This picture taken on July 4, 2017 shows Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin prior to a meeting with business leaders held by Russian and Chinese presidents at the Kremlin in Moscow. (Sergei Ilnitsky/POOL/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

The Kremlin denounced U.S. allegations that Wagner mercenary group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin was the victim of an assassination that was probably approved by President Vladimir Putin.

“All of this is an absolute lie,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday. While there’s a lot of speculation about the cause of the plane crash that killed Prigozhin, the president is waiting for the investigation results that “will be completed in the foreseeable future,” Peskov said.

He spoke after American officials said early U.S. assessments indicated the plane carrying Prigozhin and other Wagner officials may have been destroyed by a bomb on board while en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg on Wednesday. The assassination was likely approved by Putin, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The UK also is working on the assumption the plane was brought down deliberately, although the exact cause of the crash is still not clear, an official there said. Russia’s investigation appears to be examining the theory of a bomb on the plane, they said.

In his first comments on the crash, Putin said on state TV late Thursday that Prigozhin was a “talented businessman” but “a man with a complicated fate” who “made serious mistakes in life.”

Prigozhin’s downfall came after he led a failed mutiny in June against Putin’s military leaders that threatened the president’s nearly quarter-century grip on power. Putin had denounced the rebellion as “treason,” but Prigozhin had appeared to escape immediate retaliation by the Kremlin under a deal brokered to end the revolt as his fighters came within 200 kilometers (124 miles) of Moscow. Wagner mercenaries fought for Russia in Ukraine, and the company still has extensive operations in the Middle East and Africa.

“The question about whether Putin did indeed issue the order to dispatch Prigozhin is immaterial in terms of its implications,” said Beth Sanner, former deputy director of U.S. National Intelligence. “Everyone will believe that he did so.”

“The risk of insubordination inside the military has disappeared,” she said. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, who were the main objects of Prigozhin’s mutiny, “are wielding more power than ever,” she added.

“The earlier phases of this episode made Putin look weak,” said Eric Green, a former top White House official responsible for Russia and now a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “This probably helps reassert his role as the godfather of the organization.”

Jennifer Jacobs and Alex Wickham

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