HToday, his name was on the passenger list of a private Embraer plane belonging to the Wagner group that crashed in Russia, killing the 10 people on board.
On June 24, the day after the Wagner mercenaries, who were on their way to Moscow, started an uprising, Putin condemned Prigozhin’s “betrayal”, saying it was “provoked by disproportionate ambitions and personal interests”.
The impetuous multimillionaire with a shaved head and hard features had just announced that he had taken over “without firing a shot” the Russian army headquarters in Rostov, the nerve center of operations in Ukraine, after, the day before, he had accused the Russian army from bombing your group’s camps.
Then his men, “ready to die”, marched towards Moscow, shooting down Russian army planes, while the world held its breath.
After 24 hours, the 62-year-old mercenary leader withdrew from the coup and negotiated an exile for himself and his followers to Belarus. He escaped Russian prison and justice, but many said he had life ahead after rising up against Putin’s regime.
As a sign of the opacity of the agreement, Prigozhin nevertheless returned to Russia, having even been received at the Kremlin days after the revolt. And, despite no longer appearing in public, specialized ‘blogs’ followed him and his planes.
Finally, this week, the last video he released seemed to be from Africa, assuring to act for the greatness of Russia in that continent, where his men have been doing the ‘dirty’ work of the Kremlin (Russian Presidency) for years.
In countries like the Central African Republic, Mali, Libya, Syria, the Wagner group, whose existence the Kremlin did not even admit until the end of 2022, became known in 10 years as the accomplice of regimes that wanted to get rid of godfathers westerners or who were looking for discreet and ruthless fighters.
The war in Ukraine provided the businessman with a golden opportunity to get out of the shadows.
He recruited tens of thousands of prisoners to go fight to the front where the Russian army was struggling.
Unlike the highest Russian officials, the mercenary leader showed up on the battlefield and filmed the corpses of his men to demand more and more ammunition.
In May 2023, after nearly a year of bloody fighting, Prigozhin achieved his goal by claiming the Wagner group’s takeover of Bakhmut (eastern Ukraine) and celebrating a rare Russian victory, despite the high price in human lives, and despite the continued of the fighting – until today – on the outskirts of the devastated city.
But it was also during this battle that tensions escalated with the Chief of Staff, General Valeri Guerassimov, and the Minister of Defense, Serguei Shoigu: Prigozhin accused them of depriving the Wagner group of ammunition and made a series of videos insulting Russian commanders – something unthinkable for anyone else in Russia, in a context of total repression.
His passage from obscurity to the limelight began in September 2022, when the Russian army suffered setback after setback in Ukraine, a humiliation for warmongers like him.
He then came out of the ‘den’ admitting, for the first time, to be the founder, in 2014, of the paramilitary group Wagner and imposing himself as a leader and a unique communicator on the Telegram digital platform, with his videos and audio messages when he didn’t hesitate to be vulgar.
“These guys, heroes, defended the Syrian people, other people from Arab countries, the African and Latin American indigents, and became a pillar of our homeland”, he said of his men.
In October, he took his notoriety even further, inaugurating with great pomp, in a glass-enclosed building in St. Petersburg (northwest), the headquarters of the “Wagner private military company”.
A master of provocation, in February he released a video aboard a war plane in which he proposed to the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, that he decide Bakhmut’s future in an aerial battle.
To form an army worthy of his ambitions, Prigozhin, originally from St. Petersburg, like Putin, recruited the prison population to fight in Ukraine in exchange for an amnesty.
The universe of prisons is no stranger to him, having himself spent nine years incarcerated during the Soviet era, for crimes of common misdemeanor.
He was released in 1990, when the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) was disintegrating, and set up a successful business selling hot dogs.
He then moved on to another segment, opening a luxury restaurant that became one of the busiest in St. Petersburg, while Putin was experiencing his own political rise at the same time.
When, in 2000, Vladimir Putin became President, his catering group went to serve the Kremlin, earning him the title of “Putin’s cook” and the reputation of having become a multimillionaire thanks to public contracts.
It was this money that he used to found the Wagner group, a private army initially composed of veterans of the Russian armed forces and special services.
In 2018, when it was suspected that his group – whose presence had already been noted in Ukraine and Syria – had settled in Africa, three Russian journalists investigating the activities of the paramilitary company were killed in the Central African Republic.
Also Read: Biden not “surprised” by Prigozhin’s possible death in Russia
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