Yevgeny Prokhishin (61, left) with Vladimir Putin (70): They have been comrades for decades. But there are doubts that “Putin’s chef” is loyal to the president.
As the head of a private army of thousands of mercenaries and convicts recruited from prison, Yevgeny Prigozhin, 61, is one of Russia’s most powerful men.
Wagner is a longtime partner of group founder Vladimir Putin (70): they reportedly met in the 1990s. At the time, Prigozhin served 13 years in prison for theft and other crimes and now runs a restaurant in Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg.
As the Kremlin increasingly took advantage of Prigozhin’s gastronomic privileges, he earned the nickname “Putin’s Chef.” He made millions through contracts to feed the Russian military.
Suddenly he goes public
But how loyal is Prigogine to Putin today? There are many signs that he is no longer a loyal employee of the president, but “Putin’s chef” is doing his own thing. The businessman Prigozhin always stayed in the background. He avoided publicity and took legal action against reports that he was a founder of the Wagner group.
From Jail to Front: The head of the Wagner group recruits mercenaries in prison camps(00:41)
That suddenly changed in the summer of this year: First, a video was leaked – possibly by Prigozhin himself – of how he personally recruited prisoners to the war in Ukraine and addressed them with pitiful words. He officially admitted what everyone already knew: he was behind the Wagner group. Since then, new videos of Prigozhin have repeatedly appeared on social media to show that he is playing an important role in Ukraine.
“Prigozhin creates a parallel structure”
Prigozhin seems to want to present himself to the Russian people as a new strongman, an alternative to Putin. And since it seems inconceivable that a weakened Putin would willingly relinquish his power, Prigozhin is apparently preparing — not for the president’s purposes, but for his personal army — if he has to use his personal army outside of the Ukraine war.
In one of his latest Management reports Regarding the war in Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) says: “Prigozhin continues to gain power and build a military structure parallel to the Russian armed forces that threatens Putin’s regime.”
Authority but not responsibility
That Prigogine is working to further weaken Putin is also known from the activities of the Telegram channels associated with the Wagner Group: where not only the insufficient supply of conscripts is criticized, but also the decisions of the military leadership – both of which scratch the authority of Commander-in-Chief Putin.
According to ISW, Prigozhin is in a comfortable position because he has no formal responsibility. “He is free to criticize those in positions of power without fear that someone might point out something for which he is particularly responsible and which he has not achieved.”
Prigozhin and Kadyrov leave their players
Timothy Snyder, 53, a history professor at Yale University and an expert on Ukraine, suspects Prigozhin is already saving his forces in Ukraine to prepare for an internal power struggle in Russia.
This also applies to another prominent warlord with his own army, Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov (46): “both have called for an escalation of the war and mock the Russian high command in a very aggressive tone, but at the same time seem to be protecting their own people,” Snyder wrote.NZZ».
The Ukraine campaign will end in a war on the Kremlin
At some point the moment will come when the commanders of the regular Russian army will also begin to undertake this operation. Snyder: “If the military wants to continue to play a role in Russian politics or continue to enjoy respect in Russian society, they have an incentive to withdraw while they can still command units.”
Snyder believes that this is the most likely outcome of the war in Ukraine: “Ukrainian propaganda leads to a struggle for power in the Kremlin. In such a struggle the presence of armed allies in Ukraine is useless, which can be used very effectively in Russia.”
In this scenario, Putin will withdraw from Ukraine for his own political survival, according to Snyder: “It might be bad for everyone to lose in Ukraine, but it would be worse to lose in Russia.”
“Wannabe pop culture fanatic. Zombie advocate. Entrepreneur. Internet evangelist. Alcohol fanatic. Typical travel buff.”