Dead Wagner boss: Prigozhin’s legacy continues to weigh on Russia

Dead Wagner boss: Prigozhin’s legacy continues to weigh on Russia
Dead Wagner boss: Prigozhin’s legacy continues to weigh on Russia

A year ago, Yevgeny Prigozhin led an uprising against Moscow’s military leadership. Then the head of the private army, Wagner, died in a plane crash. Russia cannot let go of that.

Yevgeny Prigozhin stands as an almost life-size monument in the Porokhovskoye cemetery in St. Petersburg. The statue of the head of the Russian private army, Wagner, with his hand outstretched, attracts hordes of supporters. They grab the hand, bow their heads, and pause in silence.

Many are laying down red carnations – even days after Prigozhin’s birthday, who would have turned 63 on June 1. A year ago, on June 23, 2023, he instigated an uprising against Russia’s corrupt military leadership, failed on June 24 – and, according to official figures, died in a plane crash two months later.

The grave, about ten kilometers from the center of the metropolis, has become a place of pilgrimage. To this day, many Russians revere the extremely wealthy businessman, a convicted thief, close former confidant of Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin and founder of the notorious Wagner mercenary army. Prigozhin became rich as a restaurant owner, real estate mogul and food supplier for schools, kindergartens and the military. Because of his gastronomic activities, many people called him “Putin’s chef.”

Wagner mercenaries continue to be active in new structures

Prigozhin was considered a master of disinformation and deception. With his internationally active Internet troll factory, he was suspected in the USA of having interfered in presidential elections. The USA had therefore issued a wanted notice for him.

Prigozhin’s Wagner army was not only deployed in the Ukraine war, but also in Syria before that. Above all, however, it was heavily involved in the many conflicts in Africa. There, Prigozhin was always considered Putin’s man for the rough stuff. And it is not only there that the Wagner mercenaries are being criticized for the most serious crimes against humanity.

International observers assume that the Wagner structures built up by Prigozhin are still active in Africa – for Russia’s expansionist ambitions. After his death, the Kremlin quickly made it clear that it would continue to fight for Russia’s interests there.

Cult around dead Wagner boss

The cult surrounding the entrepreneur is alive and well, not only in Prigozhin’s hometown of St. Petersburg – even though his corporate empire, headed by Konkord, has been destroyed. In Moscow, people lay flowers at an improvised memorial near the Kremlin. There are also monuments to the Wagner troupe in other places.

A flower seller sits at the entrance to Porokhovskoye Cemetery. She is happy about the good business since Prigozhin’s funeral. It is a few hundred meters to the grave. Arrows show the way. Men in motorcycle gear, tough guys in camouflage or just couples come with red carnations. Some say that they admire Prigozhin because he fought as a true patriot for a strong Russia.

On a sunny day, workers are laying fine slabs in the impassable terrain to make it easier for pedestrians to reach the grave. There is a Russian tricolor, a flag of the Wagner troupe and wreaths of flowers. An elderly man on a bicycle says that he often comes to the grave. He complains that the authorities have not explained anything about the circumstances of Prigozhin’s death since the plane crash on August 23.

Mystery of death

“There are still so many questions,” says the 63-year-old. Like many in Russia, he thinks that the plane crash was an act of revenge by the power apparatus because Prigozhin had instigated an uprising against the corrupt Moscow military leadership, which failed just one day later on June 24. Quite a few Russians believe that Prigozhin is still alive and is continuing his business in Africa or elsewhere. “I don’t believe that, he couldn’t just sit quietly somewhere abroad without interfering, he would be looking after Russia,” says the man.

Putin himself suggested that the Wagner leadership on board the plane had handled a grenade improperly, which then exploded. However, there is also a widespread view that the Russian air defenses may have deliberately shot down the plane. During Prigozhin’s march on Moscow a year ago, his troops shot down a plane and six helicopters. At least 15 Russian military personnel are said to have been killed.

Russia has rejected an international investigation into the crash of Prigozhin’s private plane in the Russian region of Tver, in which nine other passengers also died. Putin later had thousands of Wagner mercenaries, who had fought in Ukraine for months, integrated into the regular armed forces and other troops. And, as if he were posthumously proving Prigozhin right, the president recently replaced Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu – and had several representatives of the military leadership arrested for corruption and abuse of office. But another legacy also continues to weigh on Russia.

Wagner mercenaries continue to spread terror in Russia

With Putin’s permission, Prigozhin had recruited tens of thousands of fighters in prison camps who were able to buy their way out of their guilt by serving in the war in Ukraine. The convicted criminals, including several murderers, were released after six months if they survived. Putin pardoned tens of thousands of them. Since then, society has been repeatedly shocked by the crimes committed by these war veterans. They often attack their wives, mothers, sisters or even non-relatives.

In April, officials in the Leningrad region arrested a 42-year-old Wagner mercenary who had killed and dismembered his girlfriend after an argument. The Wagner army had recruited the murderer, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison, from a penal camp.

Prigozhin had always played down the danger of an increase in crimes by criminals released after military service. However, experts from the organization nasiliu.net – No to Violence – fear an increase in domestic violence, especially in the future, when men with post-traumatic stress disorders return to their old lives.

Exposé book on Prigozhin

In their book “Nasch Business Smert” (in English: “Our Business is Death”) about Prigozhin and his Wagner troops, Russian journalists Ilya Barabanov and Denis Korotkov use documents and statements from mercenaries to trace the machinations of the private army, which itself is also marked by corruption. More than 20,000 Wagner fighters are said to have fallen in Ukraine alone.

Prigozhin was an adventurer, a murderer, an insurgent who, as the leader of a patriotic opposition, ultimately terrified Putin – and was therefore eliminated, the book says. The authors conclude that Prigozhin’s life is a perfect example of the “mechanisms of a mafia state” under Vladimir Putin.

Source: Stern

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