin’s disappearance would almost certainly have a profoundly destabilizing effect on the Wagner Group,” the ministry added.

Putin praised Prigozhin in his first remarks since the crash. He called Prigozhin a “talented man” who “made mistakes” and praised the Wagner Group’s work in Ukraine and Africa, in televised comments on Thursday. However, Putin did not explicitly confirm Prigozhin’s death, instead noting that investigations were ongoing. Pro-Kremlin analyst Sergei Markov said the president’s remarks were aimed at stemming speculation in Russia that he ordered the killings.

President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky talk on the occasion of Ukraine’s Independence Day, and Biden “reiterated the commitment of the United States to support the defense of Ukraine against Russian aggression for as long as it takes.” They agreed to begin training Ukrainian fighter pilots on F-16 fighter jets to “increase Ukraine’s defensive capabilities”, the White House announced Thursday. Earlier, Zelensky said Ukraine was not involved in the crash of the Russian plane.

Norway will supply a number of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, said Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store, without specifying how much. “We have already decided to train pilots of Ukrainian fighter jets and announced this summer that we will provide two Norwegian F-16 aircraft for training purposes,” he said. Norway will later release further details on additional F-16 donations to Ukraine, he added. The United States will begin training Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 jets in Arizona in October, the Pentagon said.

The United States has imposed sanctions on the Russians linked to the forced deportation of Ukrainian children. “Children are the most innocent victims of war: we have not forgotten Ukrainian children,” the State Department said in a statement announcing the new sanctions against more than a dozen individuals and entities.

Heineken announced that it had completed its exit from the Russian market with an expected loss of 300 million euros ($324 million), after having sold its activities in the country to the Russian group Arnest for the symbolic sum of one euro. The Dutch brewer, famous for its beers, said in a statement on Friday that it had planned to exit the Russian market after the start of the invasion of Ukraine in 2022, but admitted that “it took much longer time than we had hoped”.

Ukraine seeks armored medical evacuation vehicles from supporters, Zelensky said, according to his office. Ukrainian medical professionals have struggled to cope with the increase in the number of mine casualties since the counteroffensive began in June.

The Russian Defense Ministry has accused Ukraine of attempting dozens of drone attacks over Crimea. the peninsula that Russia illegally annexed in 2014, although it claimed Russian forces were capable of destroying or intercepting all of them. Russia has blamed kyiv for a series of explosions in Crimea, including attacks on Russian military sites last year. kyiv has not officially claimed responsibility for the attacks, but warned they will continue due to the war.

Prigozhin’s alleged death casts doubt on the fate of Wagner’s operations: The apparent death of Prigozhin and his top lieutenants brought the Wagner mercenary group closer together, report Mary Ilyushina and Francesca Ebel. But the question remains: what remnants of Wagner Putin’s once sprawling empire will he take over?

As an organization, Wagner is “really finished”, said David Lewis, a professor of global politics at Britain’s University of Exeter who has studied the group’s illicit business networks in Africa. Prigozhin would be “impossible to replace”, he said. But the Kremlin will seek to replicate Wagner’s mix of mercenaries, profitable business, smuggling and disinformation campaigns, he added.

Serhiy Morgunov contributed to this report.


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