Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin (Russian: Евге́ний Ви́кторович Приго́жин; IPA: [ɪ̯ɪvˈɡʲenʲɪɪ̯ ˈvʲiktərəvʲɪtɕ prʲɪˈɡoʐɨn]; born 1 June 1961) is a Russian oligarch, mercenary leader, and former close confidant of Russian president Vladimir Putin until he launched a rebellion in June 2023. Prigozhin is sometimes called "Putin's chef", as he owns restaurants and catering companies that provide services for the Kremlin. Once a convict in the Soviet Union, Prigozhin controls a network of influential companies, notably the Wagner private military company, which was supported by the Russian state, as well as three companies accused of interference in the 2016 and 2018 US elections. According to a 2022 investigation by Bellingcat, The Insider, and Der Spiegel, Prigozhin's activities "are tightly integrated with Russia's Defence Ministry and its intelligence arm, the GRU".
After years of denying links to the Wagner Group, in September 2022 he confirmed that he was its founder. He stated that he founded it in May 2014, to support Russian proxy forces in the Donbas War against Ukraine. This admission was prompted by a viral video in which Prigozhin was shown at a Russian prison recruiting inmates, promising them freedom if they served six months with the Wagner Group. His Wagner Group played an important role in Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It also supported Russian interests in Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic and several other countries. In November 2022, Prigozhin also admitted his role in Russian interference in US elections, saying such operations would continue. In February 2023, he stated he was the founder and long-time manager of the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company accused of online propaganda and disinformation.
Prigozhin, his companies, and associates face economic sanctions and criminal charges in the United States, and in the United Kingdom he remains a designated person under sanctions. The FBI is offering a reward of up to $250,000 for information leading to the arrest of Prigozhin. In October 2020, the European Union (EU) imposed sanctions against Prigozhin in connection with his financing of the activities of Wagner Group in Libya. In April 2022, new sanctions were imposed on him by the EU because of his role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Prigozhin openly criticized the Russian Defense Ministry for corruption and for mishandling the war against Ukraine. On 23 June 2023, he used the Wagner Group to launch a rebellion against the Russian military leadership, accusing the Defense Ministry of shelling Wagner soldiers. Wagner captured the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and headed for Moscow. Negotiations led to the rebellion being called off the following day. Prigozhin agreed to move to Belarus and criminal charges against him for rebellion were dropped. Wagner mutineers would not be prosecuted if they agreed to either sign contracts with the Defense Ministry or move to Belarus.
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