Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

‘Kremlin Chef’: The Man for Painful Missions

‘Kremlin Chef’: The Man for Painful Missions

Monday, 23 January, 2023 - 07:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The West is a massive and provocative force, with its history, progress, prosperity and stability and attempts at imposing its model on others. It can also add technological superiority to its fleet and arsenal.

Animosity to the West and its hegemony is nothing new. Depleting the West has long been on the table in the world of two camps and the world of the sole super power.

Today, the West is witnessing the birth an enemy more terrifying than others it has known before. It is an enemy that enjoys protection that cannot be breached and immunity that cannot be undermined. It is Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner group, who before being named the West’s number one enemy was known as the “Kremlin chef”.

For decades, attempts at depleting the West were attached to several names that stole the spotlight. During the 1970s, Palestinian leader Wadie Haddad released a Venezuelan youth that the world would later know as Carlos. Carlos rose to infamy after kidnapping the OPEC ministers. Disputes would drive him and Haddad apart.

Carlos harassed the West and evaded arrest in several capitals. His story ended when he was “betrayed” by Hassan al-Turabi and Omar al-Bashir, who sold him out to France where he is now languishing in jail.

The West shows no mercy to those who harass it with bloody attacks. Osama bin Laden harassed the West in Asia and Africa and even took the battle to the United States itself. The US chased him down and fed his corpse to the fish. It did not show mercy to his right-hand man and successor Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The West has a long arm. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi harassed the West and the response was the elimination of his “state” and his own death.

The Iranian revolution, which was born from tensions with the US, attacks against its embassies and interests, released another player that left his mark in four Middle Eastern countries. He is general Qassem Soleimani, who was effectively the regime’s most powerful figure after the supreme leader.

Soleimani took advantage of the United States’ mistakes and sins in Iraq by sponsoring the formation of a number of small roaming armies that could erase international borders.

The US did not go easy on Soleimani, killing him near Baghdad airport.

Moammar al-Gaddafi also harassed the West, so American jets struck his bedroom which left him in a constant state of paranoia, as told to me by his chief of protocol Nuri al-Mismari.

The US viewed the invasion of Kuwait as an act of harassment by Saddam Hussein against his neighbor and the US and its interests, so it dealt him a heavy punishment.

The Russian war in Ukraine is the most dangerous harassment of the West since World War II. This time, the harassment was made by a nuclear power called Russia. Of course, we mustn't forget that the current Russia views the collapse of the Soviet Union as the product of western harassment. It also views former Soviet republics joining NATO as a form of harassment of its security, stability and role.

Of course, there are there who believe that the number one enemy of the West, its model and colored revolutions is Vladimir Putin. But the interesting story lies a decade earlier when Putin unleashed an enemy of the West who enjoys special standing and unprecedented extraordinary and effective capabilities.

The story of the Wagner leader is incredible and intriguing. Prigozhin was born in Saint Petersburg. The man was unassuming and no one could have predicted that he would end up playing an extraordinary role.

He spent time behind bars between 1979 and 1988 for committing violent crimes and theft. Some have even said he had connections to the Russian mafia at the time. He was released from prison through general amnesty.

Two years after his release, he opened his first in a chain of restaurants. He owned a boat restaurant where he hosted Putin and his guest later French President Jacques Chirac. At the time, Putin was an aide and would later become deputy to Saint Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak, who died years later in mysterious circumstances.

Prigozhin is known to have absolute authority over those who work with him. He is ambitious and succeeded in reaching an agreement that would provide catering to events at the Kremlin and later at the Defense Ministry. Decades later, he would become a billionaire and businessman who shows no mercy to those standing in the way of achieving his ambitions.

A decade ago, he formed a security company that he named “Wagner” after Hitler’s favorite composer. He was inspired by the US Blackwater experience in Iraq and has taken his ambitions even farther. He attracted former military personnel and those seeking money and adventure.

He is an adventurous and strict businessman who is not perturbed by living dangerously. He offered security services at a high price. He helped the Syrian regime reclaim oil facilities that his company guards at a high price. His sense of adventure led him to Africa where his forces guard diamond mines and reap a sizeable chunk of their production.

In recent years, talk about Prigozhin was banned and could be lethal. When Russian journalists dared to head to South Africa to investigate his success in the continent, they were killed in a mysterious hail of bullets. He isn’t just an adventurous businessman. He is also a fierce warrior on a mission: To leave his mark in Mali, Libya and Burkina Faso, where he dealt blows to French forces.

He was presented with the golden opportunity: The Russian war in Ukraine. After the Russian military let down their master, Prigozhin turned to the rich goldmine that are Russian prisons. He promised amnesty or reduced sentences to thousands of prisoners on condition they sign up to fight in Ukraine. The White House has said that his “military” there boasts nearly 50,000 fighters.

He shows no mercy in war. A traitor is shot dead on the spot. His forces are envied by regular armies. He boasts jets and cyber capabilities that have allowed him to meddle in American and European elections. He showed up at the salt mines in Ukraine’s Soledar to prevent the army from claiming that it played a role in invading it.

Washington named the Wagner group a cross-border criminal gang. Prigozhin did not bat an eyelid. He is not Carlos, bin Laden, Baghdadi or Soleimani. He has not relied on Russia’s might, image and arsenal. The US will have a hard time in confronting him head-on to take him out.

It is not just an exciting story about an intriguing and dangerous man. It is an open expression of the dangerousness of the war in Ukraine and the world that will be born from it.

Some say that Prigozhin is not only the tzar’s friend, but rather, the current strongest man in the president’s circle where military and civilian figures compete. Among them is former President Dmitry Medvedev, who reminds the world on the daily basis of the potential nuclear meal in store and delivers warnings to the “castrated dogs” in the West.

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks