Russian president Vladimir Putin said leader of the Wagner military group Yevgeny Prigozhin was on drugs when he died in explosion on private jet from Moscow to St Petersburg in August and the crash was caused by hand grenades detonating inside the aircraft.
“Fragments of hand grenades were found in the bodies of those killed in the crash,” Putin told a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club thinktank in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on October 5, the president’s first public comments about the crash.
“There was no external impact on the plane – this is already an established fact,” Putin said, contradicting reports by western intelligence services that said a bomb was the likely reason behind the crash.
Prigozhin and fie other top Wagner officials died when his business jet crashed on 23 August, two months after he staged an armed mutiny on June 24 against Russian military commanders in which his Wagner mercenary troops briefly took control of the southern city of Rostov.
“Unfortunately, no examination was carried out to determine the presence of alcohol or drugs in the blood of the victims,” Putin said. “Although we know … that the FSB discovered not only RUB10bn roubles in cash, but also 5kg of cocaine.” Putin said that there were no private military companies in Russia as there is no law to regulate them but Wagner was created out of “necessity”. He went on to say that the members of Wagner had now signed contracts with the Defence ministry and were part of the regular army now.
The main message of the Russian leader for foreign audiences remains the same as every year; the usual set of anti-American theses with a list of grievances against the West.
Putin reiterated Russia's stance on the war in Ukraine, emphasizing that Russia did not initiate the conflict but launched a "special military operation" in an attempt to halt it.
Putin asserted that Russia had no territorial ambitions in Ukraine, saying Russia was already the world’s biggest country and so doesn’t need more land. He reiterated that Russia's mission is to "build a new world" and pointed the blame at a Western "military and financial pyramid scheme" as the root cause of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
"We are, in fact, faced with the task of building a new world," Putin stated in his speech to the Valdai Discussion Club. He expressed frustration with the perception that Russia's willingness to engage constructively was interpreted as submission.
"Our readiness for constructive interaction was misunderstood by some as submission, as an agreement that the new order will be built by those who proclaimed themselves the winners of the Cold War," Putin remarked. He cautioned that this approach not only leads to a deadlock but also carries a growing threat of military conflict.
Putin criticized the attitude of the West, describing its arrogance as "off the charts." He defended Russia's actions in Ukraine, asserting that it was a response to a war initiated by the Kyiv regime with Western support nearly a decade ago.
The Russian President emphasized the importance of establishing lasting peace, predicated on mutual respect and a balanced global order. He expressed regret that Western counterparts appeared to have “lost touch with reality” and “crossed boundaries” in their approach to relations with Russia. Putin underscored the need for an “open, interconnected, and diversified world where imposing rules on other nations is forbidden.”
“The arrogance of our so-called partners in the West was simply off the charts. The USA and its satellites have firmly taken a course towards military, political, economic, cultural, moral and value hegemony,” Putin raged. “The prosperity of the West was achieved by plundering the colonies for centuries, at the expense of plundering the entire planet. The history of the West is essentially a chronicle of endless expansion. “
“We have to respond to the constant growing military-political pressure. I have said more than once that we did not start the so-called “war in Ukraine.” We're trying to finish it,” Putin added.
Regarding defence policy, Putin announced that Russia would soon commence serial production of the Sarmat strategic missile system and mentioned a successful test of the Burevestnik, a nuclear-powered, global-range cruise missile. The president also said, "no lucid person would ever consider using nuclear weapons against Russia."
On economics, Putin promised that the Russian budget deficit at the end of the year would be 1% instead of 2% -- half the official target of the Ministry of Finance (MinFin). Following the disastrous result of January when the deficit blew out to RUB1.7 trillion, economists were predicting a budget deficit for this year of as much as 3%-4%, with some even speculating it would reach 6%-8%.
Thanks to the recovery of oil revenues in the second half of this year now not only does the 2% target look achievable, it looks like the deficit will be even less.
“Our defence spending has increased, but not just defence, but defence and security. They have approximately doubled - it was about 3%, and now it is about six. To say that we overspend a lot of money on guns and forget about oil is not true. I would like to emphasize that all previously announced development plans, achievement of strategic goals and all social obligations assumed by the state to the population are being fully implemented,” Putin said.
Responding to a question from a representative of Armenia, Putin said that Russia had once proposed a phased resolution plan for a conflict, but Armenia declined. Putin emphasized that Armenia should decide how to resolve the conflict—either with the West or Russia. Western proposals suggest that Karabakh would remain part of Azerbaijan.