US President Joe Biden on Wednesday said he was “not surprised” at news that Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group, may have died in a plane crash in Russia.
“I don’t know for a fact what happened, but I’m not surprised,” Biden said.
“There’s not much that happens in Russia that (President Vladimir) Putin is not behind,” Biden told reporters after taking an exercise class with his family near Lake Tahoe.
“But I don’t know enough to know the answer” of what may have happened to the powerful former Putin henchman, he said.
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Prigozhin’s name was on the passenger list of the aircraft, which crashed northwest of Moscow, according to Russian state media.
The crash came two months after he launched Wagner on a short-lived rebellious march on Moscow, aiming to force the removal of the country’s military leadership.
Last month in Helsinki, Biden jokingly warned that Prigozhin, whose elite Wagner force has played an important role in the war on Ukraine, should watch his step after his abortive rebellion.
“If I were him, I’d be careful what I ate. I’d keep my eye on my menu,” Biden said.
White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson also said Wednesday that no one should be surprised about Prigozhin’s sudden death, if confirmed.
She pointed to the June uprising and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The disastrous war in Ukraine led to a private army marching on Moscow, and now – it would seem – to this,” said Watson.