Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences on Thursday to the family of Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin after his presumed death in a plane crash the day before and praised him as a “talented businessman”.
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Crash investigators have still to conclusively identify the remains of the 10 people believed to have died in Wednesday’s crash northwest of Moscow, and Putin said the examination would take time.
“As for the aviation tragedy, first of all I want to express my most sincere condolences to the families of all the victims. It’s always a tragedy,” Putin said in televised remarks made during a meeting in the Kremlin with the Moscow-installed chief of Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.
“Indeed, if employees of the Wagner company were there, and the preliminary data indicate they were, I would like to note that these people made a significant contribution to our common cause of combating the neo-Nazi regime in Ukraine, we remember this, we know it and we shall not forget,” he added.
The crash occurred exactly two months after Prigozhin led a mutiny against Russia’s army leadership, a act of rebellion that Putin at the time condemned as a treacherous “stab in the back”.
Putin on Thursday recalled that he had known Prigozhin – a convicted criminal who went on to establish a successful catering company before founding the Wagner mercenary group – since the early 1990s, in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
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“He (Prigozhin) was a talented person, a talented businessman, he worked not only in our country, and achieved results, but also abroad, particularly in Africa. He was involved there with oil, gas, precious metals and stones.”