In a shocking statement on the eve of the US midterm elections, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Vladimir Putin’s private army, confessed that “Gentlemen, we have intervened, we will intervene, we will intervene,” in American democracy.
It was just the latest sign of how the warlord-turned hospitality boss – known as “Putin’s chef” – has become one of the most powerful voices in Russia, having a say in how Moscow handles everything from Ukraine’s stumbling war to powerful adversaries such as Washington.
But it’s not just Russia’s foreign rivals who should be concerned about Prigozhin — officials at home aren’t safe from his attacks either. Last week Prigozhin accused the governor of Saint Petersburg, Alexander Beglov, of corruption.
Prigozhin’s company, Concord, published its appeal to the Attorney General of Russia, demanding an investigation into “the possible involvement of Governor Beglov in the creation of an organized crime group in the St. Petersburg territory to loot the state budget. and enrich corrupt officials who are part of his circle.”
This is an unprecedented situation in modern Russia. “Prigozhin going after Governor Beglov is a sign that the species in power are starting to eat each other in a Darwinian way,” St. Petersburg delegate Boris Vishnevsky told The Daily Beast. “Putin’s men are running out of resources.”
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Alexander Cherkasov, the chairman of the Nobel Prize-winning human rights agency Memorial, told The Daily Beast that it is now up to the attorney general to decide whether to investigate Beglov or ignore Prigozhin’s request by passing it on to another law enforcement agency. .
Prigozhin himself, meanwhile, seems immune to such a responsibility.
“When Memorial made our request to investigate a violent murder by Prigozhin’s men in Syria, the authorities simply ignored it,” Cherkasov told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “We had a video for investigators showing militia beating the person to death and then burning the body, but our video didn’t seem like enough evidence for the investigators.”
Prigozhin has regularly attacked top Russian officials in recent weeks, accusing the Russian military of having mismanaged the war in Ukraine.
His soldiers, meanwhile, are building a “Wagner Line” of fortifications near the border with Ukraine, now controlled by the Russian Federal Security Service.
Last month, RIA FAN, one of the news websites linked to Prigozhin, reported “some problems” with local authorities trying to stop construction of the fortifications in the Belgorod region. The governor of Belgorod himself, Vyacheslav Gladkov, then went so far as to personally see to it that the construction work continued.
“Everything seems to be allowed to Prigozhin these days, he can even arm local men in the Belgorod or Kirov regions,” Olga Bychkova, a longtime observer of Kremlin politics, told The Daily Beast. “But this is a very dangerous situation: today Prigozhin is criticizing local authorities, arming the local population and tomorrow someone who thinks he has the situation in Russia under control will not be able to control it.”
Just as his catering company is supposed to feed Putin’s ultra-paranoid regime, Prigozhin has seemingly been given free rein in Russian politics, foreign policy and the war in Ukraine. In another dangerous twist, the Wagner commander, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison in the 1980s for theft, fraud and assault, was recently filmed recruiting thousands of prisoners around Russia’s corrective labor colonies and prisons, promising inmates freedom. in exchange for fighting in Ukraine.
Gabidulin said he didn’t enjoy working under Prigozhin during his time at Wagner. “His Wagner group shouldn’t exist, it’s criminal and he doesn’t spend much of his own money on it,” Gabidulin told The Daily Beast in a recent interview. “He sends untrained soldiers, including criminals, to die in the slaughter at the front.”
“As long as Prigozhin is loyal to Putin, no one will dare to stop this criminal. He is a ruthless leader,” Gabidulin added.
Some experts who spoke to The Daily Beast even suggested that Prigozhin was trying to take over Putin’s presidential chairman. “Prigozhin’s catering company feeds Putin and his men, so he has a huge network of agents in the Kremlin, always giving data about where the wind is blowing, which Putin doesn’t like. Prigozhin does not miss a single signal from Putin,” Vasily Gatov, one of the world’s foremost Kremlinologists, told The Daily Beast.
During Russian operations in Ukraine, Syria and Africa over the past eight years, 61-year-old Prigozhin has apparently gone to great lengths to keep his underground role in the Wagner mercenary group a secret. In 2019, three journalists were murdered trying to investigate the operations of Prigozhin’s men in the Central African Republic.
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But recently it seems that Prigozhin has decided to let go. In late September, he began to brag about his achievements, admitting that he founded the Wagner Group in 2014. on his Telegram channel, Prigozhin’s Cap.
Sources speaking to The Daily Beast about Prigozhin were all skeptical of his attempts to turn the boat upside down and become a leading voice in Russia, with many saying he could be dangerous to Putin’s “stability” in Russia.
As for the hierarchy of Russian military power and law enforcement agencies, Prigozhin doesn’t seem to hold any top positions either — or at least not yet.
“There are commanders in charge of much larger militaries, including the Special Operation Forces and Putin’s personal security, the FSO,” Gatov told The Daily Beast.
The founder of Russia Behind Bars, an independent group that oversees Russian prisons, Olga Romanova, believes that while the situation could change quickly, Putin’s authority in Russia is still undisputed.
“Putin is the main criminal boss, she told The Daily Beast. everyone understands that.”
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