Who is Prigozhin? Wagner Group mercenary chief presumed dead in plane crash

Once a businessman with a catering empire pleasant with Vladimir Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin manoeuvred himself right into a place so highly effective that, as Russia’s warfare in Ukraine progressed, he may overtly query his paymasters’ technique.

The proprietor of the Kremlin-allied Wagner Group, the mercenary drive that has fought a few of the Russian navy’s hardest battles in Ukraine – most notably the drawn-out pursuit of Bakhmut – the 62-year-old stepped into his most harmful position but this summer time: preaching open rise up towards his nation’s navy management.

Now, two months after his males’s tried rebellion ended in uneasy peace talks, Prigozhin is presumed dead in a suspicious plane crash simply outdoors of Moscow.

On 23 August, it was reported {that a} personal plane he had boarded was introduced thudering to earth in the Tver area after taking off from the capital en path to St Petersburg, killing 10 individuals on board.

While it has not been confirmed that he was on board, Prigozhin and his deputies Dmitry Utkin and Valery Chekalov have been on the passenger record for the flight.

The “accident” seemed like retribution for the occasions of 23 June, when the Wagner chief lastly escalated what had been months of scathing criticism of Russia’s conduct of the warfare by calling for an armed rebellion to oust Russia’s defence chiefs Valery Gerasimov and Sergei Shoigu.

His males occupied Rostov-on-Don and marched on Moscow, capturing down plenty of navy helicopters, killing their pilots as they superior. Russian safety companies reacted instantly, opening a felony investigation and demanding Prigozhin’s arrest.

In an indication of how severely the Kremlin took the menace posed, riot police and the National Guard scrambled to tighten safety at key services in the Russian capital, together with authorities companies and transport infrastructure, Tass reported. Mr Putin branded the rise up an act of treachery.

Prigozhin urged Russian civilians to hitch his “march to justice” and the scenario remained extraordinarily risky all through the next Saturday earlier than peace talks, seemingly mediated by Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko, introduced the standoff to a peaceable conclusion.

The Kremlin mentioned that to avert bloodshed, Prigozhin and a few of his fighters would go away for Belarus and a felony case towards him for armed mutiny could be dropped.

Yevgeny Prigozhin repeatedly condemned Russia’s common military leaders


Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov revealed {that a} three-hour assembly had taken place 5 days after the mutiny, on 29 June with 35 individuals in attendance, together with Wagner unit commanders, who reiterated their loyalty to their chief.

But confusion subsequently surrounded the implementation of that deal and it was not clear whether or not the mercenary chief ever made it to Minsk.

Before lengthy, he was seen again in his homeland, showing on the Trezzini Palace Hotel in St Petersburg, apparently on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa Summit.

On 5 July, state tv mentioned an investigation towards him was nonetheless being pursued and broadcast footage exhibiting money, passports, weapons and different gadgets it mentioned have been seized in a raid on one in every of his properties.

In August, he appeared in a video that he urged was shot in Africa, the place Wagner has operations in a number of international locations.

‘Putin’s chef’

The relationship between Prigozhin and Mr Putin went method again, each having been born in Leningrad, now St Petersburg, the previous born on 1 June 1961.

During the ultimate years of the Soviet Union, whereas the president was then a lowly KGB agent, Prigozhin served 9 years in jail for crimes together with theft and fraud.

After his launch in 1990, he launched a profession as a caterer in his residence city, proudly owning a scorching canine stand after which a string of upmarket eating places that attracted Mr Putin’s curiosity. In his first time period in workplace, the Russian chief took then-French president Jacques Chirac to dine at one in every of them.

“Vladimir Putin saw how I built a business out of a kiosk, he saw that I don’t mind serving to the esteemed guests because they were my guests,” Prigozhin recalled in an interview in 2011.

Prigozhin exhibiting Mr Putin his college lunch manufacturing unit outdoors St Petersburg in 2010


His companies expanded considerably into catering. Leveraging political connections, Prigozhin was awarded main state contracts and, in 2010, Mr Putin helped him open his personal manufacturing unit, constructed on beneficiant loans from a state financial institution.

In Moscow alone, college meals contracts for his firm Concord have been price hundreds of thousands. He additionally organised catering for Kremlin occasions for a number of years – incomes him the nickname “Putin’s chef”, though extra not too long ago he joked that “Putin’s butcher” could be extra acceptable.

Concord has additionally offered catering and utility companies to the Russian navy.

In 2017, opposition determine and corruption fighter Alexei Navalny accused Prigozhin’s firms of breaking antitrust legal guidelines by bidding for round £300m in defence ministry contracts.

Prigozhin reportedly had a web price of $1 billion on the time of his demise.

Military connection

In 2014, he based Wagner, a Kremlin-allied personal navy firm whose mercenary fighters have come to play a central position in Mr Putin’s projection of Russian affect in hassle spots all over the world, together with Syria, Libya and the Central African Republic.

The United States has sanctioned it and accused it of atrocities, which Prigozhin denied.

Wagner fighters allegedly present safety for nationwide leaders or warlords in alternate for profitable funds, typically together with a share of gold or different pure assets. US officers say Russia can also be utilizing Wagner’s work in Africa to help its warfare in Ukraine.

Prigozhin’s mercenaries have turn into a serious drive in that battle, combating as counterparts to the Russian military in battles towards Ukrainian forces.

A poster of a Russian soldier with a slogan studying ‘Glory to the heroes of Russia’ reverse the PMC Wagner Centre in St Petersburg


That consists of Wagner fighters battling for Bakhmut, the place the bloodiest and longest battles have taken place.

By May this 12 months, Wagner forces and Russian troopers appeared to have largely gained town, a victory with strategically slight significance for the invader, regardless of the fee in lives.

The US estimates that just about half of the 20,000 Russian troops killed in Ukraine since December have been Wagner fighters in Bakhmut.

Prigozhin’s soldiers-for-hire embrace hundreds of inmates recruited from Russian prisons.

Raging towards Russia’s generals

As his forces fought and died en masse in Ukraine, Prigozhin more and more raged towards the Russian navy’s prime brass. He used social media to trumpet Wagner’s successes and accuse the military of incompetence and even treason.

In a video launched by his crew in May, Prigozhin stood subsequent to rows of our bodies he mentioned have been these of Wagner fighters.

He accused Russia’s common navy of incompetence and of ravenous his troops of the weapons and ammunition they wanted to combat.

“These are someone’s fathers and someone’s sons,” Prigozhin declared bitterly. “The scum that doesn’t give us ammunition will eat their guts in hell.”

US election meddling

The former convict and Kremlin caterer has acknowledged that he based and financed the Internet Research Agency, an organization that Washington says is a “troll farm” that meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. In November 2022, Prigozhin mentioned he had interfered in US elections and would achieve this once more.

He and a dozen different Russian nationals and three Russian firms have been all charged with working a covert social media marketing campaign aimed toward fomenting discord forward of Donald Trump’s victory. They have been indicted as a part of particular counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference.

The US Treasury Department subsequently sanctioned Prigozhin and associates repeatedly in reference to each the alleged election interference and his management of Wagner.

Masks exhibiting the faces of Putin, Prigozhin and Chechnya’s regional chief Ramzan Kadyrov at a memento store in St Petersburg


After the 2018 indictment, the RIA Novosti information company quoted Prigozhin as saying, in a clearly sarcastic comment: “Americans are very impressionable people; they see what they want to see. I treat them with great respect. I’m not at all upset that I’m on this list. If they want to see the devil, let them see him.”

The Biden White House referred to as him “a known bad actor” previous to his demise and State Department spokesperson Ned Price mentioned Prigozhin’s “bold confession, if anything, appears to be just a manifestation of the impunity that crooks and cronies enjoy under President Putin and the Kremlin”.

Avoiding challenges to Putin

As Prigozhin grew extra outspoken towards the way in which Russia’s standard navy had performed the combating in Ukraine, he continued to play a seemingly indispensable position for the Russian offensive and appeared to endure no retaliation from Mr Putin for his criticism of Moscow’s generals.

Media reviews at instances urged Prigozhin’s affect over the president was rising and that he hoped to be rewarded with a outstanding political submit, though some analysts felt this evaluation of his ambitions was overstated.

“He’s not one of Putin’s close figures or a confidant,” mentioned Mark Galeotti of University College, London, who specialises in Russian safety affairs, talking on his podcast, In Moscow’s Shadows.

“Prigozhin does what the Kremlin wants and does very well for himself in the process. But that’s the thing – he is part of the staff rather than part of the family,” he mentioned.

However, it now seems that his failed mutiny was an insult too removed from Mr Putin, who appears to have bided his time earlier than taking out a rival in sometimes brutal style, greater than justifying CIA director William Burns’s characterisation of the Russian chief because the “ultimate apostle of payback”.

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