When he was released from a Soviet prison in 1990, Yevgeny Prigozhin went to work as a hot dog seller. Soon, the aspiring entrepreneur – who had just served nine years in prison for theft and fraud – began to evolve in the world of fine dining. He became the manager of a chain of grocery stores in St. Petersburg, the hometown of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and eventually developed into the restaurant business.
In the late 1990s, Prigozhin opened New Island, a floating restaurant on the Vyatka River in St. Petersburg. It became popular with the local elite, and a few years after its launch, Poutin showed up for dinner in New Island with French President Jacques Chirac. As has now become the tradition in some circles, Prigozhin himself served them.
Prigozhin, who would go on to become “Putin’s chef,” said New Island took inspiration from the seaside restaurants he saw along the Seine in Paris. But since yesterday, it is forbidden to visit them anytime soon.
On October 15, Prigozhin was blacklisted by the European Union, freezing all of his European assets and barring him from entering the EU. The reason for the ban had nothing to do with the food, but with the activities of the Wagner Group, a private military company allegedly established by Prigozhin in 2014. Prigozhin has denied any connection to the company.
The mercenary force, believed to be closely linked to the Kremlin, has fought to support Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar – who is fighting against the internationally recognized government of national accord.
In announcing the ban on Prigozhin to the EU, a statement from Brussels accused the Wagner group of threatening “the peace, stability and security” of Libya.
Over the summer, Prigozhin was sanctioned by the United States for the Wagner Group’s operations in the North African nation. Prigozhin is also the founder of Russia’s infamous Internet Research Agency, the state-backed “troll farm” accused of meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
Meanwhile, Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer close to Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, believes the men who recently poisoned Navalny were sent by Prigozhin. At the same time, Prigozhin is suing Sobol and Navalny for claiming that his company is serving rotten meat to school children.
Private military companies such as the Wagner Group are in fact illegal under Russian law. However, some favored companies are allowed to operate – which they do, essentially, in partnership with the state.
As Barnard College professor Kimberly Marten explained in testimony to Congress last July, “Maintaining these illegal groups in Russia reinforces plausible deniability for the Russian state, by allowing the Kremlin to distance itself from any action little. recommendable or risky that groups undertake.
The Wagner group is said to have as many as 2,000 mercenaries in Libya and put on for-profit boots on the ground in Syria, Venezuela, Sudan and the Central African Republic. To get these contracts, “you need really big connections,” a former member of the Russian security services told The Daily Beast. “This is an insane amount of money.”
“Everyone knows who’s behind, but nothing [about the government relationship] is put on paper, “said the former agent, who now lives in the US.” But they’re affiliated with the government, there’s no getting around that.
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