U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday said he was not surprised by reports that Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin may have died in a plane crash, adding that not much happens in the country that President Vladimir Putin is not behind.
Prigozhin was listed as a passenger on a private jet that crashed on Wednesday evening north of Moscow with no survivors, Russian authorities said earlier.
There was no confirmation that Prigozhin was physically on board and Reuters could not immediately confirm that he was on the aircraft.
“I don’t know for a fact what happened, but I’m not surprised,” Biden told reporters.
“There is not much that happens in Russia that Putin is not behind, but I don’t know enough to know the answer.”
Prigozhin, 62, spearheaded a mutiny against Russia’s top army brass on June 23-24, which Putin said could have tipped Russia into civil war.
Biden and CIA Director Williams Burns spoke separately last month of the potential danger to Prigozhin, although somewhat in jest.
“If I were he, I’d be careful what I ate. I’d be keeping my eye on my menu,” Biden said during a news conference with Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto in July.
“But all kidding aside…I don’t think any of us know for sure what the future of Prigozhin is in Russia.”
Speaking a week later at the Aspen Security Forum in July, CIA Director William Burns said: “I think Putin is someone who generally thinks that revenge is a dish best served cold … If I were Prigozhin, I wouldn’t fire my food taster.”
Prigozhin’s June mutiny was ended by negotiations and an apparent Kremlin deal that saw him agree to relocate to neighboring Belarus. But he appeared to move freely inside Russia after the deal nonetheless.