But it was still the time when Prigozhin did not want to be associated with trolls from Olgino or - even more so - with Wagnerians. He reacted nervously to media publications on this subject. He took journalists to court, some of whom even passed away ... For example, Maksim Borodin from Yekaterinburg. He fell off the balcony and died on the spot. And in the Central African Republic, three Russian journalists who went there to make a documentary about the Wagnerians were murdered.
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In the media, he was called "Putin's cook". When asked about Yevgeny Prigozhin's political influence in December 2018, the Russian president replied: "All my cooks are officers of the Federal Security Service(FSB). They are officers of various ranks. I don't have any other cooks.
Flights to Africa
Nevertheless, four years later, Prigozhin announced to the world that, yes, he was the owner of the Wagner Group. He came out on September 26, 2022. Then, in the social media profile of his company Concord Management and Consulting (specialising in food supplies for the army), a statement appeared:
"I cleaned the old guns myself. I sorted the bulletproof vests myself and found specialists who helped me with that job. On May 1, 2014, a group of patriots was born, later known as the Wagner Group.”
The Wagner Group was established because Kremlin needed an armed formation to pursue its political interests where the troops could not officially be sent. This is how that formation was created, organised and financed by Prigozhin - approved by the FSB - and at the same time dependent on cooperation with the state army, when you consider their logistics, supplies, and intelligence.
The time for Black Continent has finally come, which was associated with the Kremlin's political plans as in Syria. The model was known, and it’s always the same. Prigozhin sends mercenaries to act in the interests of the Russian state, helping local governments and displacing French influence, and in return, his companies are rewarded with contracts and concessions, even for the exploitation of gold and diamond deposits – as it is done in Sudan or the Central African Republic.< br>
Starting from the turn of 2017-18, Yevgeny Prigozhin's private jet has constantly been flying to Africa. Central African Republic, Sudan, Libya, Madagascar, Angola, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of the Congo. "Putin's cook", as an unofficial envoy of Kremlin, offers everywhere his military support (Wagnerians) or political support (Olgino trolls, the so-called political technologists). All of this is offered in exchange for the authorities’ favour towards Russia and the companies associated with Prigozhin. Naturally…
War with the army
In recent months, Yevgeny Prigozhin has become a celebrity and the subject
of analysis by various Western think tanks. Because he wants to show that he is actually the greatest fighter on the Ukrainian front, unlike the generals. He openly criticises the military command, and at the same time, his Wagnerian supporters receive heavy equipment, artillery and even planes and helicopters from the army. The same happens with logistics, hospitals, ammunition, and intelligence information. Because that's the order from the Kremlin.
At the same time, the media emphasise that the Wagnerians fight better than the regular army forces. Such reports cannot do anything but infuriate Sergei Shoigu - a Minister of Defense for general Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff.
The frustration is all the greater because Shoigu and Gerasimov lost a large part of the best troops in the first phase of the invasion, and they had to agree to bring the Wagner Group to the front. This private army was intact, so even after entering the fights in Donbas, it often fared better than the regular troops.
Good cooperation with the army collapsed already in 2017. Apparently, it started with two reports about the capture of Palmyra, which landed simultaneously on Putin's desk. According to the first notification, one of the most important Islamist strongholds was captured by the official Russian military forces; the second report attributed the victory to the Wagnerians.
Shoigu was furious. The Wagnerians in Syria have been cut off from any possible arms supplies. At the same time, the Ministry of Defense began refusing to repay liabilities arising from contracts with Prigozhin's companies for catering and cleaning at military facilities. Four of his companies have filed lawsuits against the Ministry of Defense. Three of them won.
The military retaliated in February 2018 when it allowed the Wagnerians to march on oil installations controlled by the Kurds. Instead of capturing the facilities quickly, the mercenaries were greeted with a heavy hail of missiles from American planes and helicopters. The Russian command in Syria did not lift a finger to help out. It neither tried to stop the US firing nor supported the mercenaries.
The rivalry between the leadership of the Wagner Group and the state army has been known for a long time. But it wasn't until last fall that the conflict was revealed outright. Prigozhin, speaking about the need for personnel changes in the Ministry of Defense, proposed brutal methods of generals’ re-education: "All these bastards - with machine guns barefoot to the front."
Prigozhin's condottieri depend on the infrastructure and support of the Ministry of Defense. And they are not as important on the front as they are sometimes portrayed. For example, only one in ten of the Russian soldiers -taking part in the fights with the Ukrainians - are the Wagnerians.