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Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin (born 1961), is the leader of the mercenary company Wagner Group, which has just revolted against the Kremlin and the Russian military leadership. His elite mercenary business has become known for its victories, violence and, of late, clashes with the Russian government with whom it previously had a close relationship. However, of the man behind this paramilitary enterprise, fewer elements have come to the public eye until now. Once known as "Putin's chef", the former criminal, later oligarch, has now bitten hard on the hand that fed him for years. Who exactly is the man who is now posing a major threat to Vladimir Putin?

Born in Leningrad, now Saint Petersburg, 62 years ago, he began his career in crime as a teenager and spent 9 years in prison for robbery and fraud in the 1980s. However, he emerged into a world that was changing quickly through the fall of the Soviet Union, and became the protagonist of a true capitalist dream. Once out of jail, he started a business empire from nothing, running a hot dog company with family members. Prigozhin aspired to more, and in a Russia where the staidness of the Soviet system was giving way to the savage capitalism of the oligarchs - that has reigned in the country ever since - anything was possible. He opened a successful grocery chain, then entered the gambling business and then opened an elite restaurant. 

Entering the Kremlin through its stomach

According to Efe, Prigozhin knew how to make good contacts among the business community and later among the Russian political elite. A convinced ultranationalist, it didn't take long from opening his floating restaurant New Island before he was able to knock on the door of the Kremlin.

Thus when the Wagner Group leader reached the Kremlin, he was far from being a mercenary boss. However, what has not changed between then and now in the spheres of Russian power is that Vladimir Putin was already president. Government catering and school contracts in Moscow were soon awarded to Prigozhin's Concord Catering company. As well as other very juicy contracts. It is from this time that he received the nickname of "Putin's chef". 

From the kitchen to the battlefield

How does a chef come into contact with the paramilitary business world? As revealed in an investigation in 2017, Prigozhin allegedly secured state contracts worth at least 2.5 billion euros, including one to distribute food to the Russian army. After this first link between the Wagner leader and the military forces, again through the kitchen, a determining factor in his next steps was his huge ambition. He started out as a contractor for the Russian military through catering, but went far beyond.

First Ukraine, then again 

In Prigozhin's biography there are many unknowns, including many of the details of his involvement in the Wagner Group itself. The mercenary company was created in 2014 during the Russian annexation of Crimea (Ukraine). For a while secrecy was maintained on the origin of these paid soldiers, linking them directly to the Russian army or other military companies. What is now clear is that Prigozhin was its leader; however, he has not always been involved close to the front line.

In February 2022, the entrepreneur decided to refocus on his mercenary company and sent his fighters to Ukraine, where internecine conflicts began to emerge with the Russian military command, which initially did not give credit to the Wagner mercenaries when they had taken a locality, which already infuriated Prigozhin, Efe notes. This was the start of what has now grown into the actions we have seen on June 24th, with the former hot dog vendor turned oligarch now leading 25,000 mercenaries against the Kremlin and its leadership.