When the plane carrying Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, fell out of the sky on Wednesday, no one doubted for a moment that Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind it.
CIA director Bill Burns had predicted this weeks ago. On July 20, he told the Aspen Security Forum, “Putin is the ultimate apostle of retaliation, so I’d be surprised if Prigozhin didn’t escape further retaliation for this.”
When Prigozhin rode away a free man after a short-lived mutiny against the Russian military, Burns knew it was only a matter of time: “Putin is someone who generally thinks revenge is a dish best served cold. “
A police officer works at the scene of a plane crash near the village of Kuzhenkino, Tver region, Russia, August 24, 2023. Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner group which led a mutiny against the Russian army in June, was on the list of passengers . OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images
Putin is ruling Russia like the godfather of a crime family, littering the landscape with violent deaths, mysterious illnesses and dubious suicides — more than two dozen, according to the US.
Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy who defected to England, died in 2006 after drinking tea poisoned with a radioactive substance called polonium. It took ten years for investigators to trace the trail back to Russian intelligence agents.
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In 2016, then-British Home Secretary Theresa May said: “The conclusion that the Russian state was likely involved in the assassination of Mr. Litvinenko is deeply disturbing.”
May was Prime Minister when it happened again in 2018. Another defector, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter were nearly killed by nerve gas while sitting on a park bench. Once again the trail led back to Moscow. ““It is now clear that Mr. Skirpal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of the type developed by Russia,” May said.
Martin asked Leon Panetta, the CIA director and Secretary of Defense in the Obama administration, “What does it take to get on Putin’s hit list?”
“He has a very low tolerance level,” Panetta replied. “If you get in Putin’s way, there’s a good chance you’ll die. One way or another, he ultimately takes care of the problem, whether it’s an open window, or poisoning, or it’s some kind of shot in the middle of the night.”
One of Putin’s harshest critics, Alexei Navalny, is currently in prison. Before that, however, he nearly died after being poisoned by the same nerve agent that Putin’s spies used in England.
Martin asked if Putin cared if the finger of distrust was pointed at him. Panetta replied, “In a way, I think deep down he’s proud that people know he’s going to get back at them.”
“His idea of the perfect crime is one where you actually know who did it, but you just can’t do anything about it?”
“That’s spot on,” Panetta said. “In his eyes, that basically makes it clear – to Russia and the world – that he has total control over what’s going on in Russia.”
Editor’s Note: The video in this article has been updated to remove and replace incorrectly identified crash footage.
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Story produced by Mary Walsh. Publisher: Chad Cardin.
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