Yevgeny Prigozhin: The former hot dog seller who rose to the top of Russia’s war machine

The course of Yevgeny Prigozhin, its founder Wagner Group it became a matter of Guardian. More specifically, the British newspaper, through an extensive article, describes the life of the “Kremlin chef”, who managed to go from… a former hot dog seller to the top of the Russian military, since he has given a helping hand to Vladimir Putin.

As described by the Guardian, a former high-ranking official of the Russian Ministry of Defense said that in the summer of 2014, a group consisting of influential officials of the Putin government were at the ministry’s offices where they were to meet Yevgeny Prigozhin. Prigozhin wanted to be given tracts of land belonging to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs so that “volunteers” who would have no official connection with the Russian army could be trained. The goal was for these “volunteers” to be used in wars that Russia would wage.

His behavior caused dissatisfaction among the officials of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In fact, they were amazed when they heard him say that everything he asked of them “are daddy’s orders”. By logic the “daddy” was Russian President Vladimir Putin. Officials at the time did not substantiate his claims.

However, now Wagner Group it is said to number around 50,000 mercenaries – according to Western intelligence reports – and among them are thousands of ex-prisoners, who are said to have been recruited on many occasions by Yevgeny Prigozhin himself.

All this time the “Kremlin chef” managed to become one of Vladimir Putin’s closest associates. Prigozhin is driven by the “joy of the hunt,” according to a number of people who spoke to the Guardian about him.

From St. Petersburg to Putin’s side

Prigozhin was born in Leningrad – Saint Petersburg – in 1961 and at a very young age he was orphaned by his father. He wanted to become a professional athlete, but because he didn’t succeed, he turned to the path of petty crime.

In 1981 – according to court documents cited by the Guardian – he was on trial for robberies he had been carrying out for months with three friends. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison and was released in 1990. Shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union he returned to Saint Petersburg.

When he found himself on the streets of the town where he grew up, he started selling hot dogs to make a living. In fact, he did the preparation in his mother’s kitchen, while as he stated, this specific job brought him a lot of profit.

After a few months he bought a supermarket chain and in 1995 he opened a restaurant with others. In order to gain customers, the restaurant, in addition to excellent food, even offered… striptease. Within a very short period of time, Prigozhin and his associates introduced the art of fine dining to St. Petersburg. Among the restaurant’s customers were local stars, businessmen, and the city’s mayor, Anatoly Sobchak, along with his then-deputy mayor, Vladimir Putin.

When Putin became a tenant of the Kremlin, and especially in the first years of his presidency, he had a habit of receiving foreign officials in the city where he was born. Very often he chose Prigozhin’s two – until then – restaurants. Very soon they became closer and Putin commissioned him to cater for important government events.

Assignments were made through the Concord company founded by Prigozhin in the early 90s. Years passed and both sides signed huge public procurement contracts. It is indicative that in 2012 Prigozhin took over the feeding of Moscow schools, with total contracts exceeding €200 million.

The opportunity of 2014

In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and sided with Russian-speaking separatists in eastern Ukraine. It was then that Prigozhin saw a new opportunity presented to him. And this is because while the Kremlin denied that there should be involvement of Russian troops, it was looking for ways to present this specific argument. This is how certain mercenary groups appeared which appeared to be acting under the guidance of the Russian Ministry of Defense, but without having an official connection with it. One of them was Wagner which in the following years would become the most famous.

As a former ministry official argued, the idea of ​​a mercenary army most likely belonged to the “Kremlin chef” himself. In the end, the ministry granted Prigozhin the area he requested. In fact, to cover his back, the showcase was a… children’s camp. Indeed, Prigozhin’s connection with the Molkino camp was revealed by Reuters in 2019.

In 2015, his companies were awarded contracts to supply the Russian military. According to a survey by Forbes Russia, the contracts exceeded 1 billion. The rise of Prigozhin caused reactions in the ranks of Russian Defense Ministry officials. Until in 2015 Putin decided to get involved militarily in Russia. Yevgeny Prigozhin not only did not take over the supply of the Russian army but also sent his own warriors to the battlefield.

In the same period, Wagner after acting under the regime of impunity, he will proceed according to allegations of war crimes. Mercenaries of the organization were recorded on video beheading and then dismembering a Syrian. But Wagner also counted losses in human resources. However, although the number was significant, there was no mention of Russia because officially the operations were not carried out on Russian territory.

Head of “Russian trolls”

In addition to being the leader of Wagner, Prigozhin was also accused of being the head of of “Russian trolls” who allegedly flooded social media with pro-Trump posts in the 2016 US election.

In fact, he not only did not deny the accusations, but last December he said in his statements that “Gentlemen, we intervened, we intervene and we will intervene. Carefully, precisely, surgically and in our own way, the way we know how to do it. During our operations, we will remove both kidneys and the liver at the same time.”

At the same time, Alexei Navalny targeted him and accused him of corruption. Shortly after, the man who had assigned him the specific investigation was attacked by an unknown man outside his house. His wife Lubov Sobol told the Guardian that there followed constant legal pressure and intimidation, including in the form of bullies who ostentatiously followed her whenever she left her home.

Russian journalists who attempted to investigate Prigozhin’s activities faced similar threats. When Novaya Gazeta investigated Wagner’s leader in 2018, it received the severed head of a goat in its offices. Even the journalist carrying out the investigation received a funeral wreath at the door of his house.

Involvement in Africa as well

Apparently, Wagner had even reached the Central African Republic. Three journalists investigating its activities in the region were murdered during an ambush involving a trainer with links to the organization. For his part, Prigozhin denied any involvement in the case.

However, Wagner’s activities appear to have spread to at least 10 African countries, where it offered security services and military training. In return, they secured mining licenses and other business opportunities.

Attend top meetings

It is worth noting that despite the fact that Prigozhin had no official position in the organizational chart of the Kremlin, he was present at top meetings and especially those related to defense contracts. A striking example is his presence during Putin’s meeting with the president of Madagascar, Heri Tajaonarimabianina in the Kremlin in April 2018. According to the New York Times, political advisers linked to Prigozhin would travel to Madagascar shortly afterwards.

Both he and the Russian president insisted that the Wagner leader had nothing to do with behind-the-scenes processes that would benefit the Kremlin. After all, Putin himself ironically told the Austrian TV journalists that “he owns a restaurant, that’s his job. It is about a St. Petersburg restaurateur.”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine

February 2022 opened the pouch of Aeolus for its action. And this is because he saw the light of public video where the “chef of the Kremlin” was inside a prison and explained to the prisoners why they should be at the front of the war in Ukraine.

In fact, he is heard telling them that they are most likely to die at the front. But if they managed to survive for six months, they would be pardoned and given a hefty salary. According to a prisoner who was present at one of the prisons Prigozhin visited and who spoke to the Guardian, the fact that “Mr. Wagner” spent a decade in prison was the reason so many inmates trusted him.

But despite the fact that most of them were killed, according to Kyiv, Prigozhin is at pains to prove that they are more capable than the Russian army. In fact, he does not hesitate to talk about Wagner’s “excessively strict discipline”, which according to Andrei Medvedev, a former commander who claims to have fought near Bahamut, includes the executions of those who do not follow any orders. As he told the British newspaper, he has been informed of at least 10 such incidents, while he has seen some of them with his own eyes.

“The commanders took them to a shooting range and shot them in front of everyone. Sometimes they killed just one, other times they executed them in pairs,” he claimed from Norway, where he has fled.

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