(KUZHENKINO, Russia) — Wagner Group leader Yevgency Prigozhin was “likely” killed in a plane crash along with 9 others near Kuzhenkino, Russia, on Wednesday, the Pentagon said, but there is no indication a surface-to-air missile was the cause of the crash.
“We don’t have any information to indicate right now … there was some type of surface to air missile that took down the plane, that we assessed that information to be inaccurate,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said.
He added, “But beyond that, I’m really just not going to have any further information. What was it, something that came internal from inside the plane? Again, I don’t have any additional insight to provide on that.”
Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his first comments on the mysterious plane crash that presumably killed Prigozhin and the private military company’s co-founder Dmitry Utkin.
His comments were made hours after the bodies of the crash victims were moved to the Tver Regional Bureau of Forensic Medical Examination, ABC News learned.
“As for the aviation tragedy, first of all, I want to express my sincerest condolences to the families of all the victims,” Putin said in an on-camera address, adding that Wagner Group made a “significant contribution to our common cause of fighting the neo-Nazi regime in Ukraine.”
“I knew (Yevgeny) Prigozhin for a very long time, since the early 1990s. He was a man with a complex destiny, and he made serious mistakes in life,” Putin said. “He achieved the results he needed both for himself and, when I asked him, for the common cause, as in these last months.”
He added on the investigation, “But what is absolutely clear – the head of the Investigative Committee reported to me this morning, they have already launched a preliminary investigation into this incident. And it will be carried out in full and to the end. There is no doubt about that here. Let’s see what the investigators say in the near future. Tests — technical and genetic tests — are being carried out now. This takes some time.”
Earlier Thursday, Putin addressed the BRICS summit of leaders meeting in Johannesburg remotely, but made no mention of the crash in his remarks.
Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg — Prigozhin’s home town — dozens of people have been arriving to light candles and drop flowers at a pop-up memorial.
The jet manufacturer that Prigozhin and Utkin were reportedly on has an impeccable record and it was the first recorded crash in the history of the Embraer Legacy 600.
Elsewhere, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made remarks commemorating marking Ukrainian Independence Day and handed out medals to Ukrainian solders.
Among the 10 dead were three crew members and seven passengers, Russian officials said. The seven passengers identified on a flight list were Sergey Propustin, Evgeniy Makaryan, Aleksandr Totmin, Valeriy Chekalov, Dmitriy Utkin, Nikolay Matuseev and Prigozhin. The crew was identified as Cmdr. Aleksei Levshin, co-pilot Rustam Karimov and flight attendant Kristina Raspopova.
The Federal Air Transport Agency said the plane was en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg when it went down near Kuzhenkino.
White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement on Wednesday that officials were watching the reports of the plane crash.
“If confirmed, no one should be surprised. The disastrous war in Ukraine led to a private army marching on Moscow, and now — it would seem — to this,” she said.
Prigozhin was the head of the private paramilitary organization Wagner Group, which played a key role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine before briefly launching an insurrection against the Russian military in June. Forces loyal to Prigozhin marched toward Moscow, before turning back after several days.
ABC News’ Joe Simonetti, Will Gretsky, Mark Osborne, Ivan Pereira and Tanya Stukalova contributed to this report.
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