Since the beginning of the invasion, two men have emerged from relative anonymity to international recognition—Ramzan Kadyrov (we have written about him earlier, here) and Yevgeny Prigozhin. Yevgeny Prigozhin is a Russian businessman who claims to have established the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary group that works closely with the Kremlin, including in Ukraine.
Just like Ramzan Kadyrov, Prigozhin too is believed to have criticized Russia’s failures in the war.
While Kadyrov made his criticism public (for instance through his Telegram channel), when Prigozhin was asked, he denied having criticized Putin. These two strongmen share a much more ‘hawkish’ approach to the conflict and would like to see more effort put into and an even more centralized attention on the war in Ukraine. They are disappointed that Moscow is underperforming and have expressed that if they were in charge, they would not refrain from anything to succeed in the war.
Not much is known about the businessman after he was born in 1961. He is believed to have served time in a Russian prison colony for assault, robbery and fraud. He was released after nine years (his full sentence was 13 years) around the time of the dissolution of the USSR. After his release, he first opened a hot dog stand, then a convenience store, and then restaurants. When Bush celebrated his 56th birthday in Saint Petersburg with Putin, in the second year of the Russian leader’s presidency, the two global leaders dines in Prigozhin’s luxury restaurant. From this point on,
Prigozhin regularly appeared at a wide range of events, personally serving food to the Russian president,
gaining the moniker ‘Putin’s Chef’. His business received contracts to cater food for a number of state-run institutions, from schools to the military. After he made his name in the catering business, he opened other companies, too—most famously the Internet Research Agency that has been accused of meddling in the 2016 US elections. Yevgeny Prigozhin is wanted by the FBI, which has offered a reward of up to $250,000 for information leading to his arrest. He is wanted in the US for his involvement in ’a conspiracy to defraud the United States’. He is accused of interfering into the 2016 US presidential election and of stealing the identities of US citizens.
It is not primarily his involvement in the Internet Research Agency, however, that made Prigozhin famous in the West, but his alleged ties to the Wagner Group. While recently
he claimed that he is one of the founders of the paramilitary organisation,
earlier he denied any involvement with it. The mercenary group was established in 2014, and it does not legally exist as Russian law prohibits the setting up of mercenary organisations. While very little is known about the group, there is evidence that an estimated 1,000 Wagner Group mercenaries are currently fighting in Ukraine. A couple of months ago, Prigozhin released an infamous video in which he appealed to Russian convicts to volunteer to fight in Ukraine. In a statement made pubic after the footage was leaked, he declared: ‘It’s either private military companies and prisoners, or your children — decide for yourself.’