Who is Yevgeny Prigozhin? Russian Wagner Group leader wants to remove Vladimir Putin from Kremlin
The head of Russia’s Wagner Group was exiled to Belarus to after staging a 24-hour mutiny on Moscow
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Yevegeny Prigozhin, head of Russia's private mercenary company The Wagner Group, has broken his silence after a dramatic attempted mutiny against Putin.
Speaking in an 11-minute audio clip posted to Telegram, Prigozhin said that the failed mutiny attempt on 24 June was launched to "hold to account" figures in the Russian military and the Kremlin which he believed were to blame for "mistakes" in the Ukraine war. He denied that the incident was directly targeting Vladimir Putin's position of power, stating: "We didn't march to overthrow Russia's leadership."
"The aim of the march was to avoid destruction of Wagner and to hold to account the officials who through their unprofessional actions have committed a massive number of errors".
The Wagner Group accused the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) of launching a missile attack against its own troops. The incident at a Bakhmut training camp in Ukraine, reportedly killed more than 50 soldiers.
The heightened tensions led to the leader of the group calling for his troops to march on Moscow. Anti-terror measures were put in place throughout the city amid feared of a full-scale armed rebellion led by Prigozhin, however the Wagner Group turned back on Moscow to "avoid bloodshed".
In a televised statement, President Putin described the actions of Wagner Group as a “betrayal” and Prigozhin was exiled to Russian ally Belarus, with the condition that criminal charges would not be pursued against him.
Prigozhin said that Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko played a part in the final agreement of exile, saying that he had "extended his hand and offered to find ways for Wagner to continue its work legally" but did not reveal the extent of the deal. However, he also continued to criticise Russian security forces for their role and mistakes in the war so far, adding that if groups such as Wagner had been involved in the initial invasion of Ukraine the conflict would be concluded already.
But who is Yevgeny Prigozhin and could he topple Vladimir Putin?
Who is Yevgeny Prigozhin?
Born in St.Petersburg, 62 year-old Prigozhin is a Russian oligarch, mercenary chief, and until recently, a close confidant of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Due to owning restaurants and catering companies that provide services for the Kremlin, he earned himself the nickname of ‘Putin’s chef’.
Prigozhin is the founder and head of the private military company the Wagner Group, which first appeared around 2014. The Wagner Group has been key in Russia’s war with Ukraine, helping the country take ground in its invasion with ‘elite’ soldiers, thought to be better trained than those in Russia’s own military. The Wagner Group has also operated in Africa and in the Middle East.
On June 23, Prigozhin claimed that regular Russian armed forces had launched missile strikes against Wagner forces, killing a "huge" number. He called for a response, stating, "The council of commanders of PMC Wagner has made a decision – the evil that the military leadership of the country brings must be stopped."
In response, criminal charges were filed against Prigozhin by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) for inciting an armed rebellion.
The FBI is currently offering a reward of up to $250,000 for information leading to the arrest of Prigozhin due to his involvement in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Prigozhin is also a convicted criminal and has spent a total of nine years in prison for theft (convicted in 1979) and robbery, fraud, involving teenagers in crime (1981). He has two children.