Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin was likely killed in the plane that crashed Wednesday about 100 miles from Moscow, the Pentagon said Thursday.
Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the U.S. believes that Prigozhin died but did not comment on the cause of the crash or whether he was slain intentionally.
“Our initial assessment, based on a variety of factors, is that he was likely killed,” Ryder said during a press briefing.
Russia’s civilian aviation agency said Prigozhin was listed as a passenger on a Russian business jet, along with Wagner Group co-founder and commander Dmitry Utkin and eight other people. There has been no other public confirmation of their deaths.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation from Russian authorities.
Independent Russian sources and Wagner-affiliated social media channels have speculated that small explosions in the air — caught on a personal video not confirmed by The Hill — before the plane crashed indicate air defenses shot the jet out of the sky.
The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. officials believe either a bomb exploded on the aircraft or some other form of sabotage downed the plane.
Ryder on Thursday said there is no information to corroborate claims that a surface-to-air missile was fired at the plane but declined to comment on whether an internal bomb exploded.
The crash comes about two months after Prigozhin launched a brief rebellion against Russian President Vladimir Putin, marching with thousands of soldiers on Moscow before halting the advance and exiling himself to Belarus.
In his first comments since the crash, Putin said he had known Prigozhin since the 1990s and that the Wagner boss “had a difficult fate.”
“He made serious mistakes in his life,” Putin said, according to clips of the address. But he added that Prigozhin “achieved the necessary results in his life, both for himself and when I asked him to do so for the common goal.”