Yevgeny Prigozhin is a Russian oligarch, mercenary chief, and businessman. He had a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin before he allegedly rebelled against the Russian government in June 2023.
Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin was born on 1 June 1961 (age 62 years; as of 2023) in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), Russian SFSR, Soviet Union. His zodiac sign is Gemini. When he was studying in school, he wanted to become a professional cross-country skier. His stepfather trained him in skiing. In 1977, he graduated from Leningrad Sports Boarding School No. 62 to become a professional skier; however, he could not pursue a career in skiing. Later, he studied at Leningrad Chemical and Pharmaceutical Institute in Saint Petersburg, Russia. He had worked as a fitness instructor at a sports school for children.
Height (approx.): 5′ 6″
Hair Colour: Black (Semi-bald)
Eye Colour: Brown
Yevgeny Prigozhin belongs to a Jewish family from his father’s and step-father’s side.
Parents & Siblings
His mother’s name is Violetta Prigozhina, a former doctor and educator. His father passed away when Yevgeny was very young, so his mother worked at a local hospital to take care of him and his ill grandmother. His stepfather, Samuil Fridmanovich Zharkoi, was a ski instructor.
Wife & Children
He is married to Lyubov Valentinovna Prigozhina, who is a pharmacist and businesswoman. She is the owner of Chocolate Museum, which is a chain of boutique stores. In 2012, she opened a day spa named ‘Crystal Spa & Lounge’ in Saint Petersburg. There are many other businesses owned by Lyubov. The couple has two daughters named Polina, an equestrian, and Veronika and a son named Pavel.
In 1990, after Yevgeny Prigozhin was released from prison, he started to sell hotdogs, along with his mother and stepfather, at Leningrad’s Apraksin Dvor open-air market. His hotdog-selling business became successful. Between 1991 and 1997, Prigozhin had significant involvement in the grocery store industry. He acquired a 15% ownership stake and became the manager of Contrast, the initial grocery store chain in Saint Petersburg, established by his former classmate Boris Spektor. During that time, he got involved in the gambling business and later became Spectrum CJSC’s CEO. In the 1990s, he along with Spektor and Igor Gorbenko founded many other businesses including construction, marketing research, and foreign trade.
In 1995, when the revenues of his other businesses were falling, he decided to enter the restaurant business by opening a restaurant in collaboration with Kiril Ziminov, a director at Contrast. They opened their first restaurant named Old Customs House in Saint Petersburg and opened their second restaurant, New Island, in 1997. In 2001, he personally served food to both Vladimir Putin and French President Jacques Chirac during their meal at New Island.
In 2002, he hosted George W. Bush, the former president of the United States. Vladimir Putin celebrated his birthday at the New Island restaurant in 2003. Throughout the 2000s, he developed a closer relationship with Vladimir Putin. In 2003, he parted ways with his business partner and proceeded to establish his own independent restaurants. Concord Catering, one of Yevgeny’s companies, receive many government food contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to provide meals to school children and government employees. In 2012, he was given a US$1.2 billion contract to supply meals to the Russian military for one year. On 11 December 2018, a company named Msk LLC, a company affiliated with Concord Catering, received 2.5 million rubles to host an annual banquet titled ‘Heroes of the Fatherland Day’ at the Kremlin. Msk LLC alleged that it is not affiliated with Concord Catering; however, it shared the same contact phone number. On 11 December 2019, Msk LLC was given 4.1 million rubles to organise the banquet for the second time. In 2019, Alexei Navalny, a lawyer and anti-corruption activist, alleged that Yevgeny was associated with a company named Moskovsky Shkolnik (Moscow schoolboy) that supplied poor-quality food to schools in Moscow, which resulted in a dysentery outbreak.
Prigozhin claims himself to be the founder of the Wagner Group, a private military company with reported connections to the Kremlin. On 26 September 2022, he said that the reason behind creating the Wagner Group was to support the Russian Forces in the 2014 Donbas War.
Dmitry Utkin, a Russian army officer and once the security head for Yevgeny, led the group. In February 2018, during the Battle of Khasham, Wagner attacked Kurdish forces, backed by the US, trying to take control of an oil field in Syria. In the Battle of Khasham, 10 to 100 of Wagner’s mercenaries were killed during the retaliatory air strike by US armed forces. In July 2018, a Russian news agency’s three journalists, who often criticised the Russian government, were murdered in the Central African Republic while trying to investigate the operations of the Wagner Group in that particular country. In October 2017, the Russian government collaborated with the president of the Central African Republic. Russia’s foreign ministry, while responding to the murders of the 3 Russian reporters, said that they were travelling without official accreditation.
Russian Invasion of Ukraine (2022)
Wagner Group has been extensively involved in the events before and during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. Yevgeny visited Donbas, a region in Eastern Ukraine, to personally check the progress of the group. In September 2022, a video was leaked on the internet in which he was trying to recruit prisoners to reinforce the Russian forces fighting on the front lines in the war against Ukraine. In the video, he told the convicts that “nobody goes back behind bars” and to those who were not comfortable with the idea “It’s either prisoners or your children – you decide.”
On 26 September 2022, he admitted that he created the Wagner group in May 2014 to protect the Russians during the genocide of the Russian people in the Donbas region. On 23 October 2022, he said that his forces were making daily advancements of 100 to 200 meters (330 to 660 feet), which, according to him, was a typical rate of progress in modern warfare. On 13 November 2022, a video was released by the group in which a Russian prisoner turned mercenary, Yevgeny Nuzhin, who was trying to leave the Wagner group mid-way, was brutally murdered by a Wagner mercenary with a sledgehammer. In an interview, while commenting on the murder of the deserter, Yevgeny said,
It seems to me that this film should be called: ‘A dog dies a dog’s death. It was an excellent directional piece of work, watched in one breath. I hope no animals were harmed during filming.”
According to the retired Ukrainian colonel Serhiy Hrabskyi, the Wagner Group was driven by the desire to achieve recognition by capturing Bakhmut, as Prigozhin wanted to gain financial and political benefits if Wagner succeeded in seizing the city on behalf of the Russian government. His company Concord released a statement in which he suggested that Wagner wanted to turn Bakhmut into a ‘meat grinder.’ He said,
Bakhmut is a large, well-fortified area with roads, suburbs, and water barriers. Our task is not Bakhmut itself, but the destruction of the Ukrainian army and the reduction of its combat potential, which has an extremely positive effect on other areas, which is why this operation was dubbed the ‘Bakhmut meat grinder.’”
On 9 April 2023, it was revealed that the group was losing about 100 men each day. Russia had to deploy paratroopers and motorized brigades into Bakhmut to deal with the heavy loss of men that the group was suffering. On 4 May 2023, he threatened to use nuclear weapons as a response to the 2023 Kremlin drone attack. In an interview, while accusing the US to help Kyiv in planning the Kremlin drone attack, he said,
We look like clowns threatening to use nuclear weapons in response to a child’s drone.”
In a press service of Concord, Yevgeny called the Russian parliament members ‘useless’ and asked the deputies to go to the front. He said,
Those people who have been talking from tribunes for years need to start doing something. Where are those united Communists from the CPRF, where is the LDPR, which fights for Russia, which left without Zhirinovsky, we can all see, has turned into a ‘clown show. Mr. ‘talkers’ I urge you to get together in a bunch and head units like the Wagner PMC. And those who do not have organisational skills, take up machine guns or at least a sapper blade.”
According to some sources, Prigozhin was among the few individuals who had the audacity to bring up the ‘mistakes’ of the Russian military commanders during the war in Ukraine and discuss it with Putin. On 5 May 2023, he declared that his group’s fighters would leave Bakhmut on 10 May 2023 if they were not provided more ammunition. On 27 May 2023, Igor Girkin, a Russian army veteran, accused Prigozhin of planning to use the Wagner group for orchestrating a coup within Russia. Girkin also said that Prigozhin was actively violating Russian war censorship laws by criticizing the Russian high command and that his forces were almost in a state of mutiny; however, on 29 May 2023, Prigozhin said that Wagner did not have the forces to stage a coup.
Rebellion in 2023
On 23 June 2023, a video was released in which Yevgeny Prigozhin said that the justifications related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine given by the Russian government were based on lies. He alleged that the Russian Defence Ministry under Sergei Shoigu, a Russian military officer, was trying to mislead society and the president and tell us about Ukraine’s aggressive intentions and their alleged plans to launch an attack with the support of NATO. On the same day, he accused regular Russian armed forces of launching missile strikes against Wagner’s forces, which caused the deaths of Wagner’s fighters in a huge number. In response to the attack, he said,
The council of commanders of PMC Wagner has made a decision – the evil that the military leadership of the country brings must be stopped.”
A few hours later his response, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) filed criminal charges against Prigozhin for ‘inciting an armed uprising.’ After the accusations, the PMC Wagner force began to leave Ukraine and headed to Moscow. During the scuffle, the Wagner Group reportedly shot down an Ilyushin Il-22M airborne command post aircraft and multiple military helicopters.
Vladimir Putin condemned the incident as an act of treason and pledged to suppress the rebellion. After the incident, Yevgeny had a conversation with the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, following which charges against Yevgeny were dropped and the Wagner group halted its march towards Moscow. According to the agreement, Prigozhin moved to Belarus, and Wagner troops were returned back to Ukraine; however, those plans were called off after Wagner refused to sign military contracts. Although the charged against Prigozhin were dropped, he continued to be under investigation for treason.
Contacts to Africa
In 2018, Prigozhin spread his contacts in Africa with the help of the Wagner Group. According to reports, Pyotr Bychkov helped Prigozhin in expanding his connections in Africa. In March 2020, it was reported that he financially supported the son of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, for the Libyan presidential elections. In the early 2018s, Lobaye Invest, a company associated with Yevgeny mined multiple kinds of minerals including gold and diamonds in Lobaye’s prefecture. On 31 July 2018, three Russian journalists named Alexander Rastorguev, Orhan Dzhemal, and Kirill Radchenko sent to the Central African Republic by Investigation Management Center (SDG) were killed north of Sibut during their mission to investigate Lobaye Invest’s operations and Russian interests in the eastern part of the Central African Republic (CAR), specifically at the Ndassima gold field, for an upcoming film project. On 15 April 2019, Putin sent 30 Russian troops to CAR to support Lobaye Invest interests as a part of the UN mission.
Internet Research Agency
Prigozhin controlled and financed a network of three companies including the Internet Research Agency and Concord Management and Consulting Company. The three companies were accused of engaging in internet trolling and attempting to influence the outcome of the 2016 US presidential elections, as well as other activities aimed at influencing political events outside of Russia. During an interview in February 2023, while talking about why he founded Internet Research Agency, he said,
I’ve never just been the financier of the Internet Research Agency. I invented it, I created it, I managed it for a long time. It was founded to protect the Russian information space from boorish aggressive propaganda of anti-Russian narratives from the West.”
A few months later, he admitted the involvement of the IRA in Russian interference in US elections.
In December 2016, the US Treasury Department put multiple sanctions on Prigozhin including executive order 13661 for providing support to senior officials of the Russian Federation. In June 2017, the US Imposed a sanction on Concord Management and Consulting, one of Prigozhin’s companies, for its connection with the Eastern Ukraine war. In January 2018, Evro Polis Ltd, a Russian company, was also designated for sanctions by the US Treasury Department for being owned or controlled by Prigozhin. Under the sanctions imposed by the US Treasury Department, any property or interests in property that belong to the designated persons, including Prigozhin, and are held by US persons or are within the United States, must be frozen or blocked. In September 2019, three companies owned by him named Autolex Transport, Beratex Group, and Linburg Industries were sanctioned for their connections to the Russian interference in the US elections in 2016. In February 2022, the European Union added the Internet Research Agency to their sanctions list for running disinformation campaigns aimed at manipulating public opinion. They were also accused of actively supporting actions that undermine and pose a threat to the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Ukraine. Reportedly, many countries have imposed sanctions on Prigozhin including Australia, the European Union, Canada, Japan, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Robbery & Fraud
In November 1979, at the age of 18, he was caught stealing and received a suspended sentence. In 1981, he was caught stealing once again, and this time he was given a punishment of twelve years in prison for committing robbery, fraud, and involving teenagers in criminal activities. He and a group of accomplices were found guilty of committing robbery in upscale residential areas. In 1988, he received a pardon and was released from custody in 1990.
He has been accused by the Anti-Corruption Foundation of using corrupt business practices. In 2017, his illegal net worth was estimated to be more than one billion rubles. In 2022, he was termed the ‘Corrupt Person of the Year’ by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.
Interference with the US elections
On 16 February 2018, a US grand jury indicted Prigozhin, three of his companies including the Internet Research Agency and Concord Management, and some other Russian individuals connected to Prigozhin. He faced charges related to funding and interfering with the political and electoral processes in the United States, particularly during the 2016 presidential election and some other crimes, such as identity theft. On 16 March 2020, charges imposed on Concord Management were dismissed.
Wanted by The US
In February 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) added Yevgeny to the wanted list with a reward of up to $250,000 for helping in arresting him.
Visa Restrictions by The US
In February 2022, due to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia 2022, the US government sanctioned eight affluent Russians and their families, including Yevgeny and his family, and imposed visa restrictions. Yevgeny’s assets were also frozen by the US.
$10 Million Reward by the US
In July 2022, a reward of up to $10 million was offered by the US State Department for providing information related to Prigozhin, the Internet Research Agency, and other organisations involved in the 2016 US election interference by Russia. On 7 November 2022, he admitted that he had interfered in U.S. elections and would continue to do so. In an interview, while talking about this, he said,
We have interfered (in U.S. elections), we are interfering and we will continue to interfere. Carefully, accurately, surgically and in our own way, as we know how to do.”
- 2022: Hero of the Russian Federation
- 2022: Hero of the Donetsk People’s Republic
- 2022: Hero of the Luhansk People’s Republic
It is believed that he owns a private jet and many other aircraft including two Cessna 182s, Embraer Legacy 600, British Aerospace 125, and Hawker 800XP jets.
He owns a 115-foot yacht named St Vitamin.
Assets & Properties
In 2012, he relocated his family to a compound in Saint Petersburg that featured a basketball court and a helicopter pad.
As of 2023, his net worth was estimated to exceed $1 billion.
- Yevgeny Prigozhin is known as ‘Putin’s Chef,’ a close confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- He is a billionaire and one of the most affluent contractors of the Russian government.
- In May 2019, Maria Butina, a Russian politician, journalist, and political activist, who was convicted for acting as an unregistered foreign government agent of the Russian Federation in 2018, made an open request to help her pay her lawyer’s fees. Prigozhin’s Fund for the Protection of National Values donated 5 million rubles to cover the legal expenses of Maria Butina’s defence lawyer.
- In 2023, after the death of a Wagner fighter, Yevgeny visited the cemetery to pay his respects, where he met the family of the fighter. He asked the fighter’s widow if she needed any help then she told Yevgeny about her car that needed to be repaired. Instead of helping her in getting her car fixed, he gave her his own car in which he arrived at the cemetery.
- In July 2023, it was alleged that the Russian Federal Security Service was assigned the task to assassinate Yevgeny Prigozhin.