Prigozhin is the name of the man who stirred up excitement in Russia last week. No, we're not talking about Yevgeny Prigozhin, the notorious head of the Wagner mercenary group. This time Iosif Prigozhin, a well-known music producer and husband of the no less popular singer Valeria, became the main actor of a major scandal. There were times when you had to explain to the Russian audience who Yevgeny Prigozhin is, so that he wouldn't be confused with the hit king. A leaked phone call now gets the star producer in trouble.
As early as March 7, a 35-minute recording of a conversation between Iosif Prigozhin and business magnate Farkhad Akhmedov appeared online. However, the phone call only became the focus of attention after large Telegram channels spread the leak.
While there were initially doubts as to whether the recording was authentic, all experts now agree: the recording must be real. The very special vocabulary, the characteristic way of speaking, Akhmedov's accent, the details mentioned, the background noise - none of this can be faked. The recording is genuine, quotes the independent medium "Vashnije Istorii", as well as a Russian secret service source. The FSB leadership ordered that appropriate measures be taken.
At the beginning of the scandal, Prigozhin claimed that the conversation must be the creation of an artificial intelligence. "This voice has nothing to do with me. It's a fake," he stuttered in a first statement. A little later he explained in an interview with the Saint Petersburg local newspaper "Fontanka" that "some moments in the conversation are real" and that the voice is similar to his. "Even if there could be recordings of conversations somewhere, they must not be made public under any circumstances," Prigozhin explained, trying to shift the focus of the discussion. This would violate his rights.
But given the content of the phone call, nobody in Russia cares whether Prigozhin's personal rights have been violated. For more than half an hour, he and his friend, the billionaire, railed against the Russian leadership. No one was spared, from Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to ex-President Dmitry Medvedev. But the most interesting cascade of swear words was aimed at none other than Vladimir Putin.
In the case of Akhmedov, the anger comes as no surprise. The billionaire and former senator has been living abroad for years after a long-running dispute with Gazprom. In the end, the legal dispute was settled with a settlement agreement: Akhmedov had to sell 51 percent of his shares in the gas company Northgas to Gazprom free of charge.
In the case of Prigozhin, however, the scathing criticism of Putin and his government comes like a bolt from the blue. The producer is an integral part of the Putin system. He is one of those Russian elites who have kept the Kremlin boss in power for decades. In public, Prigozhin has always maintained his loyalty to the Kremlin and his boss. However, the intercepted phone call now shows what everyone has long suspected: the outwardly demonstrated loyalty to the line is only a facade - which is maintained out of self-interest. Behind it, however, there is an understanding of where Putin and his followers have steered Russia.
"They shit the whole country. They shit everything," is Akhmedov's verdict right at the beginning of the leaked phone call. "They gambled away the country," Prigozhin agrees. What is meant above all is the circle of power that Putin has gathered around him. "They live like kings. But they are absolute freaks," the music producer complains uninhibitedly in the recording.
"He always said that nothing was important. The most important thing was the army. But now it turns out that there is no army either," says Akhmedov about the disintegration in all sectors. "He" is Putin. Even if the name is not mentioned once in the conversation, there is no doubt who we are talking about.
According to Prigoschin, the CEO of the state oil company Rosneft Igor Sechin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the head of Russia's National Guard Viktor Solotov have now allied themselves to explain the collapse of the army. The three men from Putin's closest circle would like to put the blame on Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. "They call him a cocksucker behind his back. They're aiming to bring him down, f*cking."
The Russian word "blyat", which can only roughly be translated as "fucking", is mentioned a total of 157 times in the conversation. It's a popular filler word in Russian jargon, but Prigozhin and Akhmedov use it with singular ecstasy.
"They're all useless. They're useless, incapable, stupid, unsuitable," Akhmedov continues the tirade. "See what he did?" interjects Prigozhin, alluding to Putin. "He put them against each other like on a chessboard to save himself."
But Farhad is certain: "He won't save himself. He's responsible for everything. We have a republic, a federation, a presidential state. The president will be responsible for all of that. For everything. He'll be held accountable." This is the first time that Putin is specifically mentioned as President. "They gambled away everything: us, the future of our children, their destiny."
"But what comes after them?" asks the billionaire, answering himself: Kadyrov loyalists and Prigozhin mercenaries. Some with daggers, others with sledgehammers in their hands.
"If we're being honest, they're all criminals," Prigozhin explained at one point in the conversation. "They lost, creatively against the 95th apartment block." what is meant is the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj, who founded a media production company in 2003 and named it "Wohnblock 95". "They say he was pushed into this shit. He pushed himself into this. Honestly, he could end it all, get the Nobel Prize and go to hell. He gambled away the country anyway and we have nowhere to go. We have no options. The entire nation has no future. He fucked us all," Prigozhin scolded Putin.
"They are all freaks. They will all sit," says Akhmedov about Putin's elite. "They lived in luxury, but now they despise him."
"People have turned into zombies. He doesn't rely on the elite at all. He doesn't care at all," Prigozhin interjects. "He doesn't care about anyone. Even the people. He's Satan."
"A rivete. A damn rivete," adds the billionaire. "Inferiority complex both of them. Lilliputians. Everyone hates them. The entire elite hates them." This refers to Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, who was once allowed to keep the President's seat warm for Putin for four years. "The only question is when it will all end. And how?" Asks Akhmedov, confident that fascism will soon rule Russia. "There will be a military dictatorship," he warns his friend and advises him: "Stay away from them. It will all take a long time. He will not take a step backwards. But he cannot go forward either. They are like cockroaches in one Glass, they're going to be at each other's throats. They're going under. They know this is the end."
While the first half of the conversation is primarily determined by the tirade against Putin and his elite, to which Prigozhin and Akhmedov apparently do not count themselves, the second half reveals the fear of the two of sanctions from the West. Akhmedov weeps to Prigozhin over the sanctions imposed on her. He can't even travel to his friend's in Dubai because he doesn't have a valid credit card. Meanwhile, his "boat" is rotting away somewhere. What is meant is his yacht, which is under arrest. "Today I got a bill for seven million for the maintenance. I won't pay that. I can't use it. Only because of a whim of the Germans is it under arrest."
His yacht "Luna" is 115 meters long and is said to be worth around 400 million euros. The ship is in the port of Hamburg at Blohm Voss and is not allowed to leave it.
From the point of view of the billionaire, whose fortune is estimated at $1.7 billion, the sanctions against him are not justified. "You write that I'm a friend of Putin's. I haven't seen him since 2008. In 2012, after a 12-year war with Gazprom, I sold everything and left Russia," he says. "If you're at risk of sanctions, sell everything! They know everything about us," Akhmedov warns his friend, whom he calls Josiah. The music producer could keep the real estate in Switzerland. But he absolutely must sell the one in London, is his urgent advice.
It is these passages that could provide an answer to the question of who could have made the call public. Many observers suspect that Akhmedov himself was behind the revelation. This could be his attempt to escape sanctions. In the case of Akhmedov, a leaked conversation is far more credible than a public statement against the war in Ukraine, the argument goes. Significantly, Akhmedov remained silent about the phone call. While Prigozhin writhes in explanations. He is not yet ready to leave Russia: "We have to work for at least another year or two. It's not possible to cut all bridges at once," he frankly admits to his friend in the conversation. It is important to make provisions - for the time after Putin.
The next few weeks will show what consequences Prigozhin has to bear for his words. The Kremlin still seems to be working on a strategy that should lead to a solution to the dilemma that has arisen. Confirming the authenticity of the phone call reveals in the same breath what is being said and thought about Putin behind the patriotic facade of the Russian elite. That could cast too great a shadow on the Kremlin boss. But Putin has never been able to let personal insults stand. He liked to serve revenge cold.
Meanwhile, while awaiting the decision in the Kremlin, the big Kremlin propagandists are keeping their feet still and their mouths shut. So far, neither Margarita Simonyan nor Vladimir Solovyov have said a word about the scandal - although the two leading agitators happily pounce on alleged traitors. The length of her leash will reveal the Kremlin's decision.