Prigojine, in the shadow of Putin
They have known each other for more than twenty years. This does not prevent Evgueni Prigojine, the leader of the paramilitary group Wagner, from challenging Vladimir Putin, his mentor, this Saturday, June 24.
The two men have been together since 2001 in St. Petersburg. One has just been elected president of Russia, the other, a former thug who spent nine years in prison for theft and fraud in particular, owns a prestigious restaurant, popular with the political elite. local. Without anyone really knowing how, they get closer. Evgueni Prigojine will then become “Putin’s cook”.
The restaurateur will quickly simmer his little dishes in Moscow, in the back kitchen of the Kremlin. In the shadows, he performs the cumbersome tasks of power, inside and outside borders. A meteoric rise that allowed him to subsequently found Wagner, a private militia. The first intervention of its mercenaries took place in February 2014, in Crimea, Ukrainian territory just annexed by Russia. They also intervene in Syria, in the grip of a violent civil war. Then comes the turn of Africa (Libya, Central African Republic, etc.), and Prigojine becomes Russia’s armed wing on foreign fronts where Moscow is officially absent. In the event of a blunder, the Kremlin can then clear itself. A tacit marriage beneficial to Putin.
Ukraine, the opportunity
October 2022. Almost seven months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the conflict is stagnating. Putin is at an impasse. The commander of the special operation then decides to seize Bakhmout, a city in the Donetsk region, thanks to Wagner. This is the beginning of Prigojine’s official intervention in the conflict, he comes out of the shadows. A few months earlier, he got the green light to pick up other soldiers from Russian prisons. On the ground, the battle rages between the Russian mercenaries and the Ukrainian army. Months go by, but the promised victory is slow in coming.
In January, the militia claims the capture of Soledar, a few kilometers from Bakhmout. But the Russian army appropriates this victory without mentioning Wagner’s fighters. Evguéni Prigojine, via his press service, then assures us that he regrets “permanent attempts to steal victories.”
Over the month, tensions are growing between the Kremlin and the militia leader. Last February, Vladimir Putin’s former cook openly castigated the Russian regime on the social network Telegram: “I think we would have taken Bakhmout if it weren’t for this monstrous military bureaucracy and if we weren’t put spokes in the wheels every day.”
An aborted mutiny
At the end of May, he announces the gradual withdrawal of his men from Bakhmout. Without withdrawing from the media scene, which he occupies more and more.
Early June, he organizes a curious tour through Russia, punctuated by long press conferences. The 62-year-old then speaks about the war in Ukraine… and about his political ambitions.
In mid-June, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu issues an ultimatum to members of private military companies, urging them to sign a contract with his ministry. A measure that displeases the boss of Wagner.
June 24, after accusing the Russian army of firing on his men, he seizes Rostov-on-the-Don, in the west of Russia, a city of one million inhabitants. The tenth largest city in the country. A beginning of mutiny which deflates quickly. At 400 km from Moscow, at the end of the day, Evguéni Prigojine assured that his men were going to “go back in the opposite direction” to their camps in Ukraine, a decision taken according to him in “responsibility” because “blood (risked) flowing “.