It is his job to keep the good and the great full-bellied, and such job requires the uttermost – almost intimate trust and loyalty. The offspring of cooks to the august personages (in some cases, the chefs themselves) have often been on the list of those fighting for power, and sometimes they win the top prize. And this is not just a medieval background for historians to tell the story, — it is whispered, that Putin’s old man had been cooking meals for Joseph Stalin. If this is the fact, it is no small wonder why a baby, born into this family, had come of age with specific attitude to loyalty and certain principles of getting recruited to the inner circle. Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman, is nowadays the Russian top chef, and it looks like he has made the main meal of his life. This is evident from the Tourist movie (he funded personally), that recently was shown in all theaters around Russia. 

The Tourist, is a narrative of adventures by the Russian mercenaries in Africa, was premiered on NTV — the nationwide TV channel – owned by Gazprom-media. After the movie had been premiered, it was uploaded on you-tube, with any “paid monetization model” OFF. It is fair to say, that this — privately sponsored – piece of cinematic art, was created on a nationwide scale, however, one may ask a question about the gist of this spiel. We are beginning to think, that this movie might have not been made at all, unless Putin’s posture was whitewashed, since the conclusions, to which a potential Russian viewer is obtruded upon, are quite simple, — this one could not have been released under the current Putin’s neo-Soviet statecraft.

Tourist fights for justice (and money)

If you take an unbiased look at the Tourist it is not bad at all, well, disregarding the music pieces filled into it. Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables was featured in the like manner – the heroes (courageous, maybe, sometimes, not very a man of virtue) firing back to survive against the enemy hordes advancing upon them. The same thing, however, is that the bad guys wear berets. Exactly by canon of genre develops a story arc of the main character, who overcomes the initial hurdles, and, having guts, manages to blend in with the brothers in arms. At first glance, the movie is about Russian soldiers from anonymous private military firm (PMF) in Central African Republic – surely invited by its legitimate Government – fighting against abominable militants, hired by some vicious French villains. But the concept is clear – it is all to retort criticism of the foreign gray activities of Russia. However, the back burner of this movie – seeded literally by few back stagers – hits a Russian viewer subconsciously to promote an extremely dangerous ultra-right message.  

It is not the first time, that the Yevgeny Prigozhin character got in the journalists’ stoplight. Born in Saint Petersburg, 1961, in the 80-ies he did time behind bars for seven years for robbery with violence and fraud. Nevertheless, in the 90-ies he managed to establish business in catering industry, however, that was a visible side of his activities. At that period of time, Prigozhin made connection with old guard of Anatoly Sobchak’s, mayor of Saint Petersburg. This connection worked out well when Saint Petersburg born Vladimir Putin had taken the helm of state. Since then catering of all official Kremlin formal events has been provided by Prigozhin’s companies. The public contracts for school food catering all over Moscow gave him substantial cash flow. Yet, the ambitions of this man go far beyond of being simply a rich person, and that became obvious in further expansion of his activity.

Yevgeny Prigozhin is a connoisseur in the political meaning of accessing the kitchen. In such a way, in 2012 during the anti-Putin protests in Bolotnaya square in Moscow his companies made a good effort to take the lead in supplying the protesters with food and drink. The objective of this move was to plant his people in the protest movement, reveal its leaders and organizational structure, and, ultimately, help the Russian rulers dump this protest. This well may be a somewhat abridged version of Prigozhin motivations, but, at least at that time he had decided to keep his loyalty to Putin. In the course of the next decade, his zeal and ambition made Prigozhin a member of the most influential personas in Russia.

Men do not live by bread alone, and the “top chef”, who proved his loyalty, was given an access to cook the spiritual food. It was him to be accused in arranging work of the Kremlin troll factory. In fact, he headed the department, that may be called as an attempt to master information tools of the “color-coded” revolutions, and harness it to the betterment of the power structure. Taking into account, that for such kind of activity he got into the sanctions list of the U.S. and the E.U., Prigozhin had succeeded in his effort. According to investigation by the RBK-media, in 2014 Prigozhin established the media holding named “Federal News Agency” (FNA), which now runs the news for a multimillion audience, and is in the top ten of the most quoted Russian media sources. Today FNA is included in the sanctions list of the U.S. Department of the Treasury for the role FNA had played in the election meddling in 2016 in America. A specific feature of FNA work is the brazen and biased style of presenting the news. The FNA news sites were often caught out on disseminating false information, like, for example, a fake video in which a person dressed in the American army uniform shot the Koran.   

From the very beginning of war in Donbas the Prigozhin media structures covered the news from there, whilst after Russia got involved in Syrian war, the FNA journalist were often given exclusive possibilities of working in that country. Probably, at that period of time the businessman had collected the data on hundreds of active war-zone deployed from which later the notorious “Wagner group” PMF was formed. Officially, there is no such a PMF, it is rather a certain pool of independent contract soldiers. All in all, such an unformed structure is quite peculiar to most of the projects tied to Mr. Prigozhin, though he publically distances himself from both FNA and “Wagner group”. Nevertheless, he chairs the supervisory councils of certain resources of the media holding, and conducts negotiations with the leaders in countries where the Russian mercenaries were spotted.    

To make the picture complete, we should add, that modus operandi of the “Kremlin chef” media structures, so as his own repeated rhetoric are sustained in a bluntly jingoistic style. All the content manufactured by or attributed to Prigozhin is literally oozed with despising the whole idea of democracy. Detention of Roman Protasevich in Belarus he commented in the following way: “Hail, hail Lukashenko! My cordial respect and support! I bow!” The words “the Americans are fighting for democracy, while the Russians are fighting for justice” can also be heard in the Tourist movie.

These words said by one of the movie characters in the heat of battle are, practically, the slogan of the movie. These words could also be regarded as a follow-up to the usual allegiant rhetoric of ideologists – like Vladislav Surkov – confidants within the Kremlin. Probably, such a spin was put to those responsible for censorship, when the issue of all-Russian theatrical release of the movie was on the Agenda. But not less important are words for the movie, that were not said out loud. And these words are about the fact, that in modern Russia there is no justice. 

In the story, the main character admits heedlessly, that before he became a mercenary, he used to be a policeman.  Such a revelation caused open animosity from one of the experienced colleagues, who blamed the law enforcement of killing his son. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear, that the Tourist had left the police force because he happened to be too honest and humane for this service (he had set free the innocent instead of squeezing money from him). That, as well as personal courage of the Tourist on the battlefield lead to deconflict of the matter. Despite the triumphant ending of the movie, there is a notch left in the memory of a Russian viewer – a good cop in their native country is the same exception, as a justice itself. At the same time, as it was shown previously, for the sake of justice the Russians are ready to spill their own and foreign blood.

In dry residue, we have the following: clever, ambitious and extremely secretive Yevgeny Prigozhin has come a long way from a criminal to a person who was given a full set of leverage for unofficial control over the huge machinery of shaping a public opinion in Russia. As a bonus, he’s in possession of the devoted to him personally private military organization, that already gained the actual fighting experience in several civil wars all over the world. The role of chef catering food for the highest state officials has given him the opportunity to establish a full-scale intelligence in this area and in his own interests. Previously, having been pronouncedly loyal to the Government, now Prigozhin sends out an agitprop, according to which, the official Russian law enforcement authorities have rotten to the bone, while the true keepers of the Russian spirit are the guys with machine-guns, ready to kill and give their own lives.

When you see somebody shopping and buying meat, beat and cabbage, you, with high degree of probability might presume, that a person is going to cook some kind of borscht. Yevgeny Prigozhin has collected the necessary ingredients for the rightist military coup. It is very unlikely, that such coup could be organized against Putin. However, in case the president of Russian Federation steps down, the top Kremlin chef has everything necessary to suppress any attempts to democratize Russia, and to personally usurp the power – under the slogans of order and justice. And, judging from the message of the Tourist movie, this moment is nearer, than we may think.

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