Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Russia’s Wagner Group mercenary force, was listed as a passenger on a plane that crashed north of Moscow. Prigozhin gained prominence after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, where his fighters played a leading role in the assault on the city of Bakhmut. Using social media, Prigozhin showcased Wagner’s successes and engaged in a public feud with the military establishment, accusing them of incompetence and betrayal. In June, he led a mutiny in Rostov-on-Don, shooting down military helicopters and ultimately reaching a deal with the Kremlin to leave for Belarus.
Born in St Petersburg in 1961, Yevgeny Prigozhin spent several years in prison for crimes including robbery and fraud. After his release in 1990, he established a successful catering and restaurant business in his hometown and built political connections. Securing major state contracts, he became known as “Putin’s chef” for catering Kremlin events. In 2014, Prigozhin founded the private military company Wagner, which has deployed fighters in support of Moscow’s allies in countries such as Syria, Libya, and the Central African Republic. The United States has sanctioned Wagner, accusing it of atrocities, while Prigozhin has denied these allegations.
In addition to his involvement with Wagner, Prigozhin admitted to founding and financing the Internet Research Agency, a company accused by Washington of being a “troll farm” that interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He openly claimed to have interfered in U.S. elections and expressed willingness to do so again. Despite previous confusion surrounding the implementation of the deal that allowed him to leave for Belarus, recent photographs suggest Prigozhin may have been in St Petersburg and even appeared in a video that implied his presence in Africa, where Wagner operates in multiple countries.