Muhammad Najem

Wagner and the Rise of a Russian Mercenary

Yevgeny Prigozhin is a former convict and self-made oligarch who some now see as gunning for President Putin’s job.
The Wagner Group, founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, is a privately run Russian militia accused of killing its own fighters for disobeying orders.
Prigozhin himself spent most of the 1980s in prison for theft and assault, which reportedly included him, at age 18, choking a woman until she passed out before he robbed her.
The origin of his business empire, in the early 1990s, was humble in the extreme, with Prigozhin running a hotdog stand in St. Petersburg.
By 1995 he had parlayed his modest enterprise into a posh restaurant frequented by a certain Vladimir Putin. From there, business boomed and expanded.
By 2014, Prigozhin had diversified his now substantial holdings into the military sector, with Wagner first appearing in the fight for eastern Ukraine.
Wagner has since provided muscle across Africa, while in Syria they’ve been accused of torturing and killing prisoners — reportedly with sledgehammers.
Sledgehammers are a grisly, recurring theme. A video posted in late 2022 allegedly showed one being used to bludgeon a Wagner deserter to death.
Today, Prigozhin’s popularity is seen by some as a threat to Putin himself, which was perhaps why the Russian president recently promoted three Prigozhin rivals.
Will that be enough to derail Yevgeny Prigozhin’s apparent quest for more power? Or, are we seeing the inevitable rise of a Putin successor?
Art by Al Jazeera


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