Ex-hotdog chef could be next Russian despot as Putin’s health deteriorates

A former hot dog chef is edging increasingly closer to taking the reins from Vladimir Putin as Russia's new ruler.

Yevgeny Prigozhin began sizzling sausages soon after his release from a Soviet penal colony in 1990, following nine years behind bars for robbery and assault.

Now 61, Prigozhin is emerging as a candidate to succeed Putin as the dictator's health continues to deteriorate.

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Prigozhin's private military organisation, the Wagner Group, are estimated to have 50,000 mercenaries fighting for Russia in Ukraine, which has boosted his power inside the Kremlin.

He has also amassed a personal fortune through his various business ventures, though it is his relationship with Putin which has helped his rise to the top.

Prigozhin was sentenced to imprisonment in 1981 but was released amid the fall of communism nine years later and began selling hot dogs on the streets of his home city St. Petersburg. From there he managed to open his own convenience store before branching out with a chain of restaurants, though is thought to still have been involved in various criminal activities.

According to The Sun, it was at one of his restaurants that he first came across Putin in 1996. Russia's future leader enjoyed the food laid on by Prigozhin so much that the former convict was soon nicknamed 'Putin's chef'.

Shortly after Putin's rise to power, it was not long before Prigozhin's catering company Concord was being handed state contracts to feed the country's schools and military – boosting his wealth considerably.

His love for partying caught the eye of Putin, who soon had Prigozhin organising his own birthday celebrations. His close ties with the Russian leader only grew, and his dealings became more significant.

Prigozhin is alleged to have funded the accounts spreading propaganda ahead of the 2016 US election which saw Donald Trump anointed president. That earned him a spot on the FBI's most-wanted list, while becoming a key figure in Putin's 'inner circle'.

However, Prigozhin's tendency to openly criticise Russia's military has seen his stock with Putin slide. That is something he will need to wrestle back if he is to succeed Putin, who continues to allegedly battle against cancer and may not stand for the next election in 2024.

Wagner Group's involvement in the war effort is Prigozhin's most likely route to power. His organisation, which has called up convicts to fight for Russia from similar penal colonies to where Prigozhin served nine years of his 12-year sentence, appears to have succeeded in taking control of Soledar – a small Ukrainian town seen as key to the invasion.

That is likely to further boost Prigozhin's own ambitions in the Kremlin as he continues to work his way through the ranks under Putin's regime.

Dr Huseyn Aliyev, an expert on Russia and the conflict in Ukraine from Glasgow University, told The Sun: "Prigozhin is one of the typical Putin-era power brokers, one of the most trusted in the Kremlin.

“He has pushed himself to the front and proved himself capable of pushing forward with Russia’s offensive just as Putin is disillusioned by his generals."


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