No sooner had his name appeared on the passenger list of his crashed plane near the city of Tver, Russia, than already dozens of theories have flourished around his death. For some, Yevgueni Prigojine was indeed killed on the orders of his former master, Vladimir Putin, against whom he had dared to revolt last June with his mercenaries from the Wagner organization. For others, this follower of wigs and false passports would have staged the explosion of his own plane in order to better disappear on the African continent or elsewhere.
Only certainty, the announcement of his death will not have surprised anyone, neither in Washington, nor in Kiev, nor in Moscow, so much this character of Russian novel had made enemies since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. The butler-like entrepreneur had come out of the shadows by excessively communicating about the role of his Wagner group during the “special operation” and the capture of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmout, to the point of passing for a warlord skillful when the rest of the Russian army faltered in the face of enemy troops.
Brute disguised as a butler
To listen to his speeches over the past twelve months, the man who looks like a brute disguised as a butler, would also have chased the French from Mali and the Central African Republic, had Donald Trump elected and fed the Russian barracks. In other words, an entrepreneur specializing in geopolitics who, through his factories to manufacture false information, his “patriotic” media and his private militia deployed in Africa and Ukraine, would have put himself at the service of Russia’s influence abroad. .
Russia: the “Prigozhin galaxy” in the darkness of uncertainty
Proof of his importance, he was again found in the organization of the Russia-Africa forum in Saint Petersburg last July, less than a month after his revolt, described as “treason” by Vladimir Putin. While no legal proceedings had been brought against him, he continued his back and forth between Belarus, Saint Petersburg and the Kremlin, trying to save part of his empire patiently built over three decades.
From his rise to his rebellion, the former Soviet convict has always stood out in the world of Russian oligarchs. His fortune was not built on the capture of Soviet state property at the end of the USSR, but on the market for casinos, hot dogs and then upscale restaurants in Saint Petersburg, where he grew up. . He weaves his network there by serving his distinguished guests, including a certain Vladimir Poutine who has his habits at the chic New Island.
His relations with the future president will open up to him the lucrative market of restoring the barracks of the Ministry of Defense and the organization of Kremlin events. “He has a real entrepreneurial logic and knows how to sniff out opportunities,” said Colin Gérard, a doctoral student at the French Institute of Geopolitics and a specialist in Russia’s informational influence strategies, a few months ago. Mercenary, influence, construction… All his businesses have one thing in common: to obtain financial gain. »
When Vladimir Putin returns to power in 2012, his protege becomes an influential entrepreneur through the launch of a troll farm in Saint Petersburg. An army of Internet users floods the Russian Internet with false rumors about opponents, then deploys abroad. It is the launch of the information war that will contribute to weakening Hillary Clinton’s candidacy against Donald Trump in 2016, and France’s action in the Central African Republic and then in Mali. At the same time, he created “patriotic” media that flooded Russia with anti-Western films and articles.
After the start of the war in Ukraine, in February 2022, Evgueni Prigojine began to stage his image as a brute without faith or law, who likes, here, to wear his mobster tattoos, speaks, there, prison slang in the face of to convicts he came recruited to fight in Ukraine in the ranks of Wagner. His men are gradually acting like a parallel army in the Donbass. The oligarch’s media relay their “exploits”, while criticizing the Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and the Russian generals. “He has a lot of enemies in the army”, already observed in December 2022, Colin Gérard, who did not predict a happy ending for him: “If he came out of the woods, it was to better protect himself. »
In his headlong rush, the 61-year-old businessman tried to keep his parallel army to the end, when his worst enemy, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu obtained from Vladimir Putin the dissolution of the groups of mercenaries in Ukraine and their integration into the regular army. The fear of losing everything would have led him, last June, to embark on this mad armed rebellion during which his troops seized the headquarters of the Russian armies in Ukraine installed in Rostov-on-the-Don, before to move towards Moscow. After a day of hesitation, Evgueni Prigojine gives the order to turn back, without anyone knowing what he got in exchange.
Russian state media will then publish videos of his homes, his bullion, his passports, his fake wigs, while flaunting his taste for young virgin women on the public stage. An unboxing that looks like an execution for many observers. The administration will take charge of taking control of its media empire, while its mercenaries will gradually return tanks, artillery and planes to the regular army. Having become discreet in recent weeks, Evgueni Prigojine reappeared Monday evening on a video where he stood in front of an African landscape, an assault rifle in his hands. Three days before his return to the front page of the Russian media, which hastened to announce his death on August 23, 2023.
A character who has always interested justice
1981. Sentenced to twelve years in prison for “organized theft” and “participation in a network of prostitution of minors”. He finally leaves after nine years of detention.
February 2021. The FBI adds him to its wanted list.
February 2022. The United States imposes visa restrictions and freezes his assets, those of his wife and their children after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022.
July 2022. The US State Department is offering a reward of up to $10 million for information about him and his companies involved in interference in the 2016 US election.