Friday Briefing: U.S. Believes Prigozhin Was Killed

U.S. and other Western officials said that preliminary intelligence reports led them to believe that an explosion on board a plane linked to the Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin likely brought down the aircraft on Wednesday, killing all the passengers aboard. The Pentagon openly said yesterday that “it’s likely Prigozhin was killed.”

U.S. and Western officials said the blast could have been caused by a bomb or other device planted on the aircraft, though other possibilities, like adulterated fuel, were also being explored.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia, in his first comments since the jet went down, spoke obliquely of Prigozhin’s death, referring to him in the past tense during a televised meeting. “He made some serious mistakes in life, but he also achieved necessary results,” he said.

Background: Prigozhin founded and led the Wagner private military group, which made significant battlefield gains in Ukraine, before he staged a brief mutiny against Russia’s military leadership in June.

Analysis: Prigozhin’s presumed death is a reminder of all those who have paid a heavy price for standing up to Putin, and of how quickly people can fall from his favor.

Other developments in the war:

Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have been invited to join the BRICS club of emerging nations, strengthening its role as a geopolitical alternative to Western-led forums.

The inclusion of the staunchly anti-Western Iran tilts the bloc — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — more in opposition to the U.S. The move was also seen as a victory for China, which pushed back against the reservations of India and Brazil, which wanted to maintain friendly ties with the West.

When the six new countries join the bloc in January, it will have six democracies, two authoritarian states, two autocratic monarchies and a theocracy.

“The group is going down an uncharted path, with new actors that have varied interests,” said Manoj Kewalramani, a China studies fellow at the Takshashila Institution in India. “It’s going to become unwieldy and, dare I say, more ineffective.”

Here’s what else to know about BRICS’s new members.

Thailand’s neighbors and partners are watching with apprehension as Srettha Thavisin takes over as prime minister, leading a newly formed coalition government mostly made up of parties linked to the generals involved in the last military coup.

Many Thais who voted for change in elections three months ago are now asking why the future is looking so much like the past.

Countries like the U.S. have been largely silent about the process and appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach. But analysts warn that Srettha’s unwieldy coalition could lead to more instability.

Avi Loeb, a theoretical astrophysicist at Harvard University, has been on a single-minded search for extraterrestrial life. His focus has made him famous, yet many in his own field consider him a pariah.

Loeb is far from alone in hypothesizing that we may not be alone in the universe, but what sets him apart is his view that aliens from other planets may have already made their way to us.

Lives lived: Warren Hoge, a Times foreign editor and assistant managing editor who also covered wars and world crises, died at 82.

Known as tiny forests, mini forests and pocket forests, native plants crowded onto postage-stamp-size plots have been delivering environmental benefits around the world. They trace their lineage to the Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, who in 2006 won the Blue Planet Prize, considered the environmental equivalent of a Nobel award, for his method of creating fast-growing native forests.

Pocket forests can grow as quickly as 10 times the speed of conventional tree plantations, enabling them to support more birds, animals and insects, and to sequester more carbon. Their creators say they require no weeding or watering after the first three years. Perhaps more important for urban areas, tiny forests can help lower temperatures in places where pavement, buildings and concrete surfaces absorb and retain heat from the sun.

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