Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Russian Wagner mercenary group, was born in 1961 in former Leningrad, now Saint Petersburg. Raised on the street, he is a born survivor, inspired by the sweeping political and economic changes that Russia experienced in the 1990s, a wild environment that allowed for transitions as radical as those experienced by the leader of the Wagner mercenary group.
He spent nine years in prison and when he was released, he was successfully selling hot dogs.
At the age of 20, Prigozhin was sentenced to 13 years in prison for robbery, nine of which he spent behind bars. When he was released from prison, he discovered another world and started successfully selling hot dogs. In just five years, after buying part of a supermarket chain, he finally opened his own restaurant.
The place was the epicenter of the network of contacts that Prigozhin would build over the next few years as he grew the business until he met Putin.
His relationship with Putin
Putin and Prigozhin have known each other since the 1990s and they first met in April 2000 during a visit by then Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. Three years later, Putin celebrated his birthday on Prigozhin’s ship.
Putin turned to him when he was released from prison to provide food for his birthday parties and dinners with leaders of other nations, like the ones he had with George Bush or the Frenchman Jacques Chirac. He became known in the press as Putin’s “personal chef”.
Afterward, Prigozhin secured lucrative catering contracts for schools and the Russian military. He accompanied Putin to his food factories and was a member of the Kremlin building a business empire.
His transformation from wealthy oligarch to brutal warlord It came after the Russian-backed separatist movement in Donbass in 2014. Prigozhin founded Wagner that year as a mercenary organization fighting both in Ukraine and increasingly for Russian-backed causes around the world.