Who is Yevgeniy Prighozin, the Wagner Group chief feuding with Putin?

Yevgeniy Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-linked mercenary group, will not face criminal charges after Russian President Vladimir Putin initially accused him of mounting an insurgency against state military forces.

A tense armed uprising led by Prigozhin that began Friday evening was averted after the Kremlin said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had brokered a deal between Putin and Wagner’s boss. On Saturday evening, Prigozhin asked Wagner’s forces to leave Rostov-on-Don, Russia, and return to military bases.

Prigozhin is expected to go to Belarus, which has backed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as part of the deal to ease tensions, the Kremlin said on Saturday.

Internal tensions between Prigozhin and Russian military leaders had been simmering for months, although Prigozhin and Putin had carefully avoided criticizing each other. Prigozhin’s defiance of the Russian Defense Ministry — and, by proxy, Putin — threw Moscow into an unexpected crisis that threatens to undermine Putin’s war effort in Ukraine.

Here’s what else you need to know about the leader of the Wagner Group:

Who is Yevgeniy Prigozhin?

Prigozhin, 62, is a Russian oligarch who rose from the same rich and powerful circles as Putin. Born in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, Prigozhin spent 12 years in prison following a 1981 conviction on charges of theft and fraud.

After his release, Prigozhin built his fortune as a private restaurant magnate by growing a hot dog stand and fast food business into a well-connected catering company that had lucrative contracts, including feeding the russian army Prigozhin’s ties to the Russian president earned him the nickname “Putin’s Chef.”

Criticizing the military is a crime in Russia, but not for mercenary boss Prigozhin

Before Russia’s war in Ukraine, Americans may have recognized Prigozhin as the financier of the Internet Research Agency, the Russian “troll farm” that the Justice Department indicted in 2018 for interfere in the 2016 US presidential election through social weaponry. media (The case was later dropped.)

As Wagner’s leader, Prigozhin has cultivated a reputation for being malicious, ruthless and brutal in combat. His company has been accused of committing war crimes, including the rape, execution and abduction of children. With his power comes the willingness—or sanity—to criticize state leaders, which Putin has so far tolerated.

How did Wagner come to direct?

Widely regarded as a mercenary force for hire, the Wagner Group is a network of various organizations that provide military contractors.

Prigozhin publicly acknowledged for the first time that he founded the Wagner Group in a statement published in September on the Russian social network VK.

Prigozhin said he founded the group to help Russian forces annex Crimea in 2014 and to help pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

“I flew to one of the training camps and did it myself. I cleaned the old weapons myself, discovered the bulletproof vests and found specialists who could help me with this,” he said. “From that moment, on May 1, 2014, a group of patriots was born, which later acquired the name… ‘Wagner’.”

What has happened since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

The Russian military has suffered heavy losses since the start of the war in Ukraine, forcing it to rely heavily on Prigozhin’s Wagner fighters, The Washington Post reported. The paramilitary group at the time was primarily active in Syria and parts of Africa before taking a larger role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to research by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Russian mercenaries and convicts, who made up about 80 percent of Wagner’s force in Ukraine of 50,000, according to U.S. assessments, played a major role in Russia’s efforts to capture the city of Bakhmut in the eastern Ukraine. The winter and spring battle for Bakhmut was the bloodiest phase of the war and brought heavy losses to Prigozhin’s troops, who were dying by the thousands at the time, according to The Post.

Wagner’s boss threatens to withdraw from Bakhmut, hits the Russian army

Prigozhin came into increasing conflict with Russia’s military leadership throughout the long and bitter struggle for Bakhmut. According to The Post, he has repeatedly criticized Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, General Valery Gerasimov, for not supplying enough ammunition to their forces and for failing to conduct the war effectively.

“My people are dying in droves,” he said in February.

What caused Prigozhin’s uprising?

Tensions between Wagner’s boss and Russia’s military over leadership failures reached a boiling point on Friday when Prigozhin accused Russian forces of carrying out a strike against a Wagner camp in Ukraine. The Ministry of Defense has denied having carried out the attack.

Wagner mercenary boss faces arrest for ‘incitement to armed rebellion’

Prigozhin called on Russians to join Wagner’s “march for justice” against Shoigu and Gerasimov, also accusing the pair of lying about the war in Ukraine and failing to count casualties, The Post reports.

“This is not a military coup, but a march for justice,” Prigozhin declared.

Miriam Berger and Adam Taylor contributed to this report.


An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Prigozhin once served time for child prostitution, based on a mistranslation of a report by the Latvia-based Meduza news outlet. Prigozhin served time for theft and fraud. The article has been corrected.

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