Yevgeny Prigozhin is the chief of Russia’s private mercenary group Wagner, which has been at the forefront of much of the fighting in Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Prigozhin has known Russian President Vladimir Putin since the 1990s. He became a wealthy oligarch by winning lucrative catering contracts with the Kremlin, earning him the moniker “Putin’s chef.”
His transformation into a brutal warlord came in the aftermath of the 2014 Russian-backed separatist movements in the Donbas in eastern Ukraine.
Prigozhin founded Wagner to be a shadowy mercenary outfit that fought both in eastern Ukraine and, increasingly, for Russian-backed causes around the world.
CNN has tracked Wagner mercenaries in the Central African Republic, Sudan, Libya, Mozambique, Ukraine and Syria. Over the years they have developed a particularly gruesome reputation and have been linked to various human rights abuses.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: Prigozhin’s political star rocketed in Russia after Moscow’s full invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
While many regular Russian troops saw setbacks on the battlefield, Wagner fighters seemed to be the only ones capable of delivering tangible progress.
Known for its disregard for the lives of its own soldiers, the Wagner group’s brutal and often lawless tactics are believed to have resulted in high numbers of casualties, as new recruits are sent into battle with little formal training – a process described by retired United States Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling as “like feeding meat to a meat grinder.”
Prigozhin has used social media to lobby for what he wants and often feuded with Russia’s military leadership, casting himself as competent and ruthless in contrast to the military establishment.
Disagreements with Russian leadership: His disagreements with Russia’s top brass exploded into the public domain during the grim and relentless battle for Bakhmut during which he repeatedly accused the military leadership of failing to supply his troops with enough ammunition.
Putin presides over what is often described as a court system, where infighting and competition among elites is in fact encouraged to produce results, as long as the “vertical of power” remains loyal to and answers to the head of state.
But Prigozhin’s increasingly outrageous outbursts have sparked speculation in recent weeks that even he could be going too far.
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