Russia-Ukraine war news: Lukashenko says he warned Prigozhin about safety

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said he had warned Wagner Group leader Yevgeniy Prigozhin about his safety at least twice, Belarusian state news agency BelTA reported, as questions remain over the circumstances of the plane crash last week in which he is presumed to have died.

President Biden told reporters that the United States is trying to pinpoint the cause of the crash and added on Friday that he was not at liberty to speak to it yet. He also said he was not surprised by reports that the Wagner Group leader — who staged a rebellion against Russian President Vladimir Putin in June — was killed. The Kremlin has denied widespread speculation that Prigozhin was assassinated on Putin’s orders, and Russia’s Investigative Committee said it had recovered the plane’s black box and that forensic tests were being conducted to confirm the identities of all 10 crash victims.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

Lukashenko claimed he had told Prigozhin that he could guarantee his “full security” by speaking with Putin and extracting him to Belarus, but that the mercenary group leader never took up his offer, according to a report published Friday in Belarusian state news agency BelTA. Prigozhin’s death has yet to be confirmed, but his name was on the passenger list for the Embraer jet before it crashed, Russian aviation officials said.

Evidence does not suggest a simple mechanical problem or human error caused the plane crash, aviation experts told The Washington Post, though they said there is not enough information available to draw a definitive conclusion. Early assessments by U.S. officials suggested the possibility of an onboard explosion.

Three Ukrainian pilots were killed in a midair collision during a combat mission Friday, government authorities said. The two L-39 combat training aircraft collided near Zhytomyr, according to the Ukrainian air force. One of the pilots killed, who had the call sign “Juice,” had described to The Post in April 2022 how Ukrainian fliers were fending off Russian invaders.

At least four people were killed in attacks across Ukraine in the past day, including two in the Kharkiv region, one in the Kherson region and one in the Zaporizhzhia region. One of the victims, who lived in Kherson, was an 83-year-old woman who died after Russian shelling set her home ablaze, the region’s governor, Oleksandr Prokudin, said on Telegram.

A man was killed by a drone while mowing his lawn in Russia’s western Belgorod region, the area’s governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said Saturday.

Four more military officers in Ukraine have been detained as part of an ongoing crackdown on corruption, Ukraine’s Security Service said on Telegram. The four individuals are accused of helping people evade the draft in exchange for money.

Journalist Evan Gershkovich has appealed a Moscow court’s decision to extend his detention through November, according to Russian state news agency Tass. Gershkovich is being held before trial on espionage charges that both the U.S. government and the Wall Street Journal, his employer, say are baseless.

European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis accused Russia of using “grain as a weapon,” Reuters reported on Saturday, and he also urged the country to return to the Black Sea Grain Initiative after it pulled out last month.

Analysis from our correspondents

Prigozhin’s lingering popularity is posing a challenge for Putin: Russians mourning the Wagner Group leader’s presumed death have set up memorials in nearly two dozen cities across the country and in occupied Ukraine in recent days — a sign of the commander’s lingering popularity and a potential challenge for President Vladimir Putin, who is currently facing divisions within the elite and in the military, Robyn Dixon writes.

“Prigozhin, despite declaring loyalty to Putin, put his regime in jeopardy and showed his weakness for which he received the inevitable punishment. I think the elites understood this signal very well,” said Dmitry Kolezev, a Russian analyst and independent journalist who left Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. “At the same time, there is a broader audience of military activists, supporters of the Wagner PMC and Wagner veterans, among whom there is a cult of Prigozhin,” he added.

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