Speculation is growing over who could rise to replace Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose two-decade reign is thought to be in increasing danger the longer his now-10-month invasion of Ukraine drags on.
One of the top names being circulated is the oligarch businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, reportedly a close confidant to the isolated leader and the head of the Wagner Group, a shadowy mercenary company deployed by Russia in Ukraine and war zones across the world.
Prigozhin, 61, has been stepping into the spotlight with criticism of Russian “elites” and recent military defeats, as reported by Meduza and the Washington Post. And with his mercenaries now stalled in their attempt to capture the key Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, Prigozhin recently appeared to threaten the Russian officials supplying them, the New York Post reported.
“The guys asked me to pass along that when you’re sitting in a warm office, it’s hard to hear about the problems on the front line, but when you’re dragging the dead bodies of your friends every day and seeing them for the last time – then supplies are very much needed,” Prigozhin told state media.
“As for the problems that are unfortunately surfacing at every step … we will force them to be solved.”
Prigozhin emerged about 20 years ago as a caterer of government functions and came to be nicknamed “Putin’s Chef.” Since then, he’s been indicted for interference in the 2016 election and linked to the “troll farm” Internet Research Agency. And after previously denying any connection, he admitted in September that he founded the Wagner Group.
Since 2014, Wagner Group forces have appeared in Syria and African countries to secure natural resources and help authoritarian leaders, BBC reported. Wagner Group is now fighting alongside Russian troops in Ukraine, where the mercenaries – officially illegal in Russia – give the government room to deny atrocities.
Technically, the next person in Russia’s line of succession to replace Putin is Prime Minister Mikhail Mushustin, who is expected to be a short-term placeholder if he ever becomes president, according to the Washington Post.