Who is Yevgeny Prigozhin? Wagner Group mercenary chief feared lifeless in aircraft crash

Once a low-profile businessman who profited from having Russian president Vladimir Putin as a strong patron, Yevgeny Prigozhin moved into the worldwide highlight as Russia’s conflict in Ukraine progressed.

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

Now, two months after the tried rebellion, Mr Prigozhin is feared lifeless in a aircraft crash in Russia. On 23 August it was reported a non-public aircraft had crashed close to Moscow, killing 10 individuals on board. While it has not been confirmed that he was on board, Mr Prigozhin was on the passenger record for the flight.

Prigozhin has repeatedly condemned Russia’s common military leaders


Two months in the past, the Wagner chief lastly escalated what had been months of scathing criticism of Russia’s conduct of the conflict, calling for an armed rebellion to oust Russia’s defence minister. His males occupied Rostov-on-Don and marched on Moscow, capturing down various army helicopters, killing their pilots as they superior. Russian safety providers reacted instantly, opening a felony investigation and demanding Mr Prigozhin’s arrest.

In an indication of how critically the Kremlin took the risk posed, riot police and the National Guard scrambled to tighten safety at key amenities within the Russian capital, together with authorities businesses and transport infrastructure, Tass reported. Mr Putin branded the riot an act of treachery.

Mr Prigozhin – a onetime felon, hot-dog vendor and long-time affiliate of Mr Putin – urged Russian civilians to hitch his “march to justice”. The state of affairs remained extraordinarily unstable 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 stated that to avert bloodshed, Mr Prigozhin and a few of his fighters would depart for Belarus and a felony case towards him for armed mutiny could be dropped.

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, together with Wagner unit commanders, who reiterated their loyalty to their chief.

But confusion has surrounded the implementation of the deal, and it was not clear whether or not the mercenary chief ever made it to Minsk. Before lengthy, the riot chief 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 stated an investigation towards him was nonetheless being pursued, and broadcast footage exhibiting money, passports, weapons and different objects it stated have been seized in a raid on one among his properties. This week, he appeared in a video that he recommended was shot in Africa, the place Wagner has operations in a number of international locations.

‘Putin’s chef’

Mr Prigozhin and Mr Putin go method again, each having been born in Leningrad, now often called St Petersburg. Yevgeny Prigozhin entered the world on 1 June 1961.

During the ultimate years of the Soviet Union, Mr 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 house city, proudly owning a hot-dog 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 among 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,” Mr Prigozhin recalled in an interview in 2011.

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


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

In Moscow alone, college meals contracts for his firm Concord have been price tens of millions of kilos. 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 applicable. Concord has additionally offered catering and utility providers to the Russian army.

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

Mr Prigozhin reportedly has a web price of $1 billion.

Military connection

In 2014, he based Wagner, a Kremlin-allied personal army firm whose mercenary fighters have come to play a central function 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 Mr Prigozhin has denied.

Wagner fighters allegedly present safety for nationwide leaders or warlords in change for profitable funds, usually together with a share of gold or different pure sources. US officers say Russia may be utilizing Wagner’s work in Africa to assist its conflict in Ukraine.

In Ukraine, Mr Prigozhin’s mercenaries have develop into a significant power within the conflict, preventing 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 contains Wagner fighters taking 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 Russia, regardless of the fee in lives. The US estimates that almost half of the 20,000 Russian troops killed in Ukraine since December have been Wagner fighters in Bakhmut.

Mr Prigozhin’s soldiers-for-hire included 1000’s of inmates recruited from Russian prisons.

Raging towards Russia’s generals

As his forces fought and died en masse in Ukraine, Mr Prigozhin more and more raged towards the Russian army’s high 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 staff in May, Mr Prigozhin stood subsequent to rows of our bodies he stated have been these of Wagner fighters. He accused Russia’s common army 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,” Mr Prigozhin stated. “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 within the 2016 US presidential election. In November 2022 Mr Prigozhin stated he had interfered in US elections and would accomplish that once more.

He and a dozen different Russian nationals and three Russian firms have been 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 has since sanctioned Mr Prigozhin and associates repeatedly in reference to each his 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 Mr 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” and State Department spokesperson Ned Price stated Mr 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 Mr Prigozhin grew extra outspoken towards the way in which Russia’s standard army had carried out the preventing in Ukraine, he continued to play a seemingly indispensable function for the Russian offensive and appeared to undergo no retaliation from Mr Putin for his criticism of Moscow’s generals.

Media stories at instances recommended Mr Prigozhin’s affect over Mr Putin 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,” stated 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 stated.

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