Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday August 25, 2023
From Russia with Putin Love
Russian President Vladimir Putin has conveyed his condolences to the family of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of a mercenary group known as Wagner, following a plane crash that resulted in no survivors. The crash occurred two months after Prigozhin led a mutiny against army leaders. Putin’s comments suggest a complex mix of emotions regarding Prigozhin, as they mark the most definitive statement on the incident. The only prior official statement came from aviation authorities confirming Prigozhin’s presence on the ill-fated plane.
Russian investigators have initiated a probe into the crash, but the cause of the plane’s sudden descent northwest of Moscow remains unknown. The identities of the 10 recovered bodies have not been officially verified. U.S. officials are exploring various theories for the crash, including the possibility of a surface-to-air missile.
Prigozhin’s presumed demise initially appears to bolster Putin’s short-term position by removing a prominent figure who had challenged army leadership and potentially undermined Putin’s image. Yet, Prigozhin’s absence also deprives Putin of an astute player who had furthered Russian interests in conflicts such as the Ukraine war and in Africa.
The reactions of Wagner’s fighters, some of whom have voiced concerns of betrayal, remain uncertain. Putin has pledged a thorough investigation, acknowledging that preliminary data indicate Prigozhin and other Wagner employees were aboard the downed aircraft. The passenger list implies that the core leadership team of Wagner accompanied Prigozhin and suffered the same fate.
While Putin offered condolences and recognized Prigozhin’s talents as a businessman, he also acknowledged Prigozhin’s flawed character and mistakes. Notably, Putin’s remarks were made during a meeting in the Kremlin with the chief of the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.
In the midst of these developments, a preliminary U.S. intelligence assessment suggests that the plane crash resulting in Prigozhin’s presumed death was caused intentionally by an explosion. This assessment aligns with Putin’s history of silencing critics. However, the specifics of the explosion remain undisclosed.
Prigozhin’s plane crash holds implications for both Russian and international spheres. It underscores the intricate dynamics of power, loyalty, and conflict within the country, while also raising questions about the international repercussions of such events. (AI)