The man behind Wagner Group

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia, in February 2022, confirmed what we all already knew about the relationship between the Russian government and the controversial mercenary group of Yevgeni Prigozhin. But what is this Wagner Group and who is the man behind it?

Aug 18, 2023 - 23:00
The man behind Wagner Group
Image by The Economist

Ukraine's war put him in the world's spotlight. And the fiery speeches he shares on social media, where he presents himself as if he fears nothing and no one, have made Yevgeni Prigozhin a curious character to say the least. But what's the story of this man who seems willing to challenge Putin himself?

Yevgeni Prigozhin is a Russian businessman who has gained international attention due to his association with various ventures and entities, including the Wagner Group, a controversial private military company. 

Prigozhin gained initial prominence through his catering business, which provided meals for schools, the military, and other institutions in Russia. His company, Concord Catering, became known for winning contracts to provide food services for various Russian government agencies. 

Prigozhin is known for his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has been reported to have organized events and dinners for Putin and other high-ranking Russian officials, earning him the nickname "Putin's Chef."

He is associated with the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm that has been accused of spreading disinformation and engaging in online influence operations. Prigozhin and some of his associated entities have faced legal issues and sanctions by various countries for their alleged involvement in activities ranging from election interference to supporting armed groups in conflict zones.

In February 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted Prigozhin, along with other individuals and entities, for his alleged role in Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election through the Internet Research Agency.

Prigozhin's connections to various controversial activities have led to him being a subject of international attention and scrutiny. His involvement in different ventures has raised questions about his role in Russian state activities and influence campaigns.

Currently, his main activity is linked to the Wagner Group, a private military company that has been involved in conflict zones such as Ukraine and Syria. The group's connection to the Russian government was only officially recognized by Moscow after the alleged Prigozhin rebellion of last June. 


What is Wagner Group?

The Wagner Group is a controversial private military company based in Russia, and now also in Belarus. It is known for its involvement in various conflict zones around the world, often in support of Russian interests. The group's activities and operations are shrouded in secrecy, and it has been linked to a range of activities including military operations, security services, and resource extraction. 

The Wagner Group is believed to have been founded by Dmitry Utkin, a former Russian military officer. The group's name reportedly derives from a callsign Utkin used during his time in the Russian military. The Wagner Group is known for hiring military veterans and offering them employment in conflict zones.

It is often referred to as a private military company, but it operates with a high degree of secrecy and has been associated with various activities beyond traditional military services. These activities include providing security for resource extraction projects, offering paramilitary training, and participating in combat operations on behalf of its clients.

The Wagner Group operates in several conflict zones. Ukraine is where the group gained international attention for its involvement in the conflict in Ukraine, even before the invasion, particularly in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
But Wagner operatives have also been active in Syria, where they are believed to have supported the Syrian government's military efforts, including participating in combat operations against opposition forces and rebels.
There have been reports of Wagner Group involvement in other African countries such as Sudan, the Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, Niger and possibly other regions. In some cases, the group has been linked to security, resource extraction, and other activities. There are claims of Wagner Group personnel operating in Venezuela, providing support to the government of President Nicolás Maduro.

While the Russian government just recently acknowledged a direct connection to the Wagner Group, it was no secrecy that the group has ties to Russian state interests. The group's activities align with Russian foreign policy goals, and some of its personnel have ties to the Russian military or intelligence services.

The Wagner Group has faced controversies related to its operations, including allegations of human rights abuses, lack of transparency, and questionable legal status in various countries. Its involvement in conflict zones has raised concerns about its impact on local populations and stability.

Victorio Tomasino EA Global Coordinator