50 Influential Jews: Yevgeny Prigozhin - Postscript

Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin formed a restaurant empire and a troll farm to interfere in the 2016 US elections. But his actions as head of the Wagner Group cemented his legacy.

Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin (photo credit: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)
Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin
(photo credit: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

After serving almost a decade in prison for theft, Yevgeny Prigozhin – with the help of his Jewish stepfather – turned a hot-dog stand into an upscale restaurant empire and became known as “Putin’s chef.” He invented and led the Internet Research Agency troll farm to heavily interfere in the 2016 US presidential elections. But it was only in June of 2023 that Prigozhin’s rags-to-riches journey skyrocketed to global notoriety.

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He broke free of his shackles and launched a short-lived but highly publicized rebellion against Vladimir Putin’s regime with his private military company, the Wagner Group. After publicly criticizing Russia’s handling of its war in Ukraine, an alleged attack against his forces in Bakhmut, and tensions with the Russian Defense Ministry and General Staff that culminated in an order for the Wagner Group to sign contracts that would make them military subordinates, he led some 25,000 fighters to capture the city of Rostov-on-Don. He started an armed march toward Moscow on June 23. It was the most extensive insurrection in all of Putin’s 23-year rule. Why? Prigozhin said that he “had a meltdown.”

Prigozhin, 62, whose father was Jewish (he died when he was nine), making him eligible for aliyah, was killed in a plane crash on August 23 together with nine others, including his right-hand man, Wagner commander Dmitry Utkin.