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Putin says grenade fragments found in Yevgeny Prigozhin plane crash victims' bodies, cocaine in Wagner office

Vladimir Putin and the suspicious death of Yevgeny Prigozhin
Vladimir Putin and the suspicious death of Yevgeny Prigozhin 03:37

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that explosive traces were discovered in the remains of Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and his crew after their plane crashed over Russia in August. Prigozhin's plane crashed between Moscow and Saint Petersburg in August, two months after he led a brief mutiny against Russia's top military brass.

Putin's comments were the first significant update on Russia's investigation into the crash.

"The head of the Investigative Committee reported to me a few days ago," Putin said at a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club. "Fragments of hand grenades were found in the bodies of the victims of the air disaster. There was no external impact on the plane."

A law enforcement officer works at the site of a plane crash near the village of Kuzhenkino, Tver region, Russia, August 24, 2023. Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner group that led a mutiny against Russia's army in June, was on the list of passengers. OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images

There was no way to independently verify Putin's statement.  

Russian investigators have said they are probing all possible scenarios surrounding the crash, including premeditated murder.

Putin on Thursday criticized investigators for not conducting alcohol and drug tests on Prigozhin and the nine other victims of the crash. He also alleged that 11 pounds of cocaine were found at the Wagner offices after the mercenary group's short-lived rebellion.

"A blood test for alcohol was not done," Putin said. "Even though we know that after the famous events in the (Wagner) company in Saint Petersburg, the FSB (security service) found not only 10 billion in cash, but also five kilograms of cocaine."

Prigozhin led an armed rebellion against Moscow's military leadership in June, in the biggest threat to Putin's two-decade rule. 

After the plane crash, Putin described Prigozhin as a man who had made "serious mistakes in his life but he achieved the right results."

The Kremlin has dismissed suggestions that it orchestrated the crash in revenge for Wagner's march on Moscow.

But Kremlin critics and Western countries have suggested foul play.

"(Putin's) got a very low tolerance level," former CIA Director Leon Panetta told CBS News. "If you cross Putin, the likelihood is you're going to die. One way or another, he ultimately takes care of the problem, whether it's an open window or whether it's poisonings, or whether it's some kind of a gunshot in the middle of the night."

Mysterious deaths of Kremlin opponents under Putin

Putin runs Russia like the godfather of a crime family, littering the landscape with violent deaths, mystery illnesses, and dubious suicides — more than two dozen by U.S. count.

Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy who had defected to England, died in 2006 after drinking tea poisoned with a radioactive substance called polonium. It took 10 years for investigators to trace it to Russian intelligence agents.

"The conclusion that the Russian state was probably involved in the murder of Mr. Litvinenko is deeply disturbing," then-British Home Secretary Theresa May said in 2016.   

In 2018, another defector, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter were nearly killed by nerve agent while sitting on a park bench. Once again the trail led back to Moscow. 

U.S. hits Russia with new sanctions over nerve agent poisoning 03:28

"It is now clear that Mr. Skirpal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia," said May.

One of Putin's most vocal critics, Alexei Navalny, is in prison now. But before that he nearly died after being poisoned by the same nerve agent Putin's spies had used in England.

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