August 26, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Amy Woodyatt, Thom Poole, Adrienne Vogt and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 5:40 p.m. ET, August 26, 2023
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8:45 a.m. ET, August 26, 2023

Belarusian president says he warned Wagner boss Prigozhin to watch his back

From CNN's Alex Stambaugh, Katharina Krebs and Heather Chen

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said he warned Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin twice to watch out for threats to his life.

The Wagner warlord, who led a failed uprising against the Kremlin two months ago, was on board a plane that crashed on Wednesday. The cause of the crash remains unclear.

“The first time was when I phoned him and negotiations (were taking) place while they were marching on Moscow,” Lukashenko told reporters in comments carried by Belarusian state news agency Belta on Friday.

“I told him: ‘Yevgeny, do you understand that you will doom your people and will perish yourself?’ He had just come back from the front. On an impulse he said: ‘I will die then, damn it!”

Warned "in no uncertain terms": Lukashenko said the second time he warned him was when Prigozhin and Dmitriy Utkin, a long-time lieutenant of Prigozhin’s, had come to see him. The Belarusian leader says he “warned them in no uncertain terms to watch it.” Lukashenko did not say when the meeting took place.

The Belarusian president said he suggested to Prigozhin that he could talk with Putin and “guarantee full security” in Belarus if he was concerned for his safety, Belta reported.

“I said: ‘If you are afraid of something, I will talk to President (Vladimir) Putin and we will extract you to Belarus. We guarantee full security to you in Belarus.’ And credit where credit is due, Yevgeny Prigozhin has never asked me to separately pay attention to security matters,” Lukashenko said.

Read the full story here:

5:47 a.m. ET, August 26, 2023

Here's what we know about the incident that likely brought down plane purportedly carrying Wagner boss

From CNN's Eliza Mackintosh, Gianluca Mezzofiore, Benjamin Brown and Katie Polglase

A view shows plane wreckage on fire following an air accident in Tver region, Russia, on August 23. Yevgeny Prigozhin, chief of Russian private mercenary group Wagner, was reportedly listed as a passenger on the private jet.
A view shows plane wreckage on fire following an air accident in Tver region, Russia, on August 23. Yevgeny Prigozhin, chief of Russian private mercenary group Wagner, was reportedly listed as a passenger on the private jet. Ostorozhno Novosti/Handout via Reuters

There is a puff of white and then a plane can be seen falling, a trail of smoke or vapor stretching behind it, descending rapidly against a bright blue sky. The person filming the video zooms in as the aircraft spirals downward out of control, revealing that it is missing a wing.

The footage, published by Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti, appears to show the moments before a private plane purportedly carrying mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin crashed in a field northwest of Moscow, while en route to St. Petersburg.

The evidence: CNN has reviewed flight data and videos, and interviewed aviation and explosive experts, to piece together what happened in the minutes leading up to the crash. The analysis suggests that the private aircraft experienced at least one “catastrophic inflight incident” before it dropped out of the sky. The available video does not show that catastrophic event.

A passenger manifest released by Russia’s civil aviation agency, Rosaviatsia, on Wednesday showed that Prigozhin’s name and that of Wagner’s top commander, Dmitry Utkin, were among the seven passengers and three crew members, all of whom Russia’s emergency services ministry said were killed.

Russian authorities have yet to officially confirm Prigozhin’s death but, acknowledging the crash in public comments on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to him in the past tense.

Rosaviatsia said it had launched an investigation into “the circumstances and causes of the accident.” The Investigative Committee has also launched a criminal probe.

The crash came two months to the day after Prigozhin launched a short-lived mutiny against Russia’s military leadership, posing an unprecedented challenge to Putin’s authority.

The US view: The Pentagon said on Thursday that Prigozhin was “likely” killed in the crash. US and Western intelligence officials that CNN has spoken to believe it was deliberate. Officials said that it was too early to determine what brought the plane down, but that one possibility being explored was an on-board explosion.

There’s been plenty of speculation. But no evidence has been presented pointing to the involvement of the Kremlin or Russian security services in the crash.

Experts interviewed by CNN say that available evidence indicates that the crash was unlikely to have been caused by a mechanical failure. The dramatic descent of the plane, the way that it broke apart in the air and the extent of the debris field point to an explosion, they said.

Read more about experts' analysis of data and video