‘Putin’s Chef’ Increasingly at Odds With Russian Leader Over Wagner Deaths

  • Yevgeny Prigozhin, who leads the mercenary Wagner Group, appears to have turned on Vladimir Putin.
  • Prigozhin’s ties to Putin go back to the 1990s when his catering companies served the Kremlin.
  • On Thursday, Prigozhin vowed to withdraw troops from Ukraine, blaming Putin for their deaths.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group of mercenaries — previously called “Putin’s chef” for his ties to the Russian President — has offered his army-for-hire to the Kremlin for years, most recently sacrificing them to the “meat grinder” of war in the city of Bakhmut in support of Vladimir Putin’s dreams of victory over Ukraine.

But his decades-long allyship with the Russian leader may be coming to an end. 

The Washington Post reported that leaked US intelligence documents allegedly shared by National Guard airman Jack Teixeira on a Discord server revealed Russian military leadership struggled for months to respond to Prigozhin as he complained about the lack of ammunition for his troops — and that Prigozhin personally asked Putin to intervene before posting a series of several ranting videos online criticizing the Kremlin.

“His rants suggest that his pleas have fallen on deaf ears,” the Post reported.

According to the documents, Russian Defense Ministry officials considered launching a smear campaign through a proxy to discredit Prigozhin, though it is unclear if such a campaign was launched.

In a series of videos posted to Telegram on Thursday, Prigozhin appears to have turned on Putin, accusing the military’s top brass of cutting him off from ammunition and supplies, condemning his private army to death on the battlefield. Prigozhin has compared the ongoing Bakhmut battle to a “meat grinder,” Insider previously reported, with the mercenary leader acknowledging that his men were dying at extremely high rates due to the shortage.

“We have a 70% ammo shortage! Shoigu! Gerasimov! Where the [beep] is the ammo?” he said in an explicit, ranting video, which was also released on Telegram, saying that military leaders who wouldn’t give his troops ammunition would “have their insides eaten in hell.”

“You animals are hanging out in expensive clubs,” he continued. “Your children are enjoying their lives, making videos for YouTube. Do you think that you are the masters of this life and that you have the right to control their lives?”

Prigozhin vowed to pull his troops from the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, the site of one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the invasion, by May 10. 

Prigozhin’s relationship with Putin began in the 1990s after the business tycoon set up a catering company that frequently served the Russian leader and the Kremlin, eventually earning him the nickname “Putin’s chef,” Insider previously reported. But Prigozhin’s skills weren’t limited to the culinary world: He also financed a so-called troll factory known as the Internet Research Agency that sought to interfere with US elections, according to a 2018 indictment from the Justice Department.

In Putin, Prigozhin found a powerful ally — and the duo became close friends, with Prigozhin serving as an informal advisor to the Russian president, giving Putin strategic advice on international strategy and, eventually, military operations. 

When Prigozhin founded the Wagner Group in 2014, even though the business was not legally registered in the country and mercenaries are illegal under Russian law, according to the Times, it became the de-facto private military service for the Kremlin, deploying soldiers during Russia’s annexation of Crimea, as well as throughout Africa and the Middle East.

The pair’s relationship has been strained since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began last February, Insider previously reported, after the Wagner Group began grabbing headlines and Prigozhin appeared to take credit for wartime wins over Russian military official strategy. 

While it remains unclear exactly what impact a Wagner withdrawal would mean for the Ukrainian invasion, Prigozhin suggested in March that Russia’s entire front line would collapse if his fighters failed to secure Bakhmut.

Representatives for the Pentagon and the Government of the Russian Federation did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.

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