The Wagner Group Leader Who Led Uprising Against Putin Dead After Plane Crash
The enigmatic figure behind Putin’s mercenary force that went rogue.
Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner private military company, was reported among those on a plane shot down by the Russian army; he is presumed dead. Months ago, Prigozhin staged an armed mutiny challenging President Vladimir V. Putin's rule, creating doubts about Russia's actions in Ukraine and the competence of its military leadership. As Prigozhin's forces threatened Moscow, Belarus' leader, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, intervened, allowing Prigozhin to evade charges and shielding the Wagner fighters from consequences. So who was Yevgeny Prigozhin? A former convict turned billionaire businessman and friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, he has gained notoriety as the man behind the private military company Wagner. Here are 20 key facts about Yevgeny Prigozhin and his involvement with Wagner.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, in an attempt to bolster the Russian war effort in Ukraine, recruited convicts from Russian prisons into the ranks of the private military company Wagner. He offered them freedom and an official pardon after serving six months on the front lines. This paramilitary force has been involved in various conflicts around the world, serving as an unofficial foreign policy tool for the Kremlin, The UK Times reports. Prigozhin's role in recruiting convicts into his private army and his ambition to influence Russian politics have raised concerns and garnered attention.
Before the conflict in Ukraine, Wagner mercenaries were sent to Kyiv on a failed mission to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelensky.
With Prigozhin's recruitment efforts, Wagner has managed to recruit over 20,000 convicts to join their ranks, significantly expanding the paramilitary force.
Wagner mercenaries, including convicts, have faced brutal conditions and high casualty rates. Many have been executed by their own side, and thousands have been killed within days or hours of arriving at the front lines.
Yevgeny Prigozhin has assumed an increasingly prominent role in the war, overseeing the operations of Wagner and personally visiting prisons to recruit convicts.
Prigozhin's growing influence and ambition have raised speculation about his potential interest in replacing Putin as a leader. There are reports of him setting up a political party.
Reports of the Russian army also recruiting convicts suggest that boundaries may be reimposed on Prigozhin's activities.
Human rights lawyer Jason McCue has launched a case seeking compensation for Wagner's victims. He aims to seize the group's international assets as part of a wider legal campaign against the Russian war machine.
In April, the US government designated Wagner as a "transnational criminal organization," a move welcomed by McCue. He argues that Wagner should be branded as a terrorist organization due to their actions.
Prigozhin responded to the lawsuit with brazen swagger, offering to finance the prosecution himself. McCue rejected his offer.
Prigozhin's tough talk and brutality have earned him a reputation as a folk hero among Russia's extreme nationalists. He openly criticizes rich Russians who support the West while living abroad.
Prigozhin is often referred to as Putin's "chef" due to his catering company's close ties to the Kremlin. He has organized state banquets and other high-profile events for the Russian president.
Prigozhin has amassed considerable wealth through his business ventures, which include catering, mining, and energy companies. This financial backing allows him to fund Wagner's operations.
Prigozhin is also believed to be the mastermind behind the infamous Internet Research Agency, also known as the "troll factory," responsible for spreading disinformation and propaganda during the 2016 US presidential election.
Wagner has been involved in conflicts beyond Ukraine, including Syria, Sudan, Libya, and the Central African Republic. Prigozhin's ambitions seem to extend beyond Russia's borders.
In 2016, the European Union imposed sanctions on Prigozhin for his role in supporting the Russian annexation of Crimea. These sanctions include asset freezes and travel bans.
While officially denying any ties to Wagner, the Russian government has been linked to the private military company through various channels. Prigozhin's close relationship with Putin adds weight to these allegations.
Several countries, including Ukraine, Poland, and the United States, have issued international arrest warrants for Prigozhin. However, he remains in Russia, where he is protected by the government.
Prigozhin's involvement in Wagner and other questionable activities has raised legal implications, but he has managed to evade significant consequences due to his connections and protection from the Russian government.
Yevgeny Prigozhin's activities, particularly his association with Wagner, continue to generate controversy and concern both within Russia and internationally. The impact of his paramilitary force on global conflicts and the extent of his political ambitions remain topics of ongoing scrutiny.