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Who is Wagner's boss Yevgeny Prigohzin, infamous as Putin's chef, killed in 'mysterious' plane crash

Rumours also claimed Putin's role behind the fatal crash of the Wagner boss-- a leader who was responsible for his dramatic rise within Russia and the outside world.

Ajeet Kumar Edited By: Ajeet Kumar @Ajeet1994 Moscow Published on: August 24, 2023 15:14 IST
Russia: Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigohzin with President
Image Source : AP Russia: Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigohzin with President Vladimir Putin

In a major development on Wednesday, Yevgeny Prigozhin-- the head of the Wagner mercenary army that fought in Ukraine and has been blamed for doing Russia's messy work in Syria and Africa and leading a brief mutiny against President Vladimir Putin-- was killed along with nine others in a dramatic flight crash. This triggered speculations about whether the crash was "accidental" or a "deliberate" attempt to silence his voice. 

Rumours also claimed Putin's role behind the fatal crash of the Wagner boss-- a leader who was responsible for his dramatic rise within Russia and the outside world. 

Who is Prigozhin who is famous as "Putin's chef"?

Prigozhin was convicted of robbery and assault in 1981, and sentenced to 12 years in prison. When he got out, he opened a restaurant business in St. Petersburg in the 1990s. Putin was the city’s deputy mayor at the time.

Prigozhin used that connection to develop a catering business and won lucrative Russian government contracts that earned him the nickname “Putin’s chef.” 

He later expanded into other areas, including media and an infamous internet “troll factory” that led to his indictment in the US for meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

What is Wagner?

Wagner was first seen in action in eastern Ukraine soon after a separatist conflict erupted there in April 2014, in the weeks following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. At the time, Russia denied sending its weapons and troops despite ample evidence to the contrary. The private Wagner army gave Moscow a degree of deniability.

Wagner personnel also deployed to Syria, where Russia supported President Bashar Assad’s government in a civil war. In Libya, they fought alongside forces of commander Khalifa Hifter. The group has also operated in the Central African Republic and Mali.

But it wasn’t until September 2022 that Prigozhin acknowledged founding, leading and financing Wagner. By then, his mercenaries — including men he’d recruited in Russian prisons — were fighting and dying by scores in Ukraine, especially in the shattered town of Bakhmut.

Rise and Fall of Prigozhin

Prigozhin fostered Wagner’s reputation for ruthlessness, and the mercenaries have been accused by Western countries and UN experts of human rights abuses throughout Africa, including in the Central African Republic, Libya and Mali.

A 2017 online video showed a group of armed people, reportedly Wagner contractors, torturing a Syrian and beating him to death with a sledgehammer before mutilating and burning his body. In 2022, another video showed a former Wagner contractor beaten to death with a sledgehammer after he allegedly fled to the Ukrainian side and was repatriated. Despite public outrage and demands for investigations, the Kremlin repeatedly turned a blind eye.

Wagner's role in "special military operations" against Ukraine 

Wagner took an increasingly visible role in the Ukraine war as regular Russian troops suffered heavy attrition and lost territory in humiliating setbacks. Prigozhin toured Russian prisons to recruit fighters, promising pardons if they survived a half-year tour of front-line duty with Wagner.

In the interview in May, he claimed to have recruited 50,000 convicts, with about 35,000 men on the front lines at all times. He has also said he had lost more than 20,000 men -- half of them convicts -- in the battle for Bakhmut. The US has estimated Wagner had about 50,000 personnel fighting in Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts.

Why Prigohzin was unhappy with Putin and the Russian defence chief?

Prigozhin claimed full credit in January for capturing the Donetsk region salt mining town of Soledar in Ukraine, and he accused the Russian Defense Ministry of trying to steal Wagner’s glory. He repeatedly complained the Russian military failed to supply Wagner with sufficient ammunition to capture Bakhmut and threatened to pull out his men.

After the capture of Soldear, Prigozhin increasingly raised his public profile, for months boasting almost daily about Wagner’s purported victories, sardonically mocking his enemies and complaining in profanity-laced diatribes about the military brass. 

Mutiny against Putin

On June 23, he called for an armed uprising against the defence minister and headed from Ukraine toward Moscow with his mercenaries. His forces took control of the military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, the city in southern Russia near the border with Ukraine, and continued their “march of justice,” until stopping a mere 200 kilometres from the Russian capital.

Putin branded Prigozhin a "traitor" as the revolt unfolded. But the criminal case against the mercenary chief on rebellion charges was later dropped. Unusually, the Kremlin said Putin had a three-hour meeting with Prigozhin and Wagner Group commanders days after the rebellion. Some number of Wagner mercenaries headed to Belarus, but the fate of both Prigozhin and his force remained unclear.

US President Joe Biden recently suggested Prigozhin was a marked man. “If I were he, I’d be careful what I ate. I’d keep my eye on my menu,” Biden said last month. But the man who made his first fortune as a caterer was undaunted in his latest appearance on Monday, telling would-be Wagner recruits his organization was “making Russia even greater on all continents.”

Meanwhile, it is not clear whether Putin was responsible for Prigozhin's death or the plane crash was just an "accident". However, in a surprise move, President Putin initiated a criminal case.

(With inputs from agency)

Also Read: Russia: Wagner's boss Prigozhin's plane descended dramatically in last 30 seconds I What went wrong?


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