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Berlin notes 'pattern' after Prigozhin's presumed death

August 24, 2023

German top diplomat Baerbock said the mercenary leader's presumed death follows a pattern of "unclarified" fatalities in Russia. She expected Russia to continue its "cynical game" regardless.

People carry a body bag away from the wreckage of a crashed private jet, near the village of Kuzhenkino, Tver region, Russia, Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023.
Prigozhin is believed to have been killed in a private jet clashImage: AP Photo/picture alliance

Germany's top diplomat Annalena Baerbock on Thursday said it was only natural to suspect the Kremlin's involvement in the presumed death of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin , referring to a pattern of "unclarified fatalities in Russia."

Prigozhin was on a private jet that crashed in Russia on Wednesday, Wagner-linked media said.

Russian aviation authorities also said the Wagner Group leader was on the flight, with state media saying all people on board were killed.

"It is no accident that the world immediately looks at the Kremlin when a disgraced former confidant of Putin suddenly, literally falls from the sky two months after he attempted a mutiny," said Annalena Baerbock, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Wagner's Prigozhin presumed dead — is he really?

What did Baerbock say?

Speaking during a press conference with the Kyrgyz foreign minister, Baerbock listed different ways Putin's adversaries have died in the past.

"We know this pattern in Putin's Russia: deaths, dubious suicides, falls from windows, all which remain unclarified — that underlines a dictatorial power system that is built on violence," the German foreign minister said.

The Wagner Group was heavily involved in Russia's fight in Ukraine before Prigozhin's short-lived mutiny in June.

German FM: 'We can't trust official Russian pronouncements'

The mercenary group is also present in various active conflicts in Africa, where the emerging economies bloc BRICS, of which Russia is a member, announced on Thursday inviting new members including two African countries.

"We must fear that Russia, with or without Wagner, will continue with its cynical game not only in Ukraine but above all in Africa," Baerbock said.

"And we must not forget that Prigozhin and Wagner are responsible for horrendous crimes against the Ukrainian people and in one country after the next in Africa."

Other reactions to Prigozhin's presumed death

Putin on Thursday offered his condolences to the families of all the crash victims.

"First of all I want to express words of sincere condolences to the families of all the victims," Putin said, describing Prigozhin as a man who made serious mistakes but "achieved results."

France has said that there was justifiable speculation about the causes of the plane crash that allegedly killed Prigozhin.

 "We don't yet know the circumstances of this crash. We can have some reasonable doubts," government spokesman Olivier Veran told France 2 television.

Prigozhin was "the man who did Putin's dirty work. What he has done is inseparable from the policies of Putin, who gave him the responsibility to carry out abuses as the head of Wagner," he said.

An adviser to Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Germany's mass-circulation Bild newspaper that Prigozhin's death was predictable. 

"Prigozhin signed his own death warrant the moment he stopped 200 kilometers from Moscow," Mykhailo Podolyak told the newspaper on Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, President Zelenskyy denied that Kyiv had anything to do with the crash.

"Everyone knows who was involved," Zelenskyy said.

United States President Joe Biden expressed a similar sentiment.  "I don't know for a fact what happened, but I'm not surprised," he said.

While Russia expert Stefan Meister agreed that the death came as no surprise, he downplayed the possibility of the Wagner Group staging an uprising against the Kremlin.

"This is a private army working for money," Meister was quoted by the German DPA news agency as saying.

rmt/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)