Putin offers condolences following plane crash believed to have killed Prigozhin; Black Sea grain deal talks might resume

This was CNBC's live blog tracking developments on the war in Ukraine on Aug. 24, 2023. [Follow the latest updates here.]

A member of private mercenary group Wagner pays tribute to Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin after their apparent deaths in a plane crash on Aug. 23, 2023.
Vladimir Nikolayev | Afp | Getty Images

Wagner mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally-turned-traitor of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is presumed dead after a private jet carrying him and nine others crashed while traveling from Moscow to St. Petersburg on Wednesday evening.

Russia's aviation authorities have launched an investigation into the crash of the Embraer Legacy 600, which fell precipitously from the sky and burst into flames in the Tver Region near the settlement of Kuzhenkino shortly after 6 p.m. local time. All passengers on board are believed to have died.

The Kremlin has yet to comment on the crash, which is believed to have also killed Wagner co-founder Dmitry Utkin. However, Wagner backers and Western allies were quick to draw a link to Moscow, with U.S. President Joe Biden saying he believed Putin was behind the incident.

Prigozhin led his paramilitary forces in a short-lived mutiny against the Russian government on June 23 following months spent vocally criticizing the country's top brass

The abortive insurrection had led to an apparent deal between Prigozhin and Putin, which was meant to see the Wagner leader and his forces relocate to Belarus, while Prigozhin himself pledged to leave Russia for good.

Meantime, Putin on Thursday hailed the expanded influence of the BRICS coalition following the invitation of six new members to join the emerging market bloc.

Putin offers condolences following plane crash believed to have killed Prigozhin

FILE - Businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, left, shows Russian President Vladimir Putin, around his factory which produces school meals, outside St. Petersburg, Russia on Monday, Sept. 20, 2010.
Alexei Druzhinin | AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued condolences following the plane crash that is believed to have killed Wagner mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Prigozhin, who was once Putin's personal chef and confidant, was in exile following an attempt two months ago to attack the Russian capital over frustrations with the Kremlin's ongoing war in Ukraine.

"With regard to this plane crash, first of all, I want to express my sincere condolences to the families of all the victims. It's always a tragedy," Putin said in a speech.

The Russian leader said preliminary evidence indicates that those on the flight were employees of the Wagner company.

"I've known Prigozhin for a long time, since the early '90's," Putin said. "He was a talented man, a talented businessman. He worked not only in our country — and with result but also abroad," he added, referencing Prigozhin's contracts in Africa.

Putin added that there was an investigation already underway into the explosion that brought down the private jet.

— Amanda Macias

Russia's Lavrov says he will meet UN's Guterres to discuss Black Sea gain deal

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday said he would meet United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres later in the day to discuss the contentious Black Sea grain deal.

Lavrov, speaking at the BRICS meeting in South Africa, also said he did not see signs of the West honoring the part of the deal which allowed Russia to ship its own grain and fertilizer from ports on the Black Sea, Reuters reported.

Russia in July withdrew from the deal, which had provided a key trade route for Ukraine and Russia, blaming the impact of sanctions on its exports.

Guterres subsequently urged Russia to return to the deal as he warned of the impact higher food prices would have on the world's most vulnerable.

On Aug. 11, the Ukrainian navy announced the establishment of "temporary corridors for trading vessels" to and from Ukrainian ports. However, uncertainty remained over how Russia would respond to ships using the routes amid continued tensions.

— Jenni Reid

U.S. believes missile fired from Russia likely shot down Prigozhin plane, sources tell Reuters

The United States believes it is likely a missile originating from within Russia shot down the plane reported to have been carrying Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, two sources told Reuters on Thursday.

CNBC has not independently verified the information. Reuters said the officials spoke on condition of anonymity and said the information was preliminary and under review.

— Jenni Reid

Zelenskyy says Ukraine had no involvement in Prigozhin plane crash

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday said his country was not involved in the plane crash which reportedly killed Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.

"We are not involved in this situation, that's for sure. I think everyone is aware of who is involved," Zelensky told reporters in Kyiv, the BBC reported.

Moscow has not alleged Ukrainian involvement, or provided further comment on the incident.

— Jenni Reid

Russian court extends detention of WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich

US journalist Evan Gershkovich (REAR) arrested on espionage charges looks on as he stands inside a defendants' cage before a hearing to consider an appeal on his extended detention at The Moscow City Court in Moscow on June 22, 2023.
Natalia Kolesnikova | AFP | Getty Images

A Moscow court on Thursday extended the detention of the Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested on espionage charges at the end of March.

During a brief hearing, the court ordered Gershkovich should remain in jail until Nov. 30, Russian news agencies reported. His pre-trial detention had initially been scheduled to expire next week.

In a statement, the Wall Street Journal said it was disappointed with the further extension of Gershkovich's "improper detention."

"We are deeply disappointed he continues to be arbitrarily and wrongfully detained for doing his job as a journalist. The baseless accusations against him are categorically false, and we continue to push for his immediate release. Journalism is not a crime," the statement said.

— Karen Gilchrist

Ukraine conducts 'special operation' in Crimea, defense ministry says

Ukraine's navy and military intelligence conducted a "special operation" overnight in which units landed on the Russian-occupied peninsula of Crimea, the defense ministry said on Thursday.

"In the occupied Crimea, a special operation of the GUR of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine took place with the support of the Navy," the ministry's Main Directorate of Intelligence (HUR) wrote in a post on Telegram.

"Special units on watercraft landed on the shore near the settlements of Olenivka and Mayak," it added.

CNBC was unable to independently verify the reports of the rare ground operation in the region, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

Moscow has previously referred to its invasion of Ukrainian territory as a "special operation," though it was not immediately clear if Kyiv's defense ministry echoed this terminology use.

— Karen Gilchrist

Ukraine had 'nothing to do' with Prigozhin plane crash, Zelenskyy says

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Ukrainian servicemen during a ceremony marking Ukraine's Independence Day, in Kyiv on August 24, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Sergei Chuzavkov | Afp | Getty Images

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday said that Kyiv had "nothing to do" with a plane crash presumed to have killed of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.

"We had nothing to do with it. Everybody realizes who has something to do with it," the Interfax-Ukraine news agency quoted Zelenskyy as saying, according to Reuters.

Western officials have alluded to Moscow's own involvement in the incident.

— Karen Gilchrist

Prigozhin's apparent death follows pattern of 'unclarified' fatalities, Germany's foreign minister says

A view of site after a private jet, allegedly carrying Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin and other passengers crashed in Russia's northwestern Tver region, Russia on August 23, 2023.
Wagner Telegram Account | Handout | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The presumed death in a plane crash of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin follows a pattern of "unclarified" fatalities among Kremlin dissidents in Russia, Germany's foreign minister said Thursday.

"It is no accident that the world immediately looks at the Kremlin when a disgraced former confidant of Putin suddenly, literally falls from the sky two months after he attempted a mutiny," Annalena Baerbock said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin in comments cited by the Guardian from a press conference with the Kyrgyz foreign minister.

"We know this pattern in Putin's Russia: deaths, dubious suicides, falls from windows, all which remain unclarified — that underlines a dictatorial power system that is built on violence," she said.

A government spokesperson for the French government told France 2 television earlier on Thursday that there are "reasonable doubts" about the cause of the plane crash.

The incident came two months to the day after the abortive insurrection of the Wagner group against Russia's military top brass led to an apparent amnesty deal between Putin and Prigozhin brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya on Thursday said that Prigozhin's sudden death destroyed Lukashenko's "facade as a dealbroker."

"His 'security guarantees' were no more than buying time for Putin's revenge. Supporting Belarusians fighting for freedom & helping Ukraine achieve victory is the only way to regional security & peace," she wrote in a post on the X social media platform, previously known as Twitter.

— Karen Gilchrist

What now for Putin after Prigozhin’s apparent death?

A pool photograph distributed by Sputnik agency shows Russia's President Vladimir Putin addressing the audience during a ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of the victory in the Battle of Kursk, a major World War II Eastern Front battle between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, in Kursk, on August 23, 2023.
Gavriil Grigorov | Afp | Getty Images

Prominent Kremlin critic Bill Browder believes the presumed death of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin will shore up President Vladimir Putin's shaken authority, saying the Russian leader "never forgives and never forgets."

His comments come shortly after Russian aviation officials said Wednesday that Prigozhin was believed to have been killed in a plane crash.

Garry Kasparov, another leading Kremlin critic, says that he does not believe Putin will come out of this episode stronger. "When a dictator is reduced to murdering members of his inner circle and fighting with and replacing his own generals, the situation is very dangerous," Kasparov said via X.

Read the full story here.

— Sam Meredith

Norway reportedly to donate F-16 jets to Ukraine

F-16 fighter jet flying during a military parade in Warsaw.
Nurphoto | Getty Images

Norway is set to donate F-16 combat aircraft to Ukraine, Norwegian broadcaster TV2 reported on Thursday, citing unnamed sources.

It did not say how many jets Norway would provide and Norway's Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

If confirmed, Norway would become the third nation to announce donations of F-16 jets to Ukraine, after the Netherlands and Denmark.

Earlier on Thursday, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv and pledged to supply Ukraine with anti-aircraft missiles and mine-clearing equipment but made no announcements regarding F-16s.

The donation includes IRIS-T missiles, portable kits for creating corridors through minefields and equipment used to repair critical electricity infrastructure, according to Reuters reports.

— Karen Gilchrist

Russia scrambles fighter jet to intercept Norwegian military plane, defense ministry says

Russia's Defense Ministry said on Thursday that it had scrambled an MiG-31 jet to intercept a Norwegian military plane over the Barents Sea near the countries' Arctic border.

"To identify an air target and prevent violation of the state border of the Russian Federation, a MiG-31 fighter from the air defense forces of the Northern Fleet was taken into the air," the ministry wrote in a post on Telegram after saying it had identified an air target.

"Violation of the State Border of the Russian Federation is not allowed," it added.

It marks the second such incident in two days, according to the RIA Novosti state news agency.

— Karen Gilchrist

Belarus to host military drills of Moscow-led security bloc in September

Police officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs try to pass qualification tests for the right to wear a black beret at racetrack in Gorani district of Minsk, Belarus on May 30, 2023.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Belarus is set to host military drills for member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Moscow-led security bloc, in September, Russian media reported the Belarusian Defense Ministry's press service as saying Thursday.

"Joint and special drills are planned in the general concept of the Combat Brotherhood-2023 exercise, bringing together the training of various combat parts of the CSTO (Collective Forces)," said the ministry statement cited by the Tass news agency.

The CSTO is an intergovernmental military alliance in Eurasia consisting of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.

— Karen Gilchrist

Putin hails expanded BRICS influence with new invitees

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivering his remarks virtually during the 2023 BRICS Summit in Johannesburg on Aug. 24, 2023.
Marco Longari | Afp | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday praised his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa for hosting the 15th BRICS summit in Johannesburg and for his work to "expand the influence" of the grouping.

Putin addressed the meeting via video link shortly after Ramaphosa announced that the bloc of emerging markets had decided to extend membership invitations to six nations including Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates.

"I would like to thank our South African friends for what they did in the course of joint work, I mean the work on agreeing on declarations. I must note that, as it turned out, this work was not easy," Putin said according to Russian state media RIA Novosti.

"I want to assure all colleagues that we will continue the work that we started today to expand the influence of BRICS in the world. 

— Karen Gilchrist

At least seven people injured in Russian missile strike on Dnipro

At least seven people were injured in an overnight Russian missile strike on Ukraine's Dnipro city that damaged residential buildings and water and gas pipes, the local governor said Thursday.

Among the injured were three men and four women, six of whom were hospitalized, Serhiy Lysak wrote on the Telegram messaging app, according to a Google translation.

"In the middle of the night — powerful explosions in the Dnipro. The enemy hit the city with rockets. One of them was shot down by defenders from the Eastern Air Command," Lysak said.

A transport facility was destroyed in the attack, while a bank, a gas station, a hotel, and an agricultural company were among the other facilities damaged, according to Lysak, who said further details of the destruction were still being confirmed.

Russia did not immediately respond to the claims.

— Karen Gilchrist

Zelenskyy hails Ukrainians as 'free people' on country's Independence Day

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed Ukrainians as "free people" on Thursday as his country marks its independence day.

"Happy Ukraine's Independence Day!" Zelenskyy wrote in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

"The day of the free, the strong, and the dignified. The day of equals. Ukrainian men and women. In our entire country," he said.

"In this fight, everyone counts. Because the fight is for something that is important to everyone. An independent Ukraine."

— Karen Gilchrist

Prigozhin's plane had no issues until final 30 seconds, flight data shows

The Embraer Legacy 600 jet that crashed over Russia's Tver Region Wednesday, which led to the presumed death of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and all nine other passengers on board, showed no signs of problems until its final 30 seconds, according to flight-tracking data.

The aircraft, which was traveling from Moscow to St. Petersburg, made a "sudden downward vertical" at 6:19 p.m. local time, around 30 minutes into its journey, Flightradar24's director of communications, Ian Petchenik, told Reuters.

"Whatever happened, happened quickly," Petchenik said.

In around 30 seconds, the plane plummeted more than 8,000 feet from its cruising altitude of 28,000 feet.

"They may have been wrestling (with the aircraft) after whatever happened," Petchenik said. However, he added that prior to its precipitous drop, there was "no indication that there was anything wrong with this aircraft."

Brazilian planemaker Embraer SA said it had not been providing any service or support in recent years to the plane.

— Karen Gilchrist

Biden says Putin likely behind Prigozhin plane crash

U.S. President Joe Biden has condemned the presumed death in a plane crash of Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Andrew Caballero-reynolds | Afp | Getty Images

U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he was not surprised by the presumed death in a plane crash of Kremlin dissident Yevgeny Prigozhin, adding that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind the incident.

"I don't know for a fact what happened, but I'm not surprised," the president said during a briefing after the crash of Prigozhin's private jet, which was traveling between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

"There's not much that happens in Russia that Putin's not behind. But I don't know enough to know the answer," he added.

Russia's aviation authority, Rosaviatsiya, said Prigozhin and senior Wagner commander Dmitry Utkin were among 10 people travelling on an Embraer business jet that crashed on Wednesday evening.

The cause of the crash was not immediately clear, and the Kremlin has yet to comment on the incident.

It comes two months to the day since Prigozhin and his Wagner paramilitary forces staged a mutiny against Moscow's top military brass in June over what he argued was its incompetent prosecution of Russia's war in Ukraine.

— Karen Gilchrist

Wagner boss Prigozhin killed in plane crash with nine others, Russian authorities say

Wagner mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin is presumed dead after a private jet carrying him and nine others crashed while travelling from Moscow to St. Petersburg on Wednesday evening.
Wagner Account | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The chief of Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is feared dead in a plane crash, Russian state media reported Wednesday.

The aircraft, a business jet, crashed in the Tver region northwest of Moscow, with all 10 people on board killed, according to Russia's state news agency Tass. Prigozhin was on its list of passengers.

The 62-year old paramilitary leader, once a close confidant of Putin's, led a short-lived mutiny against the Russian government in late June after spending months vocally criticizing his country's top brass. His forces, known for their particularly violent battlefield tactics, spearheaded a number of battles for Russia on the Ukrainian front.

— Natasha Turak

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