June 13, 2024

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said fragments of a hand grenade were found in the victims who died in a deadly August plane crash that killed 10 people, including Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Putin said the crash investigation was not yet complete, but there was no “external influence on the aircraft.”

Speaking at a foreign policy think tank forum in the Russian city of Sochi, Putin also said cocaine and “lots of cash” were found near the debris of the plane.

The Kremlin has denied any role in the plane crash but said in late August that “deliberate wrongdoing” was likely behind it.

The plane crashed outside of Moscow, killing Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin, a top commander of the private military company Wagner Group, among others.

The U.S. has said Prigozhin’s death is in line with how Putin has acted in the past to take out his enemies.

Officials in the Biden administration also concluded an internal explosion downed the plane, but they have not provided specific details on what may have caused the crash.

Videos showed the plane exploding in midair before debris rained down onto a nearby field, but it is not clear what caused the explosion.

Prigozhin led thousands of Wagner troops against Putin in June and only halted the rebellion after reaching a deal with the Russian president. In the agreement, the mercenary company chief agreed to exile himself in Belarus in return for terrorism charges being dropped.

Putin has since moved to absorb most of the Wagner Group and announced Thursday that thousands of fighters have signed contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defense.

He said it was a “big mistake” to not have these private soldiers under contract before, but he questioned their continued role in Russian affairs.

“Whether we need them or not, we will think about it,” Putin said.

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