This week, one of the most obscure characters in recent Russian history made news again due to the release of a video. Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch who supports President Vladimir Putin, appears in the images trying to convince prisoners from a penal colony to join the mercenary group Wagner Group to fight in Ukraine.
He said that those who accept will gain freedom, because “no one goes back behind bars” after serving in the group. “If you serve six months , you are free”, he assured. “However, if you arrive in Ukraine and decide that [lutar na guerra] is not for you, we will execute you,” threatened Prigozhin, who added that “this is a difficult war, not even close to [guerra da] Chechnya and others.”
Prigozhin publicly denies links to the Wagner Group, which began operations in 2014 and is accused of crimes of war in conflicts in Africa, Syria and Ukraine, but the oligarch has always been widely recognized as the leader of the mercenary group.
Prigozhin has a life story in which relations with the Russian state gave wings to their financial and power ambitions. He was born in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) and in 1981, when he was only 20 years old, he was sentenced to prison for theft, fraud and involvement in a network of prostitution of minors.
He was detained for nine years and when he was released, he opened a chain of hot dog restaurants with the stepfather. The venture was successful and Prigozhin began to expand his investments: a network of markets, casinos, restaurants and a catering service.
In these last two businesses, they started at the beginning of the years 2000 relations with the current president, which earned him the nickname (given by the American press) of “Putin’s chef”: in his floating restaurant, the Russian leader began to receive heads of state such as the then French President Jacques Chirac and the American George W. Bush.
Prigozhin obtained contracts to provide food for schools, government offices and the Russian armed forces . However, its relations with the Putin administration go far beyond these services.
The Wagner Group has aided pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine from 2014 and Kremlin forces in the annexation of Crimea that year, and does the same in the conflict that started in Ukraine at the beginning of 2022.
In Syria, where Russia supports dictator Bashar al-Assad in the civil war, the Wagner Group, in addition to reinforcing Moscow’s troops, also receives a percentage of the profits from oil rigs that the group protects.
The oligarch is behind the Internet Research Agency (IRA), popularly known as the St. cyberwar actions to destabilize governments and electoral processes in the West.
The FBI, the US federal police, has placed the oligarch on its wanted list and offers a reward of up to US$ $ 20 thousand for information that might lead to his arrest, ordered on 2018 by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
“Prigozhin was the main funder of the Internet Research Agency (IRA), based in St. Petersburg. He allegedly oversaw and approved their political and election interference operations in the United States, which included buying space on American servers, creating hundreds of fictitious online personas, and using identities stolen from people in the United States,” the FBI said. .
“These actions were allegedly taken to target a significant number of Americans with the objective of interfering in the political system of the United States, including the presidential elections of 2016”, the US federal police pointed out.
In statements published by the Russian state news agency Ria Novosti when his arrest was ordered, Prigozhin was ironic and said that “Americans are very impressionable people: they see what they want to see”.
“I have a lot of respect for them. I’m not the least bit upset about being on this list. If they want to see the devil, let them see it”, said the oligarch.