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24th Feb 2024

Prighozin death shows Putin criminality, EU says

  • Russian president Vladimir Putin (Photo: kremlin.ru)
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The apparent state murder of Russian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prighozin shows Russia is a mafia regime, Germany and other EU countries have said.

"It is no accident that the world immediately looks at the Kremlin when a disgraced former confidant of [Russian president Vladimir] Putin suddenly, literally falls from the sky two months after he [Prighozin] attempted a mutiny," said German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock on Thursday (24 August).

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"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," she added.

Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland made similar comments.

Polish foreign minister Zbigniew Rau said: "We would have great trouble naming anyone who would intuitively think this was a coincidence. It so happens that political opponents whom Vladimir Putin considers a threat to his power do not die naturally".

"We don't yet know the circumstances of this crash. We can have some reasonable doubts," French government spokesman Olivier Veran said.

But in any case, Veran added, Prighozin 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 [the] Wagner mercenary group".

"I don't know for a fact what happened, but I'm not surprised [Prighozin died]," US president Joe Biden also said.

The Kremlin says Prighozin, six other Wagner chiefs (Dmitry Utkin, Valery Chekalov, Yevgeny Makaryan, Alexander Totmin, Sergei Propustin, and Nikolai Matuseiev), and three crew members died in a plane crash on Wednesday.

Prighozin had briefly mutinied against the Russian army in June, marching his troops towards Moscow in a loss of face for Putin.

Russia is conducting an investigation, while its propagandists have gone on TV to shout down what they called conspiracy theories on Russian social media.

"We're not a gang! We are not the mafia! This is not Mario Puzo's book The Godfather. We are a nation of laws!", thundered Russia's top TV anchorman, Vladimir Solovyov, on Thursday morning.

But the mafia comparisons also poured in from Western commentators.

The killing was "an act of slightly delayed revenge, something out of the Godfather series," said Daniel Fried, a former US ambassador to Poland.

"This is because the Putin regime essentially operates according to the logic of a crime syndicate. Putin is the godfather. Prigozhin was a capo who apparently didn't know his place. And in the immortal words of Omar Little of The Wire, 'You come at the king, you best not miss'," said Brian Whitmore, a Russia expert at the US think-tank the Atlantic Council.

It will take Western intelligence sources a while to find out what really happened, noted US general and armed forces chief Mark A. Milley.

But "even on things like this, eventually you figure it out ... Prigozhin was probably at some degree of risk because of the mutiny that occurred two months ago," he added.

In the meantime though, the US and the EU warned that the danger from Wagner group persists, even if its leadership has suddenly perished.

"Right now, for understandable reasons, the media is focused very much on this person known as Mr. Prighozin. But the real threat here is the group, which is an international criminal organisation, and has conducted horrific acts, both on the battlefield and elsewhere," a Pentagon spokesman said.

"We really shouldn't think that Prigozhin's death makes us feel calmer or that it somehow improves the security situation," Lithuanian president Gitanas Nauseda also said.

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