Top Kremlin darling shocks Putin officials with sneaky spree

Photo illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

Photo illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

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 interfered, we are interfering, we will interfere” with American democracy.

It was just the latest sign that the catering boss-turned-warlord – known as “Putin’s chef” – has become one of the most powerful voices in Russia, with a say in how Moscow handles everything from a stumbling war in Ukraine to powerful opponents like Washington.

But it’s not just Russia’s foreign rivals who should worry about Prigozhin, domestic officials aren’t safe from his attacks either. Last week, Prigozhin accused St. Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov of corruption.

Prigozhin’s Concord company published its appeal to the Prosecutor General of Russia, demanding an investigation into “the possible involvement of Governor Beglov in the creation of an organized criminal group on the territory of St. Petersburg to plunder the state budget and enrich corrupt officials who are part of his circle.” are.”

This is an unprecedented situation in modern Russia. “Prigozhin chasing Governor Beglov is a sign that the species in power are beginning to eat each other in a Darwinian fashion,” St. Petersburg MP Boris Vishnevsky told The Daily Beast. “Putin’s men are running out of resources.”

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Alexander Cherkasov, the head of the Nobel Prize-winning human rights organization 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 referring it to another law enforcement agency.

Prigozhin himself, meanwhile, seems immune to such accountability.

“When Memorial made our request to investigate a violent murder by Prigozhin’s men in Syria, the authorities simply ignored him,” Cherkasov told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “We had video for investigators showing the militia beating the person to death and then burning the body, but our video didn’t seem like enough evidence to investigators.”

Prigozhin has regularly attacked senior Russian officials in recent weeks and berated the Russian military for poor management of the war in Ukraine.

His soldiers, meanwhile, are constructing 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 the construction of the fortifications in the Belgorod region. The governor of Belgorod himself, Vyacheslav Gladkov, then went so far as to personally ensure the continuation of construction work.

“Prigozhin seems to be allowed everything these days, he can even arm local men in the Belgorod or Kirov regions,” Olga Bychkova, a longtime observer of Kremlin policy, told The Daily Beast. “But this is a very dangerous situation: today Prigozhin criticizes local governments, arms local people, and tomorrow someone who thinks he has the situation in Russia under control will no longer be able to control it.”

Just as his catering company is trusted to feed the ultra-paranoid Putin regime, Prigozhin has been entrusted with seemingly 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 for theft, fraud and assault in the 1980s, was recently filmed recruiting thousands of prisoners in Russia’s corrective labor colonies and prisons and offering the inmates freedom in exchange promised for fights in Ukraine.

Gabidulin said he did not enjoy working under Prigozhin during his time with Wagner. “His Wagner group shouldn’t exist, it’s criminal and he doesn’t spend much of his own money on it,” Gabidulin said in a recent interview with The Daily Beast. “He sends untrained soldiers, including criminals, to the front lines to die.”

“As long as Prigozhin is loyal to Putin, nobody will dare to stop this criminal. He is a brutal leader,” added Gabidulin.

Some experts who spoke to The Daily Beast even suggested that 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 who are always providing data on where the wind is blowing, which Putin doesn’t like. Prigozhin doesn’t miss any of Putin’s signals,” Vasily Gatov, one of the world’s leading Kremlinologists, told The Daily Beast.

During Russian operations in Ukraine, Syria and Africa over the past eight years, Prigozhin, 61, has apparently gone to great lengths to keep his underground role in the Wagner mercenary group a secret. Three journalists were killed in 2019 while trying to investigate operations by Prigozhin’s men in Central African Republic.

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But recently Prigozhin seems to have decided to let go. In late September, he began boasting about his accomplishments, admitting that he founded the Wagner Group in 2014. “I went to the training ground… and tried to throw money around to gather a group to defend the Russians,” he boasted on his Telegram channel, Prigozhin’s Cap.

Sources who spoke to The Daily Beast about Prigozhin were all skeptical about 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 could.

Also in the hierarchy of Russian military power and law enforcement agencies, Prigozhin does not appear to occupy top positions — or at least not yet.

“There are commanders who are in charge of much larger armies, including the special operations forces and Putin’s personal security, the FSO,” Gatov told The Daily Beast.

Founder of Russia Behind Bars, an independent group that monitors Russian prisons, Olga Romanova believes that Putin’s authority in Russia is still unchallenged, although the situation may soon change.

“Putin is the main criminal boss,” she told The Daily Beast. everyone understands that.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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