Cocaine and grenades? Nationalist bloggers scorn Putin's Prigozhin plane crash theory
PHOTO CAPTION: A man places flowers at a makeshift memorial for Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group, while marking 40 days since his death to respect an Orthodox tradition, in a street in Saint Petersburg, Russia, October 1, 2023. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
By Guy Faulconbridge and Andrew Osborn
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian patriotic bloggers on Friday poured scorn on President Vladimir Putin's intimation that mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin's plane was blown up with hand grenades while those on board were high on cocaine and alcohol.
The private Embraer jet on which Prigozhin was travelling to St Petersburg crashed north of Moscow killing all 10 people on board on Aug. 23, including Dmitry Utkin, co-founder of the mercenary Wagner group, four bodyguards and a crew of three.
Putin said on Thursday fragments of hand grenades were found in the bodies of the dead and that investigators had ruled out any external impact on the plane such as a missile.
However Putin said investigators had been wrong not to have carried out alcohol and drug blood tests, given that five kilograms of cocaine had been found by the Federal Security Service at Wagner premises in St Petersburg earlier this year.
Wagner communications channels were silent, but some supporters and patriotic bloggers expressed disbelief.
"So a short summary: the most combat-ready unit in the history of modern Russia was commanded by alcoholics and junkies who, being professional military men, did not know how to handle hand grenades?" said the Children of the Arbat pro-war Telegram channel.
Prigozhin, who banned his men from using alcohol and drugs on pain of severe punishment, died two months after leading a brief mutiny against Russia's defence establishment that posed the biggest challenge to Putin's rule since the former KGB spy came to power in 1999.
Western diplomats say Putin ordered the killing of Prigozhin after the humiliation of the mutiny. The Kremlin has dismissed that unsubstantiated allegation as a lie and said the official investigation has not yet been completed.
"Two heroes of great Russia died in this plane crash, just in case someone forgot, and not druggies," said the Southern Front Telegram channel. "The version about a self-detonation is laughable and a farce."
One Telegram channel which calls itself CHVK posted a sarcastic montage of Prigozhin's own voice saying: "Well of course, we sniffed a load of coke and then threw some grenades about on the plane."
The Grey Zone Telegram channel, which has been unofficially associated with Wagner and has almost 600,000 subscribers, carried a post from a war blogger who said the cocaine that Putin referred to was in fact bundles of washing powder made to look like drugs which state TV had falsely described.
The FSB later returned the bundles of washing powder to Wagner, the post said.
Vladimir Pastukhov, a political analyst, said he believed Putin did not expect people to believe the version of events he had hinted at, but was signalling that Prigozhin and his associates had been "executed by the book" for their mutiny.
"The very choice of the method of execution is not accidental but deeply symbolic. The main victims of the mutiny were military pilots shot down by Wagner's air defence forces. And that is why Prigozhin himself did not just die, but became a 'downed pilot'," Pastukhov wrote on Telegram.
"By putting forward a version of their deaths that is obviously absurd and demonstratively humiliating for the dead Wagnerites and which it is impossible to believe, Putin actually wants no one to believe it. (But) he needs society to understand the hint unambiguously: this is how everyone (who betrays us) will be dealt with."
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Gareth Jones)