by Bethany Elliott
Thursday, 27
October 2022
Profile
16:05

Even Putin’s Chef is criticising Russia’s war effort

Yevgeny Prigozhin is starting to find his voice
by Bethany Elliott
Prigozhin (l) and Putin. Credit: Reuters

Robber and restauranteur Yevgeny Prigozhin’s unlikely rise to billionaire businessman and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s confidante began at a hot-dog stand. Sentenced to imprisonment by a Leningrad court in 1979 for offences including fraud, theft, assault and involving a minor in criminal activity, upon his release in 1990 Prigozhin embraced the new freedoms of the post-Communist era and became a hot-dog vendor. 

Graduating to a chain of convenience stores, he then entered the high-end restaurant trade, most notably establishing the fashionable ‘New Island’ floating restaurant on the Neva River. The luxury eatery soon counted St Petersburg’s then-deputy mayor, Vladimir Putin, among its elite clientele. Upon his accession to the Russian Presidency in 2000, Putin continued to treat it as his preferred spot for entertaining visiting dignitaries, hosting Jacques Chirac and George W. Bush there. He even chose it as the site for his 2003 birthday celebrations.


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Thanks to his burgeoning friendship with Putin, Prigozhin attracted the moniker of “Putin’s chef” and his company Concord Catering soon came into receipt of hefty government contracts to feed Russia’s schools, hospitals and army. 

That was not the end of Prigozhin’s service to the Kremlin. In 2013, he founded the ‘Internet Research Agency’, the St Petersburg ‘troll farm’ accused by the US Justice Department of having waged “information warfare” to influence the 2016 US Presidential election in Donald Trump’s favour. 

Just last month, a video posted online revealed Prigozhin visiting a Russian prison to compensate for dire personnel shortages in Ukraine by recruiting inmates to fight. Addressing assembled convicts, the entrepreneur announced that he represented the Wagner private military company and offered prisoners a pardon in return for six months on the front line, adding that deserters would face the firing squad. 

His firm subsequently released a statement conceding that the speaker did indeed look “terribly similar” to Prigozhin and shared a “well-delivered manner of speech”. In a post online, Prigozhin admitted he had not only founded the paramilitary Wagner Group but had even personally “cleaned the old weapons” and “sorted out the bulletproof vests”.

A shadowy private military group providing the Kremlin with mercenaries, the Wagner Group was established in 2014 to support pro-Russia separatists in the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. However, its units have since been found fighting in far-flung conflicts in Syria, Libya, Mali, the Central African Republic, Mozambique and Sudan.

Wherever they have been sent, though, Wagner forces have gained a reputation for brutality. Last year, UN investigators detailed abuses committed by Russian mercenaries in the Central African Republic, including “excessive force, discriminate killings, occupation of schools and looting.” 

Meanwhile, in the weeks before Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, Wagner forces reportedly engaged in ‘false flag operations’ in Eastern Ukraine, including car bombings and sabotage, offering Russia a pretext to intervene. Ukrainian prosecutors accuse Wagner mercenaries of committing war crimes in the village of Motyzhyn, while German intelligence has implicated the group in the killings of civilians in Bucha in April. 

From hosting his birthday party to furnishing him with fresh recruits, Prigozhin has thus far made a career out of pandering to Putin’s whims. However, beyond revealing his role in Wagner, there are additional signs of Prigozhin finding his own voice. This month, Wagner launched its own independent Telegram channel, giving Prigozhin a medium to express his views publicly. 

Indeed, he may well use it to amplify his criticisms of Russia’s Defence Ministry. In an escalation of his ongoing rivalry with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, Prigozhin this month accused Russia’s military command of being out of touch with the realities of the Ukraine conflict, adding that “all these bastards should be sent barefoot to the front with automatic guns.”

Suggesting the man with Putin’s ear is finally making use of it, US intelligence officials claim that Prigozhin has also been privately venting to the Russian President about the Defence Ministry’s mishandling of the conflict. The aim is more funding for his Wagner mercenaries as they seek to capture the city of Bakhmut in Donetsk.

As Prigozhin jostles for power within the Kremlin and condemns the army’s failures on the battlefield, he is, according to the Institute for War, “setting up a military structure parallel to the Russian Armed Forces, which may come to pose a threat to Putin’s rule.” The once obscure Prigozhin is finally stepping out of the shadows.

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pessimist extremus
pessimist extremus
1 month ago

Coming from a country and regime of ‘their truth’, the world has become puzzling for me. Having read about Harry, the Prince and the Spare, and Putin delivering the main points of his understanding of the world order (the West has been trying to do… ‘whatever’ to Russia in all its glory) I can’t help agreeing with Whoopi Goldberg’s comment on Meghan the Duchess’ bitterness of having been the suitcase girl – it’s maybe how you FEEL you were treated. How you FEEL things are/were. How come the world has accepted the ‘their truth, how they feel’ as the truth (they=someone thinking differently from what seem to be the real facts)? How come the British phrase ‘take offence’ (= you take it, regardless of if it actually has been given) has established itself, in its most extreme, as a reason for starting wars? “Prigozhin this month accused Russia’s military command of being out of touch with the realities of the Ukraine conflict” – what is HIS truth, I wonder? Sending the sick and infected from the prisons (red handbands for the HIV and white for the hepatitis, or was it vv) to protect the Russian Motherland on the Ukrainian soil?
P.S. and I resent Putin saying NATO should ‘pull back’ – as a citizen of a former soviet republic, who is happy to have NATO as an alternative to Putin’s truth. Whatever wrong the US of A has committed in the past. At least they’re decent enough to admit now and then they had been ‘somewhat wrong’.

Last edited 1 month ago by pessimist extremus
Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago

The USA’s best sales pitch at this point is “still better than the alternatives.”

Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Like Churchill’s defense of democracy!

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago
Reply to  Noel Chiappa

Exactly! Worst form of government except for all the others.

pessimist extremus
pessimist extremus
1 month ago
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 month ago

Criticising the war effort, not the actual war; so, no peace for Ukraine even if Prigozhin becomes more influential or powerful.

martin logan
martin logan
1 month ago

While destroying what’s left of the regular Russian Army.

An SS in the making.

martin logan
martin logan
1 month ago

The psychotics are finally taking over. Putin is no longer in full control.

Note that Vagner’s three-month attack on Bakhmut has no military value. Its sole purpose is to claim that Russian forces are “still on the offensive.” The reality is that they are losing on every front.

So this is the Third Reich in early 1945, with the gauleiters jockeying to take over a doomed regime.

But just as no one could replace Germany’s ruler in 1945, no one will be able to replace this “Vozhd.”

The very worst outcome for every Russian.

Kevin Dee
Kevin Dee
1 month ago
Reply to  martin logan

The Germany WW2 comparisons have gone from 1938 Sudetenland to early 1945 in only 7 months – I guess we should be happy 🙂

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
27 days ago
Reply to  Kevin Dee

History, like everything else seems to move faster these days….

Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
1 month ago
Reply to  martin logan

Several people (e.g. Streiff) have been puzzling over the continuing Bakhmut assault, which makes no sense, militarily. Seeing it as Prigozhin’s private war within the more general Ukraine war makes sense of it.


Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago

From the author’s description, Prigozhin sounds just as bad if not worse than Putin. Will we be any better off in the long run if some other militarist autocrat takes over Russia? Will the Russians? I doubt it. Then again, most of Russia’s history is a long chain of autocrats, militarism, and expanding at the expense of weaker neighbors. There’s probably already a line of wannabe Tsars forming behind Putin already just waiting for an opportunity to do the same things Russia has always done and act like they’re the greatest leader in the history of the motherland.

martin logan
martin logan
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Don’t worry.

Putin has ingeniously made it impossible for anyone else to rule Russia.

As one toady put it: “there is no Russia without Putin.”

And soon there will be neither.

chris Barton
chris Barton
1 month ago
Reply to  martin logan

Any proof for such a bold predication?

Pete Williams
Pete Williams
1 month ago
Reply to  chris Barton

I’m pretty sure that predictions cannot be proven until after the event, bold or otherwise.
Unless of course you really did mean predications. If you did I have nothing useful to add.

martin logan
martin logan
1 month ago
Reply to  martin logan

Simply point out any Russian politician who could succeed Putin.

They don’t exist.