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Putin's chef, dead in plane crash: Who was Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin?

In 2014, Prigozhin founded Wagner, a private military company. Its fighters were used in support of Moscow's allies in countries including Syria, Libya and the Central African Republic

Wagner Group chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian President, Vladimir Putin

Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin with Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo: Twitter @Sprinter99880)

BS Web Team New Delhi

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Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, also known as Putin's chef, died in a plane crash on Wednesday, several media reports stated. It was later confirmed by the Russian aviation authorities.

Progozhin came into the limelight two months ago when he led an abortive mutiny against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin had denounced the June rebellion as "treason," but the mercenary leader had appeared to escape immediate retaliation by the Kremlin under a deal brokered to end the revolt as his fighters came within 200 kilometres of Moscow.

Questions about his fate have swirled in the two months since the mutiny.

No cause was announced, but the crash immediately raised suspicions that Prigozhin had been killed. According to Bloomberg, Russia's aviation regulator said Dmitry Utkin, Prigozhin's number 2 in Wagner, was also among the passengers on the plane.

Who was Yevgeny Prigozhin?

Born in St. Petersburg on June 1, 1961, Prigozhin spent nine years in Soviet prisons for crimes including robbery and fraud.

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He was released in 1990 on the sidelines of the Soviet Union's disintegration. He launched a career as a caterer and restaurateur in his hometown. It is believed that he later met Putin, who was then a top aide to St Petersburg's mayor.

He later used his political connections to bag major state contracts and came to be known as "Putin's chef" after catering for Kremlin events.

During the war with Ukraine, he had joked that "Putin's butcher" would be more appropriate.

Prigozhin and Wagner Group

In 2014, Prigozhin founded Wagner, a private military company. The fighters were used in support of Moscow's allies in countries including Syria, Libya and the Central African Republic.

The United States has imposed sanctions against it and accused it of atrocities. Prigozhin, however, has denied the allegations.

Prigozhin rose to prominence after Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. His fighters - including thousands of convicts he recruited from prison - led the Russian assault on the city of Bakhmut in the longest and bloodiest battle of the war.

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Prigozhin also used social media to trumpet Wagner's successes and wage a feud with the military establishment, accusing it of incompetence and even treason.

June mutiny against Vladimir Putin

In June, Prigozhin led a mutiny where Wagner fighters took control of Rostov-on-Don, shot down a number of Russian military helicopters and advanced toward Moscow. Putin called it an act of treachery that would be met with a "harsh response".

The mutiny was defused in a deal where the Kremlin said that Prigozhin and some of Wagner's fighters would leave for Belarus. A criminal case against Prigozhin for armed mutiny was to be dropped.

How did Yevgeny Prigozhin die?

In a video circulating in the Russian media, a jet, an Embraer SA Legacy 600, can be seen cruising on a course from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Suddenly, it began behaving erratically for a few seconds and then plunged. The video showed the plane dropping from the sky.

Later, Russian authorities confirmed that Prigozhin was among the 11 dead in the crash. 

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First Published: Aug 24 2023 | 10:52 AM IST

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