Who Is Yevgeny Prigozhin? Wagner Chief Known as Putin's Chef Is Now More Popular Than the Russian President, Internet Searches Reveal

In May, the term 'Putin's chef' was searched 744,000 times by Russians, whereas 'Vladimir Putin' was searched only 305,000 times.

Recent internet searches in Russia indicate that the Wagner mercenary chief, who is also known as 'Putin's chef,' has gained more popularity than the Russian president. It seems that the Russian public is showing a higher level of curiosity toward former prisoner and oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin compared to their own leader, Vladimir Putin.

Last month, the public attention surrounding the escalating dispute between Prigozhin and Russia's Ministry of Defense resulted in Russians searching the internet for details about the Wagner chief at a rate twice as high as before, according to independent Russian news outlet Verstka. So, who is Prigozhin and why has he become so popular suddenly?

Popular Than Putin

Yevgeny Prigozhin
Yevgeny Prigozhin Twitter

According to a Google Trends search conducted by Russian news outlet Verstka, Russians displayed an increasing interest in Yevgeny Prigozhin starting in early May. This interest reached its peak by the end of the month.

During the week of May 28 to June 3, Prigozhin's popularity surged to 100 points, indicating the highest level of interest, while Putin's popularity remained significantly lower at 28 points.

In May, the term 'Putin's chef' was searched 744,000 times by Russians, whereas 'Vladimir Putin' was searched only 305,000 times. Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine's minister of internal affairs, highlighted these findings in a tweet.

Vladimir Putin Twitter

He suggested that Prigozhin's conflict with the Russian defense ministry has contributed to his increasing popularity, which now surpasses that of Putin.

"In May Russians looked for information about Prigozhin online twice as often as they searched for news about Putin."

Yevgeny Prigozhin, known as Putin's chef due to his ownership of a catering firm that organizes extravagant Kremlin banquets for the president, has gained prominence during Russia's 16-month invasion of Ukraine.

Yevgeny Prigozhin
Yevgeny Prigozhin Twitter

His Wagner mercenaries have been credited with capturing the embattled city of Bakhmut from Ukrainian armed forces after an extended period of intense conflict. However, their success seems to have generated resentment among regular Russian army commanders.

Prigozhin has repeatedly criticized Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, accusing him of betrayal and criticizing his handling of the war in Ukraine. He has also taunted Shoigu about not being on the frontline himself.

Tensions with Moscow escalated further when Wagner mercenaries abducted a high-ranking Russian general on the frontline. In a humiliating video, the general admitted to being intoxicated while on duty and allegedly firing at a Wagner vehicle.

Subsequently, a video surfaced featuring General Roman Venevitin, in which he accused Wagner of torturing soldiers loyal to Putin. Venevitin also accused Prigozhin of undermining the reputation of the Russian army, an offense that could potentially lead to his imprisonment.

Taunting Putin's Military Command

In recent months, Prigozhin, recognized for his frequent use of explicit language, has unleashed a series of verbal attacks aimed at the military leaders serving under Putin.

Yevgeny Prigozhin
Yevgeny Prigozhin with his Wagner mercenaries Twitter

During an angry outburst last month, Prigozhin passionately hurled vulgar insults at Russia's army, referring to them as "smelly scumbags" and "b*******."

Expressing his strong discontent, the chief of Wagner expressed deep outrage at the perceived lack of action by Putin's troops in preventing explosive drones from targeting Moscow. He criticized them for allegedly not taking sufficient measures to counter this threat.

"Smelly scumbags! What are you doing? Get your a**** up from the offices you've been put in to protect this country," he said.

"You are the Ministry of Defense. You've done f*** all in order to advance. Why the f*** are you allowing these drones to fly to Moscow? Who gives a s*** that they are flying to your homes on Rublyovka! Let your houses burn."

Yevgeny Prigozhin
Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin seen with a sledgehammer Twitter

On Wednesday, Prigozhin reaffirmed the stance of his Wagner fighters, refusing to sign contracts with the Russian Defense Ministry. This statement comes a day after Putin emphasized the necessity of these agreements as part of Moscow's efforts to bring the private group under its control.

In a rare act of direct defiance against the Russian leader, Prigozhin openly stated that none of the Wagner fighters are willing to embark on a path of dishonor once again. Consequently, they will not be signing the contracts proposed by the Defense Ministry.

During a televised meeting on Tuesday, Putin endorsed the defense ministry's proposal for "volunteer" fighters in Ukraine to sign contracts with the country's military command. This move is widely seen as an effort to establish control over the Wagner group.

Putin emphasized the importance of these contracts, as they would enable all participants in Russia's campaign in Ukraine to receive the necessary social support payments. These payments include compensation for wounded fighters and financial support for the families of those who are killed in action.

Prigozhin, however, has criticized the Russian army for what he perceives as insufficient action to halt the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive.

He even went as far as praising Ukraine, stating that they were "doing everything right," which stands in stark contrast to Putin's assertions that Ukraine's efforts have been "unsuccessful."