An apparent campaign to discredit the chief of Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been launched by Russian state-controlled TV following his reported unsuccessful mutiny in June. Russian media, prolific in their coverage of Prigozhin, have displayed images allegedly taken from his luxurious home and underscored his criminal past, with no mention of his persistent criticism of Russia’s military actions in Ukraine.
by Michael Scurry
In a seeming bid to disparage Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner Group, Russian state-controlled television has initiated a targeted campaign following his alleged mutiny in late June, which was unsuccessful.
Noteworthy channels presented images they claimed were obtained during raids on Prigozhin’s extravagant residence on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, contending that his enormous wealth paints him in a negative light.
The media highlighted his past criminal records, insinuating that greed drove his actions. However, they failed to mention his ongoing, often blunt, critique of Russia’s military conduct and its engagement in the Ukraine conflict.
This marks the first instance of such extensive, personal, and damaging coverage of Prigozhin by the state media.
Traditionally, Russian TV had presented a favorable image of the Wagner mercenary group, known for its support of the Russian military during the invasion of Ukraine.
Images purporting to be from inside Prigozhin’s residence were aired on the state-run network Rossiya 1 on July 5th.
Eduard Petrov, a commentator on the talk show ’60 Minutes’, invited viewers to see how this ‘crusader for the truth’ lived, citing his two criminal convictions and his persistent claims of corruption in others.
Footage displayed vast amounts of cash, a range of weapons, lavish interiors, expansive gardens, a parked helicopter, several wigs, and apparently forged passports bearing Prigozhin’s name in multiple aliases.
The channel’s prime evening news bulletin, one of Russia’s most viewed, also aired similar footage, featuring gold ingots and “suspicious packets of white powder,” which Rossiya 1 hinted could be illicit drugs.
Emphasizing Prigozhin’s criminal history, the channel noted his first conviction for theft at the age of 18 in 1979, which earned him a suspended two-and-a-half year sentence. Two years later, he was handed a 13-year sentence for robbery and theft, serving nine of those years in prison.
Rossiya 1’s correspondent jested that it was his connections with underworld figures and the experience gained behind bars that propelled him from a hot dog vendor to a catering mogul for the Kremlin, earning him the moniker “Kremlin’s chef”.
One notable photo displayed a sledgehammer inscribed with “Use in case of important negotiations”, seemingly referring to a brutal murder committed by the Wagner group in November 2022.
Later, Channel One suggested a connection between Prigozhin and Western intelligence, hinting at their involvement in his purported mutiny.
NTV, one of Russia’s top three television stations, implied that Prigozhin was driven by avarice and his criminal past. Regarding his alleged wealth, “fighting for truth costs a lot of money,” NTV joked.
Until several months into Russia’s full-scale war on Ukraine, the existence of Wagner was denied by officials, media, and Prigozhin’s own press service.
For a while thereafter, state TV lauded Wagner’s involvement in the “special military operation” in Ukraine. However, Wagner was scarcely mentioned in the state media when Prigozhin initiated his “march for justice,” pledging to punish Russian military commanders whom he accused of incompetence.
Prigozhin, who has remained largely silent on social media following his alleged mutiny, has not commented on the images.
One channel linked to Wagner argued that it wasn’t surprising for a businessman as wealthy as Prigozhin to own such an expensive home.
After previously refuting any links between Wagner and the state, President Vladimir Putin acknowledged after Prigozhin’s mutiny that the state entirely financed the military company, investing about $1bn (£787m) from May 2022 to May 2023.
(Associated Medias) – All right reserved