December 8, 2023

Brighton Journal

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Yevgeny Prigozhin: Lord of the War Business | The history and present of the head of the Wagner Group in Russia

Yevgeny Prigozhin: Lord of the War Business |  The history and present of the head of the Wagner Group in Russia

When the soldiers of Wagner Group retreated and handed over the city to the Russian state army last week after winning the Battle of Bagmuth in Ukraine, they had one more job to complete: they received vacations, salaries and the promised freedom. In a case where prisoners were pardoned for fighting for six months for $4,000 a month. Yevgeny Prigozhin, who created that private army, went to Vladimir Putin’s office, picked up the bill and agreed to the next deal..

Putin’s chef

Prigogine was born in St. Petersburg in 1961, and at the age of 18 he devoted himself to house robberies and violent street attacks. The judicial verdict of the time was made public revealing the feat that led to his serving 9 years in prison. He regained his freedom in 1990 when the Soviet Union collapsed and the country became a breeding ground for the mafia. His first job was selling hot dogs on the street. The number of carts increased and he became a small trader. In 1995 he founded a restaurant and another and the luxury catering company Concorde. His star restaurant is the New Island, a cruise ship on the Neva River. There, Prigozhin himself hosted meals for Vladimir Putin and Frenchman Jacques Chirac, and in 2002 George W. Served to Bush. The Russian president dined regularly on the ship and trust grew: “Putin’s chef” began catering to schools and camps with multimillion-dollar contracts.

In 2014, when the culturally Russian people of the Donbass region declared independence from Ukraine, Prigozhin again became CEO of the military establishment. Russia supported them and in order not to send official troops, Putin copied the method of some Western countries and was convinced by his gastronomic friend to diversify the business. Those outsourced soldiers clashed violently with Ukrainian neo-Nazis Azov Battalion. The same year, his forces were employed for the invasion of the Crimea.

Fight for salary

The term “mercenary” may not be very accurate: Wagner always fights for the same contractor, instead selling himself to the highest bidder. They weren’t elite soldiers — they were poorly trained and expendable — and in Ukraine, many were cannon fodder: According to Prigozhin, 15,000 people died in Bagmut. The risk of dying is compensated by a higher salary than that of an official soldier.

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The contract was extended in 2015 Since Wagner was not official or paid taxes to the government, it was always secret– When Putin intervened against ISIS in Syria, on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad. Unlike the official soldiers, the casualties of Wagner’s group were not recorded. It presented Putin’s victory in the fight against terrorism as a bloodless one. On the other hand, because these soldiers do not officially represent any state, it is very difficult to prosecute them for the atrocities they commit: there is a video of Wagner soldiers torturing and beheading a Syrian soldier for disobedience. The Russian government has always denied ties to the flagless army.

Treaties in Africa

Prigozhin made his big leap as a provider of the armed forces, first with food, then with soldiers. In the Central African Republic, he was hired by President Faustin Doutera, who was elected in 2016, at a time when large swaths of the country were being overrun by Islamist rebel forces. He already had French troops in the country, which he judged ineffective in stopping the attacks. Because he didn’t trust his army, he made deals with the Wagner group in 2018. In return, they were granted duty-free exploitation of diamonds, gold and timber from the native forests. Everything was flowing, but the president was not eligible for a third term. According to Daniel Darlan, a member of the High Court, he was visited by diplomat Yevgeny Mikunov, secretary of the Russian embassy, ​​who said the president should remain in power indefinitely. For that, he had to remove the constitutional limit. But he refused. Seven months later, he was impeached in order to create a referendum allowing him to be re-elected.

Members of Wagner’s group tour the country in unmarked vans, wearing ski masks and carrying long guns. Honoré Bendoit, the head of the city of Bria, once declared: “We are silent to the Russians. They are violent and efficient. With his help, the government regained control over most of the country, he said. Wagner’s fighters have been accused by the UN of “excessive force, indiscriminate killings, occupation of schools and large-scale looting”. In 2018, three Russian journalists investigating the Wagner Group were ambushed and killed in that country. The scheme of economic exploitation is repeated with variations in Syria, Libya, Mali and Sudan.

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Wagner Group “is”

Years after Wagner denied the group’s existence, on September 26, 2022, Prigozhin acknowledged the obvious: he had presented himself as the founder of a unique private army in the world, with access to fighter jets, helicopters and tanks.. Since then, the character has embarked on a high-flying media campaign, possibly a far-right nationalist discourse that organizes art exhibitions in support of political aspirations and war. These militias are the equivalent of the neo-Nazi Azov battalion incorporated into the Ukrainian army. Even the group’s name pays homage to Richard Wagner: its first war manager, Dmitri Utkin, was a Germanophile.

This new diversification towards a viable political movement with an anti-elitist stance popularized by Prigog may be intended to encourage recruitment and support for a protracted war that is unwinnable by either side. Its privatization is an agile way of managing it.

A blow to the head

In an episode marked “Prigozhin style”, in September 2022, a video of a comrade killed by a blow to the head with a Wagner fighter was circulated on his own company’s networks. This is Yevgeny Nugin, who defected to the Ukrainian side and then returned to Russia in a prisoner exchange. In retaliation, the company would have killed him. The message is clear: “It awaits the quitters.”. It was aimed at thousands of criminals personally recruited by Prigogine in prisons. Since then, a Tantra has been photographed with an “official” Wagner icon and a photo of the leader himself. About the video, the multi-businessman said: “A dog dies like a dog.” The strange thing is that it doesn’t leak.

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Another area is the manipulation of public opinion, when Prigogine became a “Russian oligarchy,” the hyperbolic class connected to the post-Soviet state. The businessman was sanctioned by a US court in 2018 because his troll factory worked for the campaign of Donald Trump, who has always had a close relationship with Putin.. The agency was found to have created fake Facebook and Twitter accounts that spread pro-Trump messages. In February 2023, Prigozhin admitted to being the founder of the Internet Research Agency and announced about the complaint: “Fathers, we intervene and we will continue to intervene, surgically and in our own way.” The agency is contracted to work on public opinion in countries in Africa and Asia where Russia has business interests.

Private forces

By creating the Wagner Group, Russia did not find anything: the American company Blackwater, which did a poor job in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other companies such as the Canadian Garda World and the English G4S Secure Solutions did the same. The difference is that Wagner works only for the Russian government, and since the war in Ukraine, he has shed the usual low profile required to carry out bloody operations that countries don’t want to carry out with official troops. For reasons of image and fear of international litigation.

In other parts of the world, these private agencies are a complement, while a role Prigogine This is a very important general, the greatest public figure of the Russian forces, although not of military rank, and this type of institution is theoretically prohibited in Russia. And it shows a remarkable degree of verbal freedom: He has reported directly to Putin and has publicly threatened high-ranking officers of the Russian Armed Forces and the Russian Defense Minister for not supplying him with enough ammunition.