Yevgeny Prigozhin: Ace of hotdog sales, Putin's cook, military leader and mutineer


Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of private military company Wagner, was killed in a plane crash on August 23. His Embraer ERJ-135BJ Legacy 600 plane crashed in the Tver region. Prigozhin was 62.

Prigozhin was born in 1961 in Leningrad. He lost his father in his early childhood, and was raised by his mother and stepfather. Yevgeny Prigozhin received his first criminal record when he was 18, the second and third one followed soon afterwards.

After he was released from prison, Prigozhin decided to open his own business. He and his stepfather started selling hotdogs in Leningrad.

"In 1990, I was the first one in Leningrad who started selling hotdogs. We would make mustard in my apartment in the kitchen, my mother would count the proceeds there. I would make a thousand dollars a month, and that was piles in ruble cash. It was hard for my mother to count it," Prigozhin once said.

Prigozhin later decided to run a chain of grocery stores and a Wine Club. He then opened four restaurants, and became famous after the opening of the fifth one — The New Island floating restaurant that opened its doors in 1998.

Most famous businessmen, public figures and politicians of St. Petersburg would spend their time at Prigozhin's New Island restaurant. Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Jacques Chirac held talks at the restaurant in 2001. In 2002, Putin held a meeting there with then US President George W. Bush. Prigozhin woke up famous afterwards.

Yevgeny Prigozhin started Concord catering company at around the same time. The company was organising high-class dinners and meetings. In late 2010s, Prigozhin started another business to supply food to schools.

PMC Wagner (private military company) made first headlines in 2015, when Russia started a military operation in Syria. PMC Wagner fighters would fight against terrorist groups and participated in assaults on militant-controlled cities.

Rumour had it that PMC Wagner fighters brutally executed a deserter from Bashar al-Assad's army. It was reported that Prigozhin's fighters crushed the man's legs with a sledgehammer, broke his chest, cut off his head and hands, hung the body by the legs and set it on fire. There was no confirmation to such an atrocious act, but the sledgehammer became a symbol of PMC Wagner.

Wagner military instructors also trained government troops in several African countries (the Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan and Mozambique) to fight armed insurgents and consulted other local groups and forces.

Initially, it was believed that the main figure at PMC Wagner was Dmitry Utkin. He commanded the unit and fought under this call sign. However, journalists associated the company with Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Prigozhin had long denied his connection with the PMC. He won several lawsuits that he filed against journalists who claimed that Prigozhin was the "owner of the PMC." It was not until September 2022 when he revealed that he had indeed founded the group which he supplied with weapons and ammunition. According to him, it was the crisis in the Donbass that prompted him to establish the military company to protect the Russians in the region.

In September 2022, Prigozhin said that his fighters were involved in armed conflicts in Syria, a number of African, Arab and Latin American countries.

PMC Wagner during special military operation

On February 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the start of the special military operation in Ukraine. PMC Wagner, along with regular units of the armed forces and the National Guard, took part in the hostilities. Wagner fighters succeeded most in battles of Soledar and Bakhmut. The city was taken under control only on the 225th day of the fighting. It was then when Prigozhin started posting his speeches on the Internet.

In his audio and video messages, Prigozhin talked about the course of the special operation. He later started complaining of PMC's losses and shell shortages. When Bakhmut was taken under control, he announced that he was withdrawing his units from the city.

Prigozhin's military mutiny

The PMC handed over positions to other Russian units amid the ongoing conflict between Prigozhin and the Ministry of Defence. Prigozhin's press service then published a video, the footage of which allegedly depicted the positions of PMC Wagner fighters after a missile strike of the Russian Armed Forces.

PMC fighters advanced on a march towards Moscow and occupied the headquarters of the Southern Military District in the centre of Rostov-on-Don on the way. During the march, Wagner fighters opened fire on Russian troops. Military correspondents said that Wagner fighters destroyed the air command centre on board the Il-22 aircraft. Ten people were killed. When Prigozhin was asked about the reasons for the attack on the plane that had not delivered any strikes, he referred to the "air defence fool" who was indiscriminately shooting down "everything that was taking off."

Six helicopters crashed during the armed mutiny.

Prigozhin's columns approached Moscow for 200 kilometres and stopped only after a telephone conversation between the businessman and President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko. Prigozhin said that he ordered his fighters to return to field camps, and then, by agreement with Lukashenko, he left for Belarus.

After the attempted mutiny, Prigozhin's office was searched. Security forces found fake passports, gold bars, wigs,  many weapons and boxes of cash during the search.

Prigozhin paid several visits to Russia afterwards and held meetings with Vladimir Putin. According to the president, Putin offered PMC fighters several employment options, including service under the guidance of their direct commander.

Plane crash

On August 23, Prigozhin's plane was on a flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg, when the plane suddenly disappeared from radar screens. Reports about a private plane crash in the Tver region appeared at around 19:20 Moscow time. The Ministry of Emergency Situations confirmed the fact of the crash and added that the crash left no survivors. The Federal Air Transport Agency soon reported that Yevgeny Prigozhin was one of the passengers on board.

On the eve of his death, Prigozhin recorded a video from Africa, in which he stated that PMC Wagner fighters were working on the continent.

Prigozhin left to Russia from Africa on August 23 with all commanders of PMC Wagner coming with him, journalist Andrei Zakharov said the day when Prigozhin's airplane crashed.

Interestingly, however, another business jet, which is also believed to be associated with Prigozhin, landed at Ostafyevo airport in the Novomoskovsky administrative district of Moscow on Aug. 23. Prior to that, the aircraft had flown from Moscow to St. Petersburg, and then returned back, Fontanka said. There is no official confirmation to such reports.

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Author`s name Andrey Mihayloff
Editor Dmitry Sudakov