A photograph from 2006 shows Yevgeny Prigozhin serving dinner to then-President George W. Bush.
Bush said he was surprised to learn he’d met Prigozhin, now believed dead, in person.
Prigozhin was running catering for Russian leader Vladimir Putin, earning the name “Putin’s chef.”
Former President George W. Bush said on Sunday that he was shocked to discover Yevgeny Prigozhin — the Wagner Group’s founder — served him dinner more than 17 years ago.
While speaking at the Yalta European Strategy conference, Bush was asked if he felt the news of Prigozhin’s death in a plane crash was “shocking” to him. The conference was held in Kyiv, but Bush joined via video call.
“No, what’s shocking to me is I saw a picture the other day of a G8 summit in St. Petersburg, where he was the guy serving me the food,” Bush said.
“He was Putin’s chef, and he was in the picture,” said the former president, cracking a smile.
Bush said he couldn’t recall meeting the man in person. “All I know is I survived,” he added.
The former president was then asked if he thought Russian leader Vladimir Putin could “survive” the consequences of the Ukraine war if the conflict does not end in Moscow’s favor.
“That’s up to the Russian people. It’s not up to the American people. It’s not up to Ukrainian people,” Bush replied. “It’s up to the people of Russia to decide. They’re smart people.”
A photo dated July 14, 2006, shows the moment Bush and his wife, Laura Bush, met Prigozhin when the couple dined with Putin. Prigozhin appeared to be presenting or serving Bush with a drink.
They were at the Constantine Palace during the 32nd G8 Summit in St. Petersburg. It was the first time Russia hosted a G8 meeting.
At the time, both Washington and Moscow were discussing opening trade further between the two nations, and the possibility of Russia joining the World Trade Organization.
In those days, Prigozhin had earned himself the nickname “Putin’s chef” because he provided catering services to the Russian leader. His company, Concord, helped to host state banquets.
He eventually expanded his business network to include a troll factory — alleged by the US Justice Department — and the military company Wagner Group.
Among other deployments around the world, Wagner was sent to fight in the Ukraine War, where Prigozhin complained of heavy losses and publicly criticized Russia’s top military leaders.
Due to what he said were grievances against the Kremlin, Prigozhin staged an armed rebellion in June, announcing that his troops were marching to Moscow. However, they turned around a day later after Prigozhin struck a deal with Putin and went into exile.
Weeks later, Prigozhin was reported to have been killed in a plane crash.
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