In a stunning statement ahead of the US midterm elections, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Vladimir Putin’s private army, spoke about Russia’s relationship with American democracy. “Fathers, we intervened, we intervened, we will intervene,” he said.
It was the latest sign that the warlord-turned-catering magnate, known as “Putin’s chef,” has become one of Russia’s most powerful voices on how Moscow is handling everything from the faltering war in Ukraine. Powerful opponents in Washington.
But it’s not just Russia’s foreign rivals that worry Prigozhin — officials at home aren’t immune to his attacks either. Last week, Prigozhin accused St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beklov of corruption.
Prigozhin’s company, Concord, issued its appeal to the Prosecutor General of Russia, demanding “an investigation into the possible involvement of Governor Beklov in creating an organized crime group in St. Petersburg to loot the state budget.” and enrich the corrupt officials who are part of his circle.
This is an unprecedented situation in modern Russia. “Prygozh’s pursuit of Governor Beklow is a sign that species in power are beginning to eat each other in a Darwinian way,” St. Petersburg deputy Boris Vishnevsky told The Daily Beast. “Putin’s men are running out of resources.”
Alexander Cherkasov, head of the Nobel Prize-winning human rights organization, told The Daily Beast that the attorney general must now decide whether to investigate Beklov or to send Prigozhin’s request to another law enforcement agency and ignore it. .
Prigozhin, meanwhile, absolves himself of such accountability.
“When Memorial filed our request to investigate the violent killing by Prigozhin’s men in Syria, the authorities simply ignored it,” Cherkasov told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “We had a video for the investigators showing how the militants killed the man and then burned the body, but our video did not seem like enough evidence for the investigators.”
Prigozhin has continued to attack senior Russian officials in recent weeks, lambasting the Russian military for its mismanagement of the war in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, his soldiers are building the “Wagner Line” of fortifications near the border with Ukraine, which is now controlled by the Russian Federal Security Service.
Last month, RIA FAN, one of Prigozhin’s linked news websites, reported “certain problems” with local authorities trying to stop the construction of fortifications in the Belgorod region. Vyacheslav Klatkov, the governor of Belgorod, went so far as to personally ensure that construction 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 governments, arming local residents, and tomorrow someone who thinks to control the situation in Russia will not be able to control it.”
“No one will dare to stop this criminal. He is a cruel leader.“
Prigozhin has been given free reign over Russian politics, foreign policy, and the war in Ukraine, just as his catering company hopes to feed the ultra-paranoid Putin regime. 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 labor colonies and prisons. In Ukraine.
Kapitulin said he did not enjoy working under Prigogine during his time with Wagner. “His Wagner group shouldn’t exist, it’s criminal, and he’s not spending a lot of his own money,” Gabidulin told The Daily Beast in a recent interview. “Sends untrained soldiers, including criminals, to slaughter at the front.”
“As long as Prigozhin remains loyal to Putin, no one will dare to stop this criminal. He is a brutal leader,” Kapitulin added.
Some experts who spoke to The Daily Beast even suggested Prigozhin was trying to take over Putin’s presidency. “Prigozhin’s catering company feeds Putin and his men, so he has a huge network of agents in the Kremlin, always giving data on where the wind is blowing and what Putin doesn’t like. Prigozhin never misses a signal from Putin,” Vasily Katov, one of the world’s leading Kremlinologists, told The Daily Beast.
During the past eight years of Russian operations in Ukraine, Syria and Africa, 61-year-old Prigozhin Wagner went to great lengths to keep secret his underground role in the Wagner mercenary group. Three journalists were killed in 2019 while trying to investigate the activities of Prigozhin’s men in the Central African Republic.
But recently, Prigozhin seems to have decided to loosen up. In late September, he admitted to founding the Wagner group in 2014 and began boasting about his achievements. “I went to the training grounds. I tried to raise money to put together a team to protect the Russians,” he bragged. On his Telegram channel, Prigogine’s Cap.
Sources who spoke to The Daily Beast about Prigozhin were skeptical of his efforts to rock the boat and become a leading voice in Russia, with many saying he could be dangerous to Putin’s “stability” in Russia.
In terms of the hierarchy of Russian military power and law enforcement agencies, Prigozhin does not hold any high-ranking positions—at least not yet.
“There are commanders in charge of much larger forces, including special operations forces and Putin’s personal security, the FSO,” Gatov told The Daily Beast.
Olga Romanova, founder of Russia Behind Bars, an independent group that monitors Russian prisons, believes that Putin’s power in Russia is not yet challenged, although the situation may soon change.
“Putin is the main criminal boss,” he told The Daily Beast. “Everybody understands that.”