Meet Yevgeny Prigozhin, ‘Putin’s chef’ and founder of the brutal Wagner group who admitted that Russia was meddling in the US midterms

Meet Yevgeny Prigozhin, ‘Putin’s chef’ and founder of the brutal Wagner group who admitted that Russia was meddling in the US midterms

Lloyd Lee,Lauren Frias

Mon, 7 November 2022 at 9:55 pm

  • Yevgeny Prigozhin is a Russian businessman with close ties to Vladimir Putin.
  • Prigozhin claimed he founded Wagner, a Russian mercenary group that works closely with the Kremlin.
  • He also confided to Putin about concerns with the direction of the war in Ukraine, per the WaPo.

Yevgeny Prigozhin was reported to have shared with Vladimir Putin his misgivings about the war in Ukraine, according to The Washington Post.

Yevgeny Prigozhin
Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin is shown prior to a meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia.Sergei Ilnitsky/Pool Photo via AP

As reports of Russia’s losses in Ukraine circulated in September, one member of Vladimir Putin’s circle expressed misgivings about the Kremlin’s management of the war to the president.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that the confidant was Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, a Russian businessman, restaurateur, and longtime ally of Putin.

Prigozhin denied the report to The Post and said that he “did not criticize the management of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation during the conflict in Ukraine.”

But Prigozhin has previously expressed criticism against the country’s military leadership.

When the Chechen Republic’s head, Ramazan Kadyrov, called out a Russian commander and senior officers after Russia was forced out of Lyman in Ukraine, Prigozhin echoed those critiques, according to BBC.

Here’s what we know about Prigozhin:

Before amassing his wealth, Prigozhin served several years in a Russian penal colony.

Yevgeny Prigozhin in a suit, pointing
Prigozhin on August 9, 2016.Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Born on June 1, 1961, in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, Russia, Prigozhin was convicted of assault, robbery, and fraud in 1981, according to court documents obtained by Meduza, an independent Russian publication.

He was sentenced to 13 years in a penal colony but was released in nine years around the fall of the Soviet Union.

According to The New York Times, Prigozhin started his foray into the food business soon after his release by opening up a hot dog stand.

He then opened a convenience store before he started a chain of swanky restaurants with a few partners in St. Petersburg. Putin would celebrate his birthday at the dining location, the Times reported.

He earned the nickname of ‘Putin’s chef.’

Evgeny Prigozhin.JPG
Prigozhin serves Putin dinner at the Cheval Blanc restaurant outside Moscow, Russia, on November 11, 2011.Misha Japaridze/Pool/Reuters

Prigozhin founded one of his major companies, Concord Catering, in 1996 as he started his restaurant business, Wired reported.

Although not really a chef, according to The Times, he soon earned the nickname of “Putin’s chef.”

It’s unclear when he received the moniker, but over the next decade, Prigozhin’s catering business received lucrative government contracts to feed Russia’s schools and military, as well as an opportunity to host state banquets.

Concord Catering served at the inaugurations of Dmitri A. Medvedev and Putin, The Times reported.

The state contracts in a span of five years were reported to be worth $3.1 billion, according to an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Foundation that was cited by The Times.

He also heads other companies and financed one that has been accused of meddling with the US election.

Yevgeny Prigozhin
Prigozhin at a foreign investors meeting in St. Petersburg in 2016.Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

On top of his catering business, Prigozhin is publicly known to have founded Concord Management and Consulting Company and started his own online news service, according to The Times.

2018 indictment from the Justice Department also alleged that Prigozhin financed a so-called troll factory known as the Internet Research Agency.

The indictment, which included 12 other Russians and Prigozhin’s Concord catering and consulting businesses, alleged that the Internet Research Agency “engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes.”

The company did so in part by creating “false US personas” and operating social media pages discussing politics and social issues.

Prigozhin previously denied his involvement, but on November 7, he admitted to interfering in Western elections in a post on the Russian social-media site VKontakte.

“We have interfered, we are interfering and we will continue to interfere,” Prigozhin said. “Carefully, accurately, surgically and in our own way, as we know how to do.”

“During our pinpoint operations, we will remove both kidneys and the liver at once,” Prigozhin added, alluding to the surgical-like nature of the operation.

He recently claimed that he founded Wagner, a Russian mercenary group, after years of denial.

Yevgeny Prigozhin
Prigozhin.Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

In September, Prigozhin claimed to be one of the founders of a Russian mercenary group known as Wagner after years of denying involvement with the organization.

“I cleaned the old weapons myself, sorted out the bulletproof vests myself, and found specialists who could help me with this. From that moment, on May 1, 2014, a group of patriots was born, which later came to be called the Wagner Battalion,” Prigozhin said through his press service, which confirmed the statement to Reuters.

Wagner was formed in 2014. It is not a legally registered entity and mercenaries are illegal under Russian law, according to The Times. But the group is still often seen as a de-facto private military service for the Kremlin.

According to BBC, Wagner troops were first deployed during Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Wagner also sent soldiers throughout Africa and the Middle East, according to The Times. UN investigators accused the group of committing war crimes in 2021.

More recently, Wagner has aided Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. In March, US officials said that at least 1,000 mercenary fighters were deployed to the country.

“We know they’re there,” John F. Kirby, press secretary for the Pentagon, said in a briefing in March. “And we know that they want to increase their presence there in Ukraine.”

Over the decades, the oligarch has earned the ear of Putin.

Putin and Prigozhin in white coats, with the latter pointing at something off-camera
Prigozhin shows Putin his school lunch factory outside Saint Petersburg on September 20, 2010.ALEXEY DRUZHININ/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

Prigozhin has become a confidant to Putin, even in matters of state affairs, after first getting in touch with the Russian leader through his restaurants.

With his presumed control of the Wagner mercenary group, he’s also been an influential player during Russia’s war in Ukraine, personally voicing his concerns about operations to Putin, according to The Washington Post.

The newspaper reported that a US intelligence report showed that Prigozhin felt that the Russian Defense Ministry depended too much on Wagner and that his organization was not receiving enough funds.

US officials believe that Prigozhin then staged a video depicting Wagner’s troops complaining about the lack of resources as a way to pressure Russia to provide more money, The Post reported.

Prigozhin told The Post that he had not seen the referenced video.

Editor’s note: This list was first published in October 2022 and has been updated to reflect recent developments.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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