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Yevgeny Prigozhin, often called Vladimir Putin’s chef, revealed as Wagner Group mercenary boss


Simply 20 years in the past, relations between the US and Russia have been so pleasant that Vladimir Putin took George W Bush out to have a good time his birthday at a floating restaurant in St Petersburg. 

The Russian president had been in workplace for simply over two years and the West was nonetheless optimistic that the youthful chief would usher in a brand new period for the previous Soviet Union. 

Then-president Bush famously claimed to have appeared into Putin’s eye and glimpsed his soul, declaring him “very simple and reliable”. 

And so, to have a good time Bush’s 56th birthday, Putin took him for an evening out in his hometown. 

New Island had as soon as been a seedy disco boat that floated down the Neva River, however it had since been transformed into an elegant restaurant for St Petersburg’s elite. 

The world leaders sat with their wives Laura Bush and Lyudmila Putina consuming duck-liver pate, black caviar and steak with mushrooms whereas the media took pictures. 

Vladimir Putin, George Bush and other guests sit at a round dinner table inside a boat. A man in a suit watches on
Yevgeny Prigozhin (behind Vladimir Putin’s shoulder) served the Russian president and his US counterpart at New Island in 2002.(Kremlin)

However there was one mysterious determine who stood behind Putin’s shoulder that caught the eye of the press. 

The person, named Yevgeny Prigozhin, hovered behind the Russian president, personally serving him plates of meals.

“Putin — as everybody knew — was mistrustful. Particularly about food and drinks, the best technique to poison somebody, because the KGB nicely understood,” the Guardian’s Russia correspondent Luke Harding wrote in Shadow State. 

“How did Prigozhin achieve Putin’s confidence?” 

As he gained contracts to cater lavish occasions for the Kremlin, Prigozhin, who at all times made a degree of personally serving the Russian chief, earned the nickname of “Putin’s chef”. 

For years, he denied he was something greater than a profitable entrepreneur who had cooked his method into Putin’s internal circle. 

However there have been at all times whispers that he was answerable for extra than simply the hors d’oeuvres.

He has sued media retailers and the investigative group Bellingcat for claiming that he based a army organisation that primarily served as Putin’s personal military.

However final month, he lastly emerged from the shadows and confirmed Russia’s worst-kept secret: he’s the proprietor of the Wagner Mercenary Group.

As Russia’s army faltered on the battlefields of Ukraine, Prigozhin’s weapons for rent have performed a vital position in retaining Putin’s battle going. 

Now, the person who used to quietly stand behind Putin’s shoulder has revealed himself to be one in every of his most influential figures contained in the Kremlin. 

The thief who grew to become Putin’s chef

Like most in Vladimir Putin’s internal circle, Prigozhin grew up in Leningrad, however he had a grittier childhood than most. 

Born in 1961, the boy identified to his mates as Zhenya was raised by his single mom, who labored at an area hospital. 

He would later inform reporters his father had died when he was younger, and that the household struggled to get by whereas caring for his sick grandmother.

Prigozhin graduated from an athletics-focused boarding college, the place he grew to become a champion cross-country skier.

People cross the street near a large statue of a man riding a horse
Town of St Petersburg was often called Leningrad whereas Yevgeny Prigozhin was rising up.(Flickr: daves_archive through Inventive Commons 2.0)

However at 18, his future appeared bleak: he was despatched to work in a chemical manufacturing facility as penance for stealing. 

Inside two years, he was again at it once more, this time for extra critical offences. 

Together with accomplices, Prigozhin was accused of a spree of break-ins at flats in Leningrad’s upscale neighbourhoods, lining their pockets with stolen crystal, fountain pens, a tape recorder, denim jacket and an costly leather-based steering wheel cowl.

The gang, additionally accused of promoting denims on the black market, have been finally arrested after they accosted a lady on the road, grabbing her by the neck and making off along with her boots and earrings. 

Prigozhin was convicted of theft, theft, fraud and was sentenced to 12 years in a high-security jail camp.

By the point he was launched from the gulag in 1990, he re-entered a completely completely different world. 

Yevgeny Prigozhin points his finger, his gaze his slightly past the camera
From humble beginnings, Prigozhin has grow to be an influential member of Putin’s internal circle.(AP: Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Because the Soviet Union crumbled round him, Prigozhin returned to his roots in what was now St Petersburg, and located a profitable new profession path. 

After organising a humble scorching canine stand, Prigozhin swiftly expanded his meals empire via a sequence of eating places, personal supermarkets and catering providers.

It was at one in every of Prigozhin’s extra elite institutions, New Island, that his first assembly with Vladimir Putin is claimed to have taken place.

A yr earlier than the birthday dinner for George Bush, Putin introduced his French counterpart to pattern the native fare. They have been reportedly served by the proprietor himself.

“Vladimir Putin noticed how I constructed up my enterprise from nothing. He noticed how I wasn’t above serving two topped heads. They have been my company, in any case,” Prigozhin mentioned in an interview with St Petersburg journal Gorod 812.

George Bush, Laura Bush, Vladimir Putin and Lyudmilla Putina sit opposite each other at a lavish dinner table in a restaurant
Vladimir Putin and his spouse Lyudmila Putina hosted George and Laura Bush at one other dinner in St Petersburg in 2006. Yevgeny Prigozhin was once more noticed serving the get together. (ITAR-TASS through Reuters)

Putin grew to become a daily diner, and shortly Prigozhin managed to develop the enterprise relationship. 

His Harmony Catering firm secured important contracts, servicing elite faculties in St Petersburg and Moscow, a banquet dinner for Dmitry Medvedev’s presidential inauguration, and finally feeding Putin’s troops. 

The 2-year army contract alone was price 92 billion rubles ($2.38 billion), in keeping with Russian information outlet Menduza.

However over time, “Putin’s chef” went from fixing the president’s meals to fixing far stickier predicaments.

The election-meddling troll farm 

Round 2013, Prigozhin established a brand new enterprise known as the Web Analysis Company (IRA). 

Funded via Harmony Catering and a equally named administration consultancy firm, IRA employed lots of of younger Russians to create pretend personas selling the Kremlin’s agenda.

From a bit of workplace in St Petersburg, Prigozhin’s devoted “troll farm” would work across the clock flooding social media and remark sections of Western newspapers with pro-Putin messages and political posts about Ukraine.

“We needed to write ‘odd posts’, about making desserts or music tracks we favored, however then from time to time throw in a political submit about how the Kyiv authorities is fascist, or that kind of factor,” one former employee informed The Guardian.

However Prigozhin’s on-line military would finally flip their consideration additional afield, to the upcoming US election.

And it was this felony misadventure that landed Prigozhin on the FBI’s Most Needed checklist. 

A poster with the title WANTED BY THE FBI features three photos of a bald man wearing a suit and blue tie
Yevgeny Prigozhin is needed by the FBI for conspiracy to defraud the USA.(FBI through Reuters)

In keeping with a 37-page indictment, the organisation — led by Prigozhin — developed a “strategic purpose to sow discord within the US political system, together with the 2016 presidential election”. 

Two staff allegedly travelled to the US as vacationers, making their method via a minimum of 9 states over two weeks to gather intelligence and acquire US servers that may assist with the operation. 

IRA trolls armed with digital personal networks and stolen identities would pose as US residents, sharing help for Donald Trump and derogatory details about Hillary Clinton. 


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