Putin humiliates Prigozhin by sending forces to raid warlord’s palace
By Oliver Price And David Averre And Will Stewart
13:30 BST 06 Jul 2023 , updated 13:30 BST 06 Jul 2023
Vladimir Putin has humiliated Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin after his failed uprising in Russia by sending security services to raid his St Petersburg palace. Pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia published photos and video yesterday of armed officers searching Prigozhin’s mansion while he was exiled in Belarus on June 24. The investigators discovered huge caches of assault weapons and ammunition, stashes of gold bars, a stuffed alligator and a framed photo which is purported to show the severed heads of the exiled private military leader’s enemies.
Images of the raid also include a large closet containing many different wigs of varying styles and colors, from grey to mousy brown. Photos purporting to show Prigozhin wearing the wigs as part of various disguises were leaked to state-backed Russian Telegram channels. The quality of some disguises is laughable, leading to speculation that they may have been doctored in an attempt to further discredit the Wagner chief. But Prigozhin’s supporters declared the leaking of the images may flout Russia’s strict national security laws, suggesting the oligarch was acting as a state agent, given Wagner’s ties to Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU.
It comes after the warlord launched what appeared to be an armed insurrection against Putin less than two weeks ago – which was soon halted after Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko helped to broker a deal to end the conflict. Lukashenko claimed today that Prigozhin had returned to St Petersburg – although the location of the Wagner chief is not officially known. Many of his fighters have set up camps in Belarus. Pictured: Russian security services are said to have found a stuffed alligator displayed on a table.
It is claimed that billionaire Prigozhin wore the disguises in Africa and the Middle East as he furthered Putin’s interests and deployed Wagner forces. Although the Wagner Group officially operates as a private company, several individuals who helped to found it are tied to the GRU. One disguise shows Prigozhin as an employee of the ministry of defence in Sudan, while in another he is disguised as an assistant diplomat from Abu Dhabi. Others show him posing as various military figures from Libya. The Telegram channel Trinadtsatiy said: ‘The backbone of Wagner is made up of people from the GRU, and they are not stupid. Such [disguises] are needed to work in neighboring countries, and in fact they are operational information.’
Ukrainian official Anton Gerashchenko said: ‘These are not shots from a casting for a role in a cheap comedy, but a selfie of Prigozhin. The pictures were published by the Russian security forces. In most of the pictures, yesterday’s ”Hero of Russia” is in Libyan uniform with Libyan epaulettes and elements of conspiracy.’ He said the purpose of the leak seemed to be to discredit Prigozhin, ‘who destroyed objectionable people with a sledgehammer, approved of torture and violence at the front, but failed with his Moscow trip’ during the armed revolt aimed at toppling Putin’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu.
A giant sledgehammer with the inscription ‘For use in important negotiations’ was photographed on display near a snooker table in a reception room of the mansion. A large number of boxes containing Russian bank notes worth around £86million ($109million) were also seized in raids on Prigozhin’s estate, which includes his office building. Russian media reports that the money and equipment have since been returned to the office and the Wagner Center. Among the private military leader’s valuable possessions photographed in his luxurious palace home was a Russian military uniform decorated with around two dozen medals.
Several passports were found and photographed. Video shows officers armed with assault rifles searching through his home and offices. Photos also revealed the luxury Prigozhin lived in, revealing his private swimming pool, helipad, sauna, gym and a medical office. The house also appears to have its own private prayer room, full of religious imagery. In his first comments since his exile, the Wagner chief earlier this week vowed his fighters will soon have ‘new victories’ as images emerged of the mercenaries’ new camp in Belarus. Pictured: Images from the raid released by Russia show a grand piano at the foot of a sweeping staircase.
‘Our march of justice was aimed at fighting traitors and mobilising society,’ Prigozhin said in a short audio message posted to the Wagner-affiliated Greyzone Telegram channel on Tuesday. ‘And I think that we succeeded in much of this. In the near future, I am sure that you will see our next victories at the front.’ Prigozhin gave no clue to his whereabouts, and the fact that the clip is an audio recording marks a change from the video messages he made to address his forces prior to their failed mutiny attempt on June 24. Pictured: Russian security services raiding the estate and offices of exiled Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Since the failed insurrection, Prigozhin – a once popular figure among Russians – has faced a wave of criticism. Russian state media, which once hailed him and his fighters for their brutal, hard-line campaign in Ukraine, has attacked him for his perceived betrayal of President Putin and has ceased broadcasting news about Wagner and Prigozhin’s predicament. Pictured: Huge caches of weapons found at the Wagner leader’s estate by police