Chef and Chief.

Portrait of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the personal sadist of the Russian president

Andrei Zakharov, Katya Arenina, Ekaterina Reznikova, Mikhail Rubin, with contributions from Roman Badanin and other journalists of The Project

July 12, 2023

Two weeks after the end of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny, many people are still asking the same question: how was all that possible? The answer is simpler than it may seem: Prigozhin, a violent, out-of-control criminal, had been breaking numerous laws of the state and morality for decades and getting away with it, all thanks to Vladimir Putin’s personal involvement in his fate. The Project will now draw a criminal and psychological portrait of Putin’s chef.

The following text contains obscene language and sensitive photos.


Jacquot, Chef, Chief, Petrovich — Evgeny Prigozhin

HE, VV, Boss — Vladimir Putin

His Darkest Majesty — Dmitry Utkin

SB — Silvio Berlusconi

Dima — Dmitry Peskov

Anton — Anton Vaino

On October 18, 2011, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who had recently announced his intention to return to the presidential office, was walking through the Konstantinovsky Palace in St. Petersburg, probably in good spirits. He met a bald man on his way, and, judging by Putin’s subsequent remarks, was quite glad to see him. “Great hairstyle”, Putin remarked smilingly, pointing to the man’s bald head. He then shook the man’s hand and went on his way to meet with the heads of government of the CIS countries

Meeting of the CIS heads of government. Source:

It was an important day — after years of negotiations, the prime ministers of eight former Soviet republics finally signed a free trade agreement. Putin’s joy was enhanced by the fact that he was able to mock the prime minister of Ukraine, where, as he had just found out, the budget deficit was 18%. “Even more than the UK?! They had 12%!”, he wondered mockingly, looking at his Ukrainian counterpart Mykola Azarov.

After the meeting the prime ministers went to dinner, and Putin seemed to have forgotten about Azarov as soon as the same bald man appeared next to the president. The bald man took the trouble to put a napkin on Putin’s lap.

“Thank you, Zhenya,” Putin responded. — “How are you doing?”

While the heads of government waited for the meal to begin, the Russian prime minister kept talking to the bald-headed waiter, or chef, or organiser of this banquet. From that moment on, the number of important common matters Putin had with this man only kept growing. This particular man Putin talked to would play an important role in Russia’s interference in the American elections, in the events in Syria and Libya, and in the invasion of Ukraine. And this series of his favours to Putin will culminate in his interlocutor from the Konstantinovsky Palace almost taking over the Kremlin. The bald man’s name is Yevgeny Prigozhin. Having spoken to a dozen of his acquaintances, The Project will now tell how this man came to the point where he can allow himself literally anything in Russia.

Jacquot the Jailbird

On the afternoon of March 14, 1980, three people came to the entrance of a panel house in the north-east of Leningrad: a young woman named Valentina Makeko and two young men with foreign nicknames — Bush and Jacquot. All of them had previous convictions and were now doing some dirty business again. Jacquot, the informal leader of the group, most likely carried a crowbar with him .

They broke open the door and entered the flat, where they quickly collected everything of value. This included a steering wheel cover, a set of fountain pens, and crystal glassware . A few days later, Jacquot tried to rob a flat in a neighbouring building with another group of accomplices, but got scared off by the alarm system and fled, having only broken open one of the two front doors.

Jacquot was Prigozhin’s nickname at that time . He became the leader of a group of robbers at just 18, although Bush (Alexei Bushman) was four years older than him. “Prigozhin was the one who decided which flats to rob,” says his former accomplice. Jaco tried to choose dwellings familiar to him, for example, those that his girlfriends invited him to. For example, the flat with the alarm system was the home of his “former love interest”, the accomplice recalls.

According to the observations of his acquaintance, Jacquot possessed “internal rigidity”, which allowed him to subdue those around him. He liked to brag — the first time he was caught stealing after graduating from school, he was put in the same cell with repeat offenders for the duration of the investigation, but he allegedly bullied them both physically and mentally . The future rebel then got off with a suspended sentence, but he soon went to jail for a long time when he displayed not “internal rigidity” but real cruelty.

Ocean restaurant in St. Petersburg

After spending time in a restaurant, a drunken group led by Jacquot decided to make some money by robbing a random passer-by. Valya Makeko asked a young woman for a cigarette, and when she reached into her purse, Prigozhin grabbed her from behind by the neck and began to strangle her. The woman lost consciousness, and the robbers took off her boots and earrings. The gang was soon apprehended.

The prospect of a new sentence clearly did not frighten Jacquot: at his trial, he showed off the new tattoos he got in the pre-trial detention centre . In particular, he had a full-back tattoo of a woman — as “tasteless” as possible, “in the typical 90s fashion” .

In late 1981, the Zhdanovsky People’s Court of Leningrad sentenced Prigozhin to 13 years in prison. Jacquot celebrated his 19th birthday behind bars. He celebrated almost all the birthdays of his youth in the same setting. It was in the penal colony that he lost the phalanx of his left ring finger, but the injury was most likely work-related . In the future, this physical flaw would allow to distinguish Prigozhin from his body doubles. He made parole in 1990 and found himself in a completely different country, where a steering wheel cover and a set of fountain pens no more seemed to be of great value.

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Putin’s Chef

In one of his first major interviews from 2011, Prigozhin, answering a question about the history of his business, recalled how he sold hot dogs at the Apraksin Yard market in St. Petersburg. There is no other reliable evidence that this story is true, except for the words of the former criminal himself. However, it is known for a fact that soon after his return from prison, Prigozhin worked at the car market on Energetikov Avenue — a makeshift marketplace next to a car service station, where the legends of St.Petersburg’s criminal underworld started their careers.

Car market on Energetikov Avenue, St. Petersburg

It was there in 1991 that Andrei Bakonin, a young Soviet army officer, came to buy a car. He had just returned from Libya, where he had served as an interpreter for several years. Working abroad paid well even in the Perestroika years, so the officer picked out a then-popular Zhiguli 2106 at the car market and, having bargained about the price with the seller named Yevgeny, took the car for a spin around the city.

However, problems soon arose with the car: it turned out that it had been deliberately patched up for marketability, but was actually worthless . The annoyed Bakonin and his backup group went to look for the seller and eventually found his flat . The trader initially resisted, claiming that the deal had been concluded in accordance with all the rules, but eventually agreed to return half of the sum. Bakonin was then struck by the fact that the desk from which trader took out the wad of cash was “full of money”.

Both participants in that incident would meet each other many times afterwards. The seller of the broken car was, of course, Prigozhin. A few years later, watching TV, he would suddenly recognise the officer, who by that time had become a well-known journalist in the city under the pseudonym Andrei Konstantinov (in the future he would write a series of books that would become the basis for the Bandit Petersburg TV series). As Konstantinov later recalled, this time Prigozhin called him himself and offered to meet — not for a showdown, but just to “have a chat”.

Andrei Konstantinov

It was around this time that Jacquot started his way into big business — thanks to his classmate at the Leningrad sports boarding school Boris Spektor and his partner, the legend of “Bandit Petersburg” Mikhail Mirilashvili. In the early 90s, Mirilashvili, Spector and their partners opened several casinos in St. Petersburg , but Spector also owned a chain of grocery shops called Contrast, and Prigozhin became one of the top managers of this retail chain .

“Prigozhin is quite a go-getter,” recalls a respected businessman who personally knew many of St Petersburg’s heroes of the 90s. — Besides, he is a Jew, which may have played a role in the fact that Mirilashvili and Spektor (prominent members of St. Petersburg’s Jewish community) hired him.”

It was Mirilashvili and Spektor who gave the ex-convict the money for his first serious independent business — the famous restaurants, which allowed the yesterday’s Jacquot to make a stunning career growth . In late 1995, the Old Customs House restaurant opened near the Spit of Vasilievsky Island. For the first few months, the restaurant with the then rare foie gras and oysters on the menu remained empty, and even the strippers specially invited to remedy the situation did not help . But soon the St Petersburg establishment took to the place: for example, the then mayor of the city, Anatoly Sobchak, visited the restaurant with his wife towards the end of his term . Around the same time, Sobchak’s deputy Vladimir Putin, also appeared at the restaurant for the first time. “Yes, I met Vladimir Putin for the first time when he came here with Mr Sobchak, I think he was still part of Sobchak’s team at that time,” recalled UK citizen Anthony Gere, the manager of the Old Customs House, in an interview 25 years later .

However, the main launching pad for the former criminal’s career was the New Island restaurant, which opened in 1997 inside the former pleasure boat Moskva-177, which Prigozhin converted into a floating restaurant and placed on Rumyantsevsky Spusk dock, which overlooks St Isaac’s Cathedral and the Admiralty.

New Island restaurant

When Putin became president, he made a habit of holding meetings with world leaders there.

World leaders visiting Prigozhin’s restaurant

n 1999, at New Island, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin persuaded Michel Camdessus, the manager of the International Monetary Fund, to grant a loan to Russia. Prigozhin recalled that from that moment on, the restaurant began to receive heads of state.

In 2000, President Putin visited the ship for the first time — he met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori.

In 2001, the Russian president brought French President Jacques Chirac on board the restaurant.

In 2002, Putin met with George W. Bush.

In October 2003, Putin celebrated his birthday aboard New Island with actors Kirill Lavrov and Mikhail Boyarsky, singer Alexander Rosenbaum and Kremlin Chief of Staff Vladimir Kozhin. As an appetiser, they were served cold boiled pork, mushrooms, pickled garlic and caviar, as reported by the St. Petersburg newspaper Smena.

Yoshiro Mori

Jacques Chirac

George W. Bush

Vladimir Putin

“Vladimir Putin saw how I made a business starting with just a stall. He saw how I don’t hesitate to personally serve a plate to the crowned dignitaries, because they came to visit me. We got acquainted when he came with Japanese Prime Minister Mori, then he came with Bush,” Prigozhin himself replied when asked about his acquaintance with the president. Vladimir Kozhin, Putin’s chief of staff, who also comes from St Petersburg, could have helped him get closer to the head of state .

Thus, yesterday’s criminal became Putin’s chef — a regular recipient of orders to cater state banquets, such as the dinner of the CIS heads of government described at the beginning of this text. He was also in charge of the personal events of top officials — for example, at the time when Dmitry Medvedev was being considered as Putin’s successor, Prigozhin organised a funeral feast for the grandmother of his wife Svetlana at the Old Customs House. It was the same Kozhin who introduced the chef to the distinguished couple .

Having acquired a new status, Prigozhin no longer needed his old partners — Mirilashvili, Spector and their people. Especially since the legend of the “Bandit Petersburg” got into serious trouble — in 2001 Mirilashvili was arrested on charges of kidnapping and murder . The division of his empire began, and Mirilashvili ended up with only the 7:40 Jewish restaurant — all the rest unexpectedly went to Prigozhin . Kirill Ziminov, another co-owner of the business and Prigozhin’s next-door neighbour, later claimed that the chef had underpaid him by $400,000 during the division. And while Officer Konstantinov was able to get his money for the broken Zhiguli out of Prigozhin in 1991, Ziminov had no such resources in the 2000s, as he was up against Putin’s chef himself . Over time, this man began to realise that he was allowed to do virtually anything.

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The Chief and His Executioner

After the mutiny was over, Prigozhin’s house was searched and, among other things, a framed photograph of the severed heads of murdered Africans was found . This is no accident — many people who worked directly with the Chief, which is what even former employees call Prigozhin, have their own memories of his violent tendencies.

Show photo
A photo from Yevgeny Prigozhin’s house with the heads of murdered Africans. The Project is the first to show it uncensored

In the mid-2000s, the former criminal, by then already a major recipient of state contracts for Kremlin banquets , began construction of a pseudo-classical cottage village in the north-west of St Petersburg, with the pretentious name Northern Versailles. He also decided to settle there himself, so the neighbourhood of Prirozhin’s house would soon become an important place for his business — the nearby Olgino would soon house the first headquarters of the “troll factory”, whose employees would use fake accounts to promote an agenda favourable to the Kremlin on social networks (see below for more details).

The work on Northern Versailles took a long time. Two workers who were installing window sills in one of the houses were not paid about 200,000 rubles, allegedly as punishment for poor work. The sum was significant for the workers, so they went to the Chief’s office. “Prigozhin received them and listened to them carefully. He then called security to beat the shit out of them. Then they were dragged out of the office and into the basement where they fucked them up one more time. After all that, they were thrown out of the gate,” an interlocutor familiar with the investigation of this story told The Project.

The guards called the police themselves, but presented the events in a way that was favourable to them: according to them, some hooligans broke into the office and they had to deal with them on the spot. “Naturally, the materials of the pre-investigation inspection got lost. Even back then, Prigozhin and his men were untouchable,” says the Project’s interlocutor.

“The Chief has two principles of management — fear and money,” says a former high-ranking employee of Prigozhin’s structures.

A political strategist who worked for the Chief in Africa recalls that they were always made to understand: if you do something wrong, they will literally “cut your balls off” . Because of this, Prigozhin has a very loyal entourage — everyone knows that something “terrible” can happen to them for any misdemeanour,” the employee adds.

All interlocutors note the fiery character of the Chief. “If he was dissatisfied with something, he could easily take you out into the corridor and push you down the stairs,” recalls one of them. Another person told how Prigozhin was once in a hurry and frustratedly kicked the chauffeur in the head from his back seat to make him go faster. According to him, the driver quit after this incident, as did many other employees.

The Chief did not always beat his employees himself – violence was a daily occurrence in his office, and there was a special person there for that purpose. One of The Project’s interlocutors recalls that once a colleague of his misbehaved at a meeting and then disappeared. His co-workers tried to call him to no avail. He did not turn up at work until a couple of weeks later, explaining that he had spent several days in the basement below the office, where they were beating him up. He pointed to the yellow bruises all over his body as proof and soon changed jobs. The man who beats employees in the basement is known collectively as “The Teacher.” “He is the executioner who fucks you up in the basement and sends [Prigozhin] a photo so [he] can decide whether to [beat you up] some or whether you’ve had enough,” recounted Vyacheslav Tarasov, formerly one of the most important employees in the office, in a video appeal on June 24, the day of the mutiny.

To get an idea of how Prigozhin communicates with his subordinates, it would suffice to read his email to an employee of the PR department who prepared mockups of an ad for the Old Customs House restaurant .

“Billboards are TOTAL CRAP out of the rest only the press breakfast and the rest is ALSO CRAP OVRALL TOTALLY STUPID BASTARD!!!!”

Spelling and punctuation by Yevgeny Prigozhin

Prigozhin and violence

Law enforcement agencies did not investigate these cases at all or did so in the most formal way possible — they would fail to initiate proceedings, lose documents, and refuse to question witnesses. However, based on the testimonies of participants and eyewitnesses, documents and leaked data from Prigozhin’s own structures, the media link all these cases to the Chief and his men.

← Shift + Scroll →

  • 1981

    18-year-old Prigozhin and his accomplices attacked a young woman and strangled her until she lost consciousness. After that, the attackers took off her boots and gold earrings .

  • 2004

    Prigozhin discovered that Dmitry Sokolov, a 25-year-old employee of Kraski Tex, ended up on board his floating restaurant after a nearby corporate party. The Chief was angered by the presence of an outsider and, according to one account, beat Sokolov, after which he allegedly fell into the water and drowned .

  • 2013

    Prigozhin's employees beat up Anton Grishchenko, a blogger from Sochi who "wrote bad things about Putin," with an iron rod .

  • 2016

    In the summer of 2016, Prigozhin's employees killed Pskov opposition blogger Sergei Tikhonov by poisoning him through an injection .

  • 2016

    In March 2016, Prigozhin's subordinates most likely shot and killed Dmitry Kargaev, an aide to the head of the LPR .

  • 2016

    In November 2016, Oleg Simonov, hired by Prigozhin, injected Sergei Mokhov, husband of FBK lawyer Lyubov Sobol, who was investigating Prigozhin, with a poison syringe . Mokhov survived - allegedly, they only wanted to "give Sobol a little scare".

  • 2017

    In February 2017, Prigozhin instructed several people to test chemical agents on captured ISIS members in Syria. When no prisoners could be found on site, the tests were carried out on Syrian mercenaries: one of them died, and several others showed poisoning symptoms .

  • 2017

    Oleg Simonov, who carried out the poisonings of Mokhov and Tikhonov and participated in the experiments in Syria, died in St Petersburg in May 2017. Prigozhin's former employee Valery Amelchenko believed that Prigozhin was involved in his death .

  • 2017

    A group of people connected to Prigozhin took Andrei Mikhailov, the man behind the "troll factory", into the forest and beat him up, demanding that he return his stake in one of Prigozhin's companies .

  • 2017

    In the summer of 2017, members of the Wagner PMC beat an unarmed Syrian man to death with a sledgehammer at the Sha'ir Sha'ir oil-gas field in Syria, then cut off his head and arms, hung and burned his body .

  • 2017

    Prigozhin's employee Valery Amelchenko stabbed activist Vladimir Ivanyutenko, who was later tried for allegedly preparing an assassination attempt on Prigozhin .

  • 2018

    In July 2018, journalists Alexander Rastorguev, Orkhan Dzhemal and Kirill Radchenko were murdered in the Central African Republic. This murder was most likely the result of a carefully thought-out plan by Yevgeny Prigozhin's team .

  • 2018

    Valery Amelchenko, who was involved in the attacks on Grishchenko, Tikhonov and Mokhov, as well as the experiments in Syria, disappeared in October 2018 after giving interviews to Novaya Gazeta for several months for an upcoming sensational piece. He was found three weeks later - it is still unknown whether it was an actual abduction or a staged event.

  • 2019

    After the release of Lubov Sobol's investigation into poisonings in kindergartens where food was supplied by the companies of Putin's chef, Prigozhin's associates followed the oppositionist and her family members around the clock and doused Sobol herself and volunteers of her headquarters with unknown liquid and manure.

  • 2022

    Media outlets close to the Wagner PMC published a video of former convict Yevgeny Nuzhin being executed with a sledgehammer. Prigozhin claimed that he and the PMC had nothing to do with it, but with his apparent approval the weapon became a symbol of Wagner: Prigozhin would send a sledgehammer to the European Parliament and present it to Russian officials.

  • 2022

    Prigozhin's personal guard beat "to a pulp" his employee who disagreed with the Chief's demand to "bring a thousand prisoners into action a day", pointing out that "three hundred people is the limit" .

The general public only became aware of Prigozhin’s passion for eloquent swearing in 2023, when he began recording his passionate appeals to the Ministry of Defence. However, his journey into big politics and media stardom had a very awkward beginning.

Intellectual Savage

In the autumn of 2010, Prigozhin made a new grade — he built a factory near St. Petersburg, which produced ready-to-eat meals for state-funded institutions, and Putin, then Prime Minister, personally visited it for the launch of the production.

Putin and Prigozhin at the Concord ready-to-eat food factory

After that, the media became interested in the life story of the former convict, and he gave an interview to the Gorod-812 magazine – ironically, this outlet belonged to an old acquaintance of Prigozhin’s, Andrei Konstantinov, the unsuccessful buyer of the Zhiguli. “How much did the factory cost you?” – the journalist asked. Instead of answering, Prigozhin called his secretary Nadia (this is reflected in the text). She brought the boss an advertising brochure, and he read out a dull passage from it:

“The first Russian factory producing refrigerated ready-to-eat meals using a technology that allows preserving all the properties of a freshly cooked dish without preservatives, sterilisation or freezing for 21 days cost me under two billion rubles.”

At that time, Prigozhin generally displayed the manners and expertise typical of a criminal: “What? Machiavelli? Dick-a-valley!”, he once said, surprised by the surname of the famous Italian philosopher. However, the Chef was apparently drawn to politics, and, as an employee from whom the Chief first heard the name of Niccolo Machiavelli recalled in a conversation with The Project, Prigozhin was eager to learn — he immediately wrote down the unfamiliar surname.

Soon after that conversation, a book by another philosopher — Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci — appeared on Prigozhin’s tablet. Noticing this, the Chief’s subordinate was surprised at first, but then remembered that a few days earlier Prigozhin’s staff had mentioned Gramsci’s writings to him when discussing the West’s use of ideas of cultural hegemony. After reading a few books, Prigozhin formed some peculiar views — he began to tell his subordinates that his ideology was military communism .

“He was transforming from a savage to an intellectual savage right before our eyes,” notes The Project’s interlocutor.

In practice, big politics began for the Chef with eavesdropping — his waiters catered high receptions involving the country’s leadership, and sent Prigozhin reports on the conversations and actions of the guests.

How Prigozhin’s waiters eavesdropped on Putin

Prigozhin’s interest in important conversations came to light thanks to leaked emails of his firm Concord Catering — Anonymous International got hold of correspondence from 2010-2013. For example, in 2010 the Chef’s waiters worked at Putin’s Novo-Ogaryovo residence near Moscow when he had a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. They reported in detail how one of the Russian prime minister’s daughters came to the meeting, and “VV” (i.e. Putin) told her and “SB” (i.e. Berlusconi), about the problems of American leaders — according to him, they were forced to be conformists because of the presidential term limit of eight years

The Chef was keeping up with his subordinates as well, working at key banquets and enthusiastically taking notes of his conversations with the country’s leadership. Thanks to the fact that these notes were found among the leaked correspondence between Prigozhin and his secretary, we can learn that Putin actively promoted his Chef. He not only visited Prigozhin’s ready-to-eat food factory near St. Petersburg, but also personally instructed Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov to order its products for schools and the army, respectively.

How much Prigozhin made off children and the military

These issues were so important to the Russian leader that he discussed them with Prigozhin when the latter put a napkin on his lap during the dinner in October 2011 and made him forget about the CIS heads of government sitting next to him:

– I spoke to Sergei (Sobyanin). He’s in a good mood. He says that the main thing is that you keep going….

– I do. He’s really doing everything, and next year he’s giving me all 300 schools.

– What are the issues there then?

– Vladimir Vladimirovich, the main thing is that the whole system is based on theft, and a lot of people are involved in it, who naturally start rail wars.

– And you didn’t let them steal! That’s right. What did you expect? — he laughs and claps me on the arm.

– Yes, at first I didn’t let them steal, but now I’m giving them a little, but temporarily. You know, I thought I’d calculated everything, but I didn’t take the main thing into account. It’s the resistance. Although now I’m studying anew how this process went in other countries. There, scandals lasted for years, and the biggest players on the market, such as Sodexo, turned out to be even worse than me according to the press.

– No way! — He laughs again and takes my hand.

– Vladimir Vladimirovich, there are some good results though. On Friday, I was summoned by the Defence Minister . I thought there were some problems in the schools or the army, but he asked me: “What can I do to help? Do you want me to talk to Vladimir Vladimirovich or the president?” I said that I had spoken to Vladimir Vladimirovich myself, and that there was no need to bother the president.

– So what did he help you with?

– I asked him to give me more army contracts, and he agreed.

– Well done Anatoly! — VV laughs again.

Prigozhin tried to retell the dialogues artistically — perhaps, as a man with political and creative ambitions, he was planning to publish a book. Just in case, he spoke of Putin with demonstrative respect and even referred to him in third person in capital letters — HE. Here, for example, is how the Chef describes the birthday greeting of “Dima”, i.e. Prime Minister’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov:

Anton asked us to prepare champagne after everything was over, as the Boss wanted to congratulate Dima on his birthday. We also bought a cake, wrote “Dima” on it and decorated it with two children’s candles with the number 4 so that it said “Dima is 44.” We waited.

VV came out of the office in a good mood.

– Dima, is it your birthday today?

– Yes, — he replied.

VV grabbed a painting from the dresser and gave it to Dima. Dima said words of gratitude in return.

I brought out the champagne and cut the cake.

– Does it taste good? — VV asked.

– Yes, I think so, — I answered.

– And who made it, was it you?

– Yes, it was my cooks…

– Playing it safe, huh? — he laughed. Then he turned to everyone and said: “I asked him, was it you? And he said it was cooks. Well done, he played it safe.”

I said thank you and turned to the door, since the champagne was already poured and the cake was served. HE stopped me. I stayed.

Prigozhin is yet to publish a book with such memoirs. So far, he has only realised his creative potential in children’s literature and cinema, where he couldn’t do without politics either. Here is the summary of a fairy tale he wrote together with his children in 2002:

Trouble has befallen the king of the magical realm of Indragusia — he is constantly shrinking in size and is in danger of disappearing altogether because of evil sorcery. Fortunately, his friends find a magic flute, the sound of which first returns the king to the normal size of the inhabitants of Indragusia, and then makes the king, all his subjects and Indragusia itself, grow to usual, human size.

And here is the summary of an episode from the film The 16th, which was produced by Prigozhin. The distinctive humour reveals a former criminal in the creator:

16 teenagers launch a support line for masturbators in the US, which the head of the FBI calls with a confession: he can only masturbate to a portrait of the US President. Such ingenious manipulations enabled the teenagers to achieve Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election.

Trailer for The 16th

The Chef produced a total of nine films, mostly devoted to the Wagnerites and political strategists in Africa. But The 16th was dedicated to Prigozhin’s favourite brainchild, the “troll factory” located not far from the Chef’s cottage village. In this film, the authors dramatised their arguably biggest success — the attempt to interfere in the 2016 US elections.

The “troll factory” was Prigozhin’s first important political project. According to one version, he created it after discussions with Vyacheslav Volodin, who in the first half of the 2010s oversaw Russia’s domestic policy as First Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration. “Volodin complained to the Chief that bloggers were fucking him over and providing him with bogus views figures,” says a former high-ranking employee of the Chef. At that time, Prigozhin was just getting into pro-Kremlin political PR — his money was used to make the 2012 film “Anatomy of Protest” about people allegedly attending opposition rallies for money, which aired on NTV. “So the Chief told Volodin — I’ll make my own network of bloggers, everything will work fucking great,” claims The Project’s interlocutor. After a while, the “troll factory” started operating in the Lakhta district of St. Petersburg, and Prigozhin’s men supposedly sent reports on its activities to Volodin .

As time went on, Prigozhin became more and more eager to go public and less in need of papers from his secretary Nadia. To communicate with journalists, he even started a special VK group called “Concord Press Service”. All journalistic inquiries and insubstantial but mocking answers to them were published there (for this reason The Project did not send any inquiries to Prigozhin while preparing this piece). Prigozhin’s passion for publicity eventually led to the fact that, for the first time in history, a huge country was following an armed rebellion via the rebel’s voice messages on Telegram. But to achieve this, the former criminal needed an army, which Putin also entrusted to him.

Playing Soldiers

Prigozhin’s interests are incredibly diverse. Somewhere in the mid-2010s, one of Prigozhin’s employees discovered toy soldiers in the Chef’s office — they were lined up in two rows in a cabinet, as if ready to march . At this time, the Chef was already commanding not only toy soldiers, but also real ones — fighters of the Wagner PMC he had created . During the war with Ukraine, the country would see another of Prigozhin’s hobbies — sitting over huge maps for long periods of time and showing where are “our guys” are and where the enemy is.

Prigozhin with a map. Source: “Prigozhin’s Cap” Telegram channel

The PMC Wagner first gained notoriety in 2015, when the company was looking for fighters to take part in a military operation in Syria. Although, as it turned out later (! , and was confirmed, among other things, by the investigation of Ukrainian law enforcement agencies × , the detachment of former GRU Lieutenant Colonel Dmitry Utkin whose call sign was Wagner (read more about him below) participated in battles on the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts since 2014. After that, the PMC was involved in battles not only in Syria , but also in Africa. Prigozhin’s structures were present in at least 13 African countries — those were both mercenaries and political strategists who helped local leaders seize or retain power .

Prigozhin was constantly engaged in projects in Africa. Every day he would call his staff in the CAR, Chad, Congo, Sudan, Syria and Libya and listen to their reports, sometimes giving specific instructions .

Mercenaries of the Wagner PMC in the Central African Republic. Source:

The Chef took an interest in literally everything in these countries. In the Central African Republic, his structures trained the military, and in return they received concessions to mine diamonds and gold. But one day, after a conversation with the local president, Prigozhin suddenly decided that it was absolutely necessary to get involved in coffee production. “We immediately started producing coffee, but since we didn’t hire qualified managers, the business didn’t take off, even though the coffee was delicious,” recalls one of the employees.

It was in Africa that the Chief first combined his two most powerful resources — political strategists and the army. This led to a mess — Prigozhin tried to move African presidents around as if they were toy soldiers from his cabinet. A representative of the president of one African country once flew to St Petersburg with a request to help create their own “troll factory”. Specialists were provided for them and they began to support the current head of state with PR, but after three months, they turned the tables and placed their bets on his opponent .

Mercenaries of the Wagner PMC in Sudan. Source:

In Sudan, Prigozhin’s troops may have been among those who instigated the civil war . His political strategists advised President Omar al-Bashir, who was deposed in 2019 but loyal to Russia, and fighters from his parallel army, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), trained and fought alongside the Wagner PMC . As a result, this organisation rebelled against the regular troops.

How Prigozhin fought the discontent in Africa

In spring 2018, Prigozhin’s companies began building a gold mining plant 400 kilometres from Khartoum (Sudan’s capital) . Thus, local nomads who mine gold artisanally lost their jobs . In desperation they decided to put up a fight — one day several hundred men armed with swords surrounded four dozen workers and engineers. Negotiations failed to resolve the issue, and then two PMC helicopters with military equipment and armed fighters were sent to the factory construction site. However, there was no skirmish: one of the helicopters, unable to withstand its load, crashed in the desert (its passengers managed to evacuate). The second one still reached the construction site, and that was enough — the swordsmen scattered at the mere sight of it.

However, Prigozhin himself could never have commanded an army if he had not had a serious assistant, who was as brutal as himself.

Heil Petrovich!

Prigozhin grew up in a Jewish family , but that did not prevent him from keeping an outspoken Nazi Dmitry Utkin at the head of his army. Utkin’s call sign, Wagner, gave the PMC its name.

Dmitry Utkin. Source: Fontanka

An important part of Utkin’s biography is that he grew up in Ukraine, in the small village of Smoline near Kirovohrad (now renamed Kropyvnytskyi) . In conversations with The Project, his classmates recalled that he was a very tall, physically developed, athletic guy. “He was not confrontational, quiet,” recollects one of his classmates. — What point was there to conflict when his height back in school was 190 centimetres?” The original Wagner apparently had success with women — he has several wives and children, both in Russia and Ukraine.

The wives of Dmitry Utkin

  • While studying at a military school, Utkin came home on one of his cadet leaves and met Elena, who gave birth to his daughter Anna in 1993. However, his mother forbade him to marry, and in retaliation Utkin left to serve in Dagestan and cut off ties with her .
  • In Chechnya, he also had a field wife. Utkin employed her as a contract serviceman in a military commandant’s office, and would come to visit her accompanied by two APCs at the front and back of his convoy .
  • In Smolino, Utkin had another wife, who gave birth to a son after one of his holidays back home . The officer almost transferred to serve in the Security Service of Ukraine for their sake, she told The Project. “He even submitted the documents, but then, as always, his mum got involved and he went back [to Chechnya],” she recalled.
  • Utkin’s longest marriage was to Natalia Vishnitskaya, a garrison doctor from the village of Pechory in the Pskov Oblast. It officially lasted almost 14 years . Utkin has two children from her. However, the main person in Wagner’s life is his mum, who is the only person he obeyed unconditionally .

Utkin arranged the lives of all his relatives well — he took his mother and his eldest daughter Anna to Russia before the war . The daughter now works in Prirozhin’s Preschool Catering Combine, earning about 150,000 rubles a month . The Project calculates that Utkin’s mother owns real estate worth a total of about 60 million rubles — she owns apartments in Moscow and Sochi, 150 m² premises in the Lakhta Park apartment complex built by Prigozhin in St. Petersburg, as well as a private house of the same size in Goryachiy Klyuch, not far from the main base of the Wagner PMC in the village of Molkino.

Lakhta Park complex

During her marriage to Utkin, his wife Natalia Vishnitskaya became the owner of two flats in St Petersburg worth about 19 million rubles .

In the 90s, Utkin fought in the Caucasus . “Even back then he was already fucked in the head. He was a Nazi even then,” was the characteristic given to Utkin by a St Petersburg businessman who knew him. According to him, after the first Chechen war, Utkin studied at the Israeli-founded Security Academy in St Petersburg. Given his Nazi views, it was an extravagant choice, laughs The Project’s interlocutor. Utkin would startle him when he came to shooting practice at the range located on Aptekarsky Prospekt — it was normal for him to get mad at a paper target. “I’ll fucking kill you!” — he would shout and hit the target with precision.

Utkin in Dagestan, 1999. Source: Dossier Centre

After leaving the army as a commander of a special forces unit, Utkin was hired by another graduate of the Israeli academy, Boris Chikin, to work for his first PMC, Moran Security Group (MSG), which was engaged in protecting ships from pirates . Then he briefly served in Syria as part of the nationalist Slavic Corps until it was defeated in the oil fields near Deir ez-Zor, and in 2014 he received an invitation from the Ministry of Defence to go to Luhansk . “There was a redistribution of property going on there, in which Prigozhin was actively involved. Wagner was attached to him as a commander of the support unit,” says Marat Gabidullin, a veteran of the PMC. Thus, an outspoken Nazi became a leader of the fight against Ukrainian “fascism”.

Utkin likes to strut around the Wagner base in Molkino wearing elements of the Nazi uniform — a cap with SS symbols . The commander even used fascist addresses — for example, in his correspondence with Prigozhin Utkin wrote to him “Heil Petrovich!” . Utkin himself was nicknamed His Dark Excellency, apparently for his cruelty . As his signature, he would write two “sieg” runes next to each other, which are the symbol of the German SS units. He also had Nazi tattoos on his body at first, but later had them covered with pseudo-Slavic kolovrat symbols, Gabidullin says.

Utkin’s signatures “SS” and “Heil Petrovich”. Source: Dossier Centre

It is well known how the alliance of the two cruel men, Petrovitch and His Dark Excellency, ended. Their army marched on Moscow.

The Sick Mutineer

Resuscitation bed, lung ventilator, oxygen concentrator — all this equipment was found by law enforcers during searches at Prigozhin’s country house in the Northern Versailles complex on June 24, the day of the mutiny . Judging by the equipment, the in-home medical room was created in case Prigozhin contracted COVID-19: at the beginning of the pandemic, wealthy Russians were buying up ventilators for their homes, fearing that overcrowded hospitals might not have room for them .

Medical equipment found in Prigozhin’s house during searches. Source: Fontanka

Prigozhin’s COVID-related fears are understandable: he has been treated for abdominal cancer for a long time and underwent serious therapy . “He used to have cancer. Now the process of tumour formation seems to have stopped,” says one of The Project’s interlocutors.

Because of his illness, Prigozhin follows a strict diet and leads a healthy lifestyle — for example, one of his long-term employees only saw the Chief drink a glass of lemonade once. During searches in Prigozhin’s home, they found briquettes with some kind of “white powder”, each weighing about a kilogram . However, The Project’s interlocutors are unanimous in saying that they have never seen Petrovich take drugs. “Since he first got sick and then recovered, he has forbidden everyone to communicate with drug dealers in Africa or Syria, or they’d be put in a pit” .

The documents found in Prigozhin’s possession during the search show that he not only received treatment at home, but was also one of the first VIP clients of the Sogaz clinic, which is linked to Putin’s daughter and served the president’s closest friends, and where the Wagnerites were treated for free. The same documents prove that Prigozhin uses different identities.

Prigozhin’s Body Doubles

In 2021, Radio Liberty journalists obtained a list of Sogaz’s VIP clients, where they found people who looked nothing like rich patients. For example, a certain Dmitriy Geyler, one of the first clients labelled “super VIP”. The journalists found out that a person with this name was looking for a job as a driver with a salary of 40,000 rubles and thus could hardly afford treatment at a clinic for presidential friends. The mystery was solved when a passport in Geyler’s name but also with a photo of Prigozhin himself, who apparently used a false name, was found during a search at the mutineer’s house.

Prigozhin’s passport is in the name of Dmitriy Geyler. Source: Fontanka

This was not the only such find: Prigozhin also used passports in the names of Oleg Semenov and Vladimir Bobrov. Bobrov is also a real person, who worked at a factory near Tver in 2021 and ran for the LDPR party in local elections several times. Geyler would not talk to The Project, Bobrov said he would be willing to talk for one million rubles, but when he heard questions about his passport, he also refused to comment .

Prigozhin has not only fake identities, but also at least one personal body double — three passports in Prigozhin’s name with a photo of a person who looks similar to him were also found during searches. Earlier, Fontanka also found three men who changed their names to become full namesakes of the businessman. In addition, Dmitry Utkin also had a body double — his full namesake with a different TIN became the head of one of Prigozhin’s companies in 2017*). This person is Leonid Krasavin, a formerly convicted St Petersburg resident who changed his full name and became Prigozhin’s full namesake, as Open Media found out in 2021. He took part in at least one affair for his namesake: he flew to Lithuania and took several photos, which were later published by Sobesednik, claiming that Prigozhin, despite being sanctioned, met with a Ministry of Transport official in Lithuania and visited the Lithuanian parliament. The Lithuanian State Security Department suggested that Prigozhin was trying to undermine confidence in Lithuania’s international obligations.

Passports in Prigozhin’s name with a photo of Prigozhin-Krasavin. Source: Fontanka

However, Prigozhin can still be distinguished from his body doubles — as mentioned above, the “original” is missing a phalanx of a finger, while the other one has all his fingers in place, judging by the published photos.

Lookalikes and fake passports are not the only disguises Prigozhin has resorted to. Wigs were found at his home during a search, and anonymous telegram channels began circulating selfies of him in various guises, explaining that he used them in his work abroad. Ksenia Sobchak’s channel “Beware of the News!” claims that the selfies were distributed by pro-Kremlin channels, while TV Rain wrote that it had received such photos before they appeared on other channels from a subscriber who identified himself as a former employee of Prigozhin’s structures. Two interviewees of The Project who worked directly with Prigozhin confirmed that he did use make-up when travelling to African countries. For example, in Libya, he used it to escape the “hunt” for him, which was organised by supporters of the current government .

Those who have worked under Prigozhin for a long time believe the illness may have been one of the reasons for his particularly raspy behaviour of late. “This is a man with his stomach and intestines cut out!” — was the reaction of one of them when he was asked to explain why Prigozhin might have taken such a drastic step as armed mutiny. However, there were other reasons as well.

Members of the Cook’s entourage recall that his conflict with the Ministry of Defence began long ago — at least since 2017, he could not forgive Shoigu and his generals for taking all the credit for the repeated assault on Palmyra in Syria, although it was Wagner PMC that participated in it  . Conflicts between the two occasionally recurred after that — it was rumoured that in 2021 Prigozhin even hit one of the generals whom Shoigu had sent to him for negotiations .

The pretext for the armed mutiny was the June 10 statement by the Defence Ministry announcing that fighters of the Wagner PMC were to sign contracts with the Russian army . Judging by many signs, the mutiny was not spontaneous — at least, its media coverage was prepared in advance. Prigozhin’s RIA FAN registered “mirror” versions of its website almost a month prior, and at least one female journalist was sent to Rostov in advance — Alina Lipp, a regular columnist for FAN, met the armed column in the deserted streets of Saturday Rostov, and they confirmed to her “with a nod of the head” that they were from Wagner .

In the morning of June 23, half a day before the mutiny began, several top managers of Prigozhin’s structures left St. Petersburg . “The factory management knew everything and was waiting for the searches,” says one of The Project’s interlocutors.

However, Prigozhin’s entourage is now inclined to attribute the mutiny to the Chief’s impulsive nature. When asked what all that was about, he allegedly told his employees this: “I’m not sure what it was about:

“I went crazy”

Editing by Michail Rubin and Roman Badanin

Fact checking by Katya Arenina