January 27, 2023

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Hard Putin’s man – “Wagner” boss Prigozhin is gaining weight

  • Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin was known as “Putin’s chef”.
  • But in the meantime, he is feared internationally as a shadowy poor “Wagner” warlord on behalf of the Kremlin.
  • Now he is said to be aspiring for the presidency.

More news on the war in Ukraine

Before the start of the new war year Ukraine Russian Yevgeny Prigoshin appears more and more confident as the fearsome mercenary leader “Wagner.” Sometimes the 61-year-old shows himself in a war zone, and sometimes he criticizes the Russian military leadership. And Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin Let this shadow army, a paramilitary organization with many criminals, do its thing as it has held the scepter of power for a long time. In the past, Putin even said that the Russian government had nothing to do with the “Wagner” group.

Putin and Prigogine have known each other for a long time. When Putin, a former KGB officer, worked in the St. Petersburg city administration, he reportedly stopped at Prigozhin’s restaurant. That’s why the chaotic 1990s rubs off Russia The wealthy businessman, who was jailed for robbery, was nicknamed “Putin’s chef”.

The head of the Concorde empire is not known for his cyber troll factory, which specializes in disinformation that allegedly interfered in the US presidential election. That’s why American investigators from the FBI put a bounty on his head for his capture.

Prigozhin’s army functions as its own power structure

For a long time, Prigozhin avoided the public eye — especially when his mercenary group operated in the Donbass in 2014 after the fall of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. But the longer the invasion of Ukraine, which Putin launched on February 24, continues, the more offensive Vaughn is. Kiev Pursued by the warrior as a war criminal. Prigozhin, who often traveled by helicopter, flew in and out of Russia’s prison camps to lure convicts into war – with the promise that their sentences would be commuted after their service was completed. Prigozhin was able to act on his own authority and without legal basis. The Kremlin watched.

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Russia’s judiciary has long feared the influence of Putin’s untouchable confidant. Prigozhin’s army has long functioned as its own power structure in Russia. “I can say that today the private military company “Wagner” plays one of the most important roles in the field of military special operations,” the businessman told Telegram. There he also emphasizes standing up for his criticism of Russian chief of staff Valery Gerasimov. He founded “Wagner” and controls the mercenaries so that Russia can win the war.

Putin’s man talks hard about war almost every day. For example, John Kirby, the White House communications director in Washington, disputes that Russia is receiving weapons of war from North Korea. Instead, “Wagner” is now buying large quantities of American weapons himself, he said, regardless of Washington’s sanctions. When Prigogine makes fun of the West in his posts, it’s not always clear when he’s serious. In any case, Kirby recently estimated that 50,000 “Wagner” mercenaries are in Ukraine, including 40,000 prisoners.

“Corrupt Not National Leader”

By common definition, mercenaries usually fight only for a limited period of time for those who pay them – and that too outside the regular forces. According to international law of war, they are not considered combatants and therefore do not qualify for prisoner of war protection status, for example – unlike foreign volunteers who serve as regular soldiers in the Ukrainian army, for example.

The OCCRP International Research Network on Organized Crime and Corruption, founded by journalists’ organizations, voted the roughly cropped, bald man “Person of the Year.”

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For the first time since rulers such as Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus or Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, who received an illegitimate title last year, jurors have now chosen someone who does not hold a state or official position.

“He is not a national leader, but a corrupt individual capable of inciting terrorism and massive human rights abuses in various parts of the world,” said Judge Lewis Shelley, a US researcher on financial flows at George Mason University. According to the OCCRP report, Prigozhin represents the dark side of Russia.

Is Prigogine aiming for the presidency?

With the war in Ukraine, he is fighting one of his toughest battles since his missions in Syria. “He’s a soldier of corruption,” said investigative journalist and OCCRP co-founder Drew Sullivan. “He fights and murders to establish corruption. ‘Wagner’ is nothing more than an organized crime group sanctioned by the Russian government.” Apart from Syria, there is a long trail of blood in the Central African Republic, Sudan, Somalia and Mali.

According to reports from late December, Wagner’s people are suspected of killing, raping and torturing people – including in the suburbs of Kyiv – during the war in Ukraine.

In Africa, experts associate Prigozhin with gold and diamond mines. Given Putin’s military exhaustion from the war in Ukraine, they believe Prigozhin will continue to play a key role on the battlefield there.

The US Institute for War Studies (ISW) has repeatedly dealt with Prigogine and his possible ambitions for the position. The think tank recently interpreted Prigozhin’s interview with Russian state television RT as an attempt to gain respect and influence in society through derogatory words and populist views. For example, he suggested taking everything from Russia’s billionaires so that they would go to war.

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Signs of Putin’s Loss of Control

With hundreds of thousands of Russians fleeing Putin’s mobilization, including many pro-Western and liberal-minded and dissidents, they should all have been sent to war together in a punitive battalion, he said. “No doubt they all died heroes.”

Experts say Prigozhin’s growing influence is not a sign of Putin’s loss of control as commander-in-chief of the Russian armed forces, responsible for a large number of defeats in the war in Ukraine. But will Prigogine be a new strongman in Moscow, as some now think, a potential successor to Putin?

Political scientist Abbas Kaliamov believes that the “president’s chef” is very popular, while everyone in Moscow – including Putin – has lost recognition. “Now the regime seems to be largely thanks to Prigozhin,” says Kaliamov.

Because of his active media work, Prigozhin might be thought to be able to take Putin’s place. In one year, the presidential election will be held in Russia. But Kalzhamov had no chance. Fear of the all-powerful Prigozhin binds Russia’s elite together. Kaliamov believes they know how to stop President Prigozhin.
© dpa