Yevgeny Prigozhin: The man who fell to earth

From petty criminal to hotdog-seller to Kremlin caterer and boss of Russia’s influential private army, to…what exactly?
Yevgeny Prigozhin. Photo: Government of the Russian Federation, CC BY 3.0

In the film The Man Who Fell to Earth, which is based on the eponymous novel, an alien being crashlands on Earth and falls victim to human vices. Though no one could credibly describe Yevgeny Prigozhin as anything like Thomas Jerome Newton, the humanoid alien, there is one point of similarity: like Newton, Mr Prigozhin is the man who fell to earth.

He has gone from petty criminal to hotdog-seller to Kremlin caterer and boss of Russia’s battle-hardened internationally influential private army, to…what exactly?

The head of the Wagner private military company led a mutiny that lasted a mere 36 hours. In the words of Dr Mark Galeotti, who has been researching Russian history and security issues since the 1980s, was it a mutiny “or, 36 hours of what-the-hell?”

As of Sunday, June 25, Mr Prigozhin appeared to have gone from the stratosphere to terra firma, or perhaps, even deeper. In fact, he has all but disappeared. The world’s last sight of him was looking out of a military vehicle as he left Rostov-on-Don. He had already ordered his troops to halt their march upon Moscow. The Kremlin said he was bound for Belarus. This destination was something Mr Prigozhin failed to mention in the audio message he recorded before his departure from Rostov-on-Don and his whereabouts remain unknown.

As others have noted, the supposed deal struck on Mr Prigozhin’s behalf with Belarus looks fake and foolish. Why would the Wagner chief accept security guarantees from the dictator of Belarus, who is firmly under the thumb of Russian President Vladimir Putin? Why would he meekly exit the stage while the Kremlin moves to dismantle the Wagner group? The questions are particularly pertinent considering the residents of Rostov-on-Don saw Mr Prigozhin off as a hero.