The private company of Putin’s Chef, which was previously headed by the hero of Russia, former GRU officer Dmitry Utkin, has changed its head. Now Prigozhin’s operations are led by a retired officer of the RF Armed Forces, Konstantin Pikalov, also known by the callsigns “Mazay” and “Colonel”.
Bellingcat, together with The Insider and Der Spiegel, have published an investigation into the internal management and activities of Vladimir Putin’s shadow army, PMC Wagner. From the material it became known about the change of the leadership in the company of Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Bellingcat managed not only to obtain classified documents from the corporate division of the structures of a businessman close to the Russian president, but also to receive anonymous comments from former and current employees of the organization. Among other things, the authors of the study had at their disposal the recordings of telephone conversations of Prigozhin himself.
Relevant documents indicate that there have been serious personnel changes in PMC “Wagner”. Supposedly since 2018, according to a Bellingcat investigation, the military structure is led by a man known by the nickname “Mazay”.
Since the operations in the Syrian Arab Republic and in Ukraine by this time were actually completed, the conclusion suggests itself that the curator of the activities of Prigozhin’s company in Africa has now taken the place of the head of PMC Wagner. Indeed, it is on the territory of the African continent that the presence of Russian mercenaries and political strategists is widely deployed.
The change in the leadership of the PMC, indeed, can be easily traced if we compare the methods of Wagner before 2018 and after. It is obvious that Prigozhin’s company has changed the way of working. If earlier all operations were exclusively military in nature, then with the arrival of Mazay as the head of the PMC, the activities of the structures of the Putin’s Chef also acquired a political style.
Starting in 2018, information about the growing presence of the Wagner Group in Africa began to appear on the media. If in Syria and Ukraine, it was only about Russian mercenaries operating on the battlefield, then two years ago it became known that political strategists, also associated with PMCs, appeared in Prigozhin’s structure. At the same time, it turned out that Prigozhin’s people provide Kremlin-friendly candidates and current leaders of African countries with electoral support, consultations, financial injections, and personal protection
According to Prigozhin’s back office staff, who agreed to provide Bellingcat with documentary data on PMCs’ activities abroad on condition of anonymity, in 2019 Russian political advisers infiltrated the highest political circles in twenty African states. At that time, Prigozhin was building ties with the leaders of nineteen other countries on the continent.
The most vivid presence of political strategists can be traced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Zimbabwe and Madagascar, where only “advisers” work. In Mozambique and the Central African Republic, mercenaries from the Wagner PMC continue to play a leading role. There, in addition to the military and political presence, Prigozhin also has business interests. In Chad and Benin, his people support politicians associated with the radical Islamist group Seleka.
The current curator of the activities of Russian mercenaries, advisers and political strategists in Africa is Konstantin Pikalov, who, according to Bellingcat, has participated in Syrian, Ukrainian and Serbian companies. In fact, he became the head of the PMC back in 2018. The previous commander of the “Wagner” group Dmitry Utkin got into the lenses of cameras at a reception with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The authors of the investigation write that such notoriety began to interfere with Utkin’s work, and also discredited the African leaders with whom Prigozhin and the Russian government did business. At the moment, he either left the Wagner PMC or died, since no information about him has been received for the past years.
In this regard, the place of the head of Prigozhin’s structures was taken by a former career officer of the RF Armed Forces, who once headed the personal security of former Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, Konstantin Pikalov. It was with his arrival that the Kremlin’s shadow army expanded its influence on the continent and became political and economical, in addition to a being militaristic.
All this is confirmed not only by the documentation of Prigozhin’s African Back Office, but also by numerous correspondences between employees of the structures of the chef Putin, as well as the records of Prigozhin’s telephone conversations that came to the publication’s disposal. Bellingcat systematized the calls and found that most of them came to the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation, the FSB, the Ministry of Defense, the Moscow government and Rostec. The above facts clearly indicate that the Wagner PMC has changed leadership, as well as Prigozhin’s close ties with the Kremlin.