The plane presumed to be carrying mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin crashed north of Moscow on Wednesday, and U.S. officials are considering various theories about the cause, including a surface-to-air missile. Russian air authorities have confirmed that Prigozhin and his right-hand man Dmitry Utkin were on board, along with eight others. While the U.S. officials believe a surface-to-air missile from inside Russia is the likely cause, they emphasize that this information is preliminary and subject to review. The Wall Street Journal has reported a different theory, suggesting that a bomb or sabotage may have caused the crash. It is not uncommon for there to be conflicting intelligence views in the U.S. government following major international events. Another U.S. official stated that there are multiple theories and no definitive conclusion has been reached. The crash occurred two months after Prigozhin and his Wagner mercenaries staged a mutiny, taking control of a southern city and advancing towards Moscow. President Joe Biden expressed no surprise at reports of Prigozhin’s death, stating that not much happens in Russia without President Vladimir Putin’s involvement. Putin offered condolences to the families of those who died and emphasized the need to await the outcome of the official investigation. Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group, frequently criticized the Russian army’s handling of the war in Ukraine. The Embraer executive jet involved in the crash had only one previous accident in over 20 years of service, which was unrelated to mechanical failure. The Kremlin has used Wagner to expand Russian influence in competition with Western powers. Prigozhin and a Russian company he controlled were indicted in 2018 for funding a propaganda operation to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
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