Putin ‘will try finish off his victim’ warns Khodorkovsky

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Yevgeny Prigozhin, the shadowy businessman who bankrolls Vladimir Putin’s notorious Wagner Group, wields as much influence with Russia’s President as his foreign and defence ministers, MPs have been told. Exiled Russian dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky offering his analysis as he gave evidence to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee – and warned should Putin ever lose his grip on power, 61-year-old Prigozhin would to continue to wage war on Ukraine.

The Wagner Group has been linked to some of the worst alleged Russian atrocities in Ukraine as well as in conflicts in Africa and Syria.

Mr Khodorkovsky described Prigozhin, who only admitted to the existence of the private army last year, as an “important tool” for the Kremlin who enables Putin to deny responsibility for some of his regime’s most controversial actions.

He said: “If Putin loses the war or he loses his position in any other way this group will be very significant.

“The vector of activity would be clear. They would be moving in the direction of continuing the war.”

Mr Khodorkovsky, once thought to be Russia’s wealthiest man, lost his business empire and spent ten years in jail after falling foul of Putin.

Speaking through an interpreter, he told the committee that his investigative group, Centre Dossier, had been looking into the activities of the Wagner Group since 2018, when three journalists working for him were “assassinated” in the Central African Republic.

He said Mr Prigozhin – who is sometimes referred to as “Putin’s chef” because he ran a catering business favoured by the Kremlin – derived his influence through his direct personal access to the Russian leader.

He added: “People who have direct access to the dictator, irrespective of their formal position, are higher than those who are not able to meet the dictator personally.

”That is why the influence of Mr Prigozhin is approximately equal to the influence of Sergei Shoigu, the minister of defence of Russia, or Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia.

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“The currency is the only currency. For Prigozhin, he’s got a lot of that currency, a lot of personal meetings with Mr Putin.”

Mr Khodorkovsky said that a measure of Prigozhin influence was his ability to recruit inmates from Russia’s jails – effectively permitting him to sign “blank decrees” from the president pardoning their crimes, however serious they were.

He added: “Putin psychologically has a tendency for special operations and for apparent external semblance to legality.

“He believes that if he is not saying something openly and if it cannot be proven then it somehow does not exist.

“From this point of view, it is very comfortable for him to have proxy units.”

At the same hearing, Jason McCue, senior partner at McCue Jury and Partners said he had initiated legal action against the Wagner Group, in a bid to recover billions in reparations for the Ukrainian people.

Mr McCue, accused Wagner and Prigozhin of engaging in “a campaign of terrorism” in Ukraine which involved murder, rape, and the planting of explosives around nuclear facilities.

He added: “The claim has been commenced with formal service of a Letter Before Action on Prigozhin and Wagner.

“This is the first time in the world that Wagner and their likes have been sued by its victims for terrorism, used as a weapon of war, Putin’s illegal war.”

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