Scandal stirs Moscow elite after prominent Putin cronies dub Russian leader ‘Satan’
Moscow high society has been rocked by a scandal after some prominent Vladimir Putin cronies allegedly insulted the Russian despot.
Oligarch and former Russian senator Farkhad Akhmedov and high-profile Moscow music producer Iosif Prigozhin, both allegedly supporters of Putin, have been accused of calling him “Satan” and a “dwarf.”
An audio recording of what is reportedly a 35-minute phone conversation between the wealthy couple was shared by Ukraine’s Channel Five and quickly picked up by other outlets – as well as Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).
In the audio clip, the pair can be heard shrugging off Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, berating his Kremlin entourage for their shortcomings and even insulting his height.
Public criticism of Putin in Russia is rare – not least among those who have benefited most from his consolidation of power. Those found guilty of insulting the Russian state, the military or Putin himself risk fines and even jail time.
Russian oligarch and former senator Farkhad Akhmedov (right) and high-profile Moscow music producer Iosif Prigozhin (left), both allegedly supporters of Putin, have been accused of calling him a “Satan” and a “dwarf.”
Since its release, there are several Ukrainian and independent Russian outlets – including meduza – analyzed the audio recording allegedly made on January 24. They’ve broken down the transcript.
According to Meduza, Akhmedov is heard saying that the Russian government has “ruined us, our children, their future, their destiny,” referring to Putin’s war in Ukraine.
“He is Satan,” he adds, referring to the Russian dictator, before also criticizing Russian Security Council deputy head Dmitry Medvedev, who also served as Russian president for four years from 2008 to 2012.
‘Both these [Putin] and the second [Medvedev] are notorious. Lilliputians are f***ing undergrowth, infamous,’ you hear Akhmedov say, reports Meduza.
Putin – who often wears high platform shoes – is known to be highly sensitive to his diminutive height of six feet – with claims that he suffers from the ‘Napoleon complex’. Medvedev is even shorter than his boss at 1.75 meters.
About the invasion, 53-year-old Prigozhin complains that the Russian authorities are losing to ‘Kvartal 95’ – the name of the production company founded in 2003 by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, when he was still an actor and entertainer.
Most of the leading figures within the company joined Zelensky’s government after he became president. Zelensky and his closest allies have been credited with many of Ukraine’s successes, especially in the court of public opinion.
Prigozhin says Putin should simply withdraw his troops from Ukraine and give up.
‘That they say they fight them, over and over, they themselves have given a reason. He [Putin] was driven into this waste. He fell for it,’ Prigozhin is heard to say to Akhmedov, Meduza reports.
‘To be honest, f**k it, I’d quit, get the Nobel Prize and f**king leave. Damn I gave up on the country,’ he added.
Akhmedov disputes this, telling his friend that ‘unfortunately it will be a long time’ before Putin decides to withdraw his armies from the neighboring country.
In the audio clip, the two high-profile figures can be heard denouncing Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, berating his Kremlin entourage for their shortcomings and insulting his height.
‘He can’t go back, he can’t move forward. He will be,” he says, suggesting that he believes the war in Ukraine will drag on for years to come.
According to Meduza, swearing is a constant during the telephone conversation. It says the F-word is said 157 times in the recording.
The call, which first appeared on Telegram, caused a sensation in Russia despite the story being censored by the state media – as it appears to show that Putin’s top cheerleaders have private contempt for him and his war.
The voice, which sounds identical to Prigozhin – unrelated to the head of Wagner’s private army who has the same last name – says during the call that the elite are “to blame [Russian defence minister Sergei] Shoigu for everything.
“Behind his back they call him a mother******. It’s their job to take him down, but they’re not doing it yet… ‘Because someone has to be blamed [the chaos].’
In his raging diatribe, he takes out one of Putin’s oldest and closest KGB cronies Sergey Chemezov, now head of hi-tech giant Rostec, a major military supplier.
“The ***** is responsible for the military-industrial complex and doesn’t give a **** about it. They are the most ****** up people in the world.
‘My opinion is that they act like kings, like gods, I can’t say a single good word about them. They are ********.’
Akhmedov says there is “collective guilt” at the top of Russia.
‘They at the top are each responsible for their own sector, and they ****** all of them.
“There’s no good left. [Putin] always said the army was the most important thing, and it turned out there was no army either.’
Putin believed he had a skilled fighting machine, but his circle “fooled him, they fooled him, they fooled him.”
“They live in their own reality, in their own world with their ex-secretaries as wives, and act like they’re special. Everything is just so ****** up.’
Akhmedov asks if Putin and his circle can cling.
“I don’t know,” Prigozhin replies.
Shortly after attention was drawn to the alleged conversion, Prigozhin desperately claimed the recording was generated by “neural networks,” Meduza reports. On March 26, he published a video message.
Shortly after attention was drawn to the alleged conversion, Iosif Prigozhin (pictured) desperately claimed that the recording was generated by “neural networks.” On March 26, he published a video message
“Fake audio recording of supposedly my voice and a conversation with an influential person. I want to say that with the current technologies, neural networks, you can fake not only a voice, but also a conversation,” he said.
“You know, the internet has turned into a big mess where there’s something useful and you can devalue, discredit anyone. Everyone knows my political position, it is present in all interviews and in the public field.’
He later admitted that some of the sentences in the conversation were genuine, saying in an interview that he “doesn’t exactly remember” the conversation.
“People in a private conversation can talk about anything. The most important thing is that you speak in practice and how you behave in life and in different circumstances,” said Meduza. He said he last spoke to Akhmedov in January.
He admitted that he feared the consequences he might face in light of the audio recording, saying that while he and Akhmedov may have uttered some of the sentences heard in the recording, they have been altered .
He added that he treats Putin with the utmost respect, says he is a “planetary-scale” figure and said he would not flee Moscow.
Journalists disputed Prigozhin’s suggestion that the clip was fake. Vadim Vostrov, head of the independent TV channel, insisted, “This cannot be faked or compiled.”
The ‘intonations and nuances’ made it clear that this was a real recording.
“I know that many representatives of the so-called ruling class, from [MPs] discuss similar matters with administrators and in roughly the same terms.’
There was “so much offensive to Putin personally” in the conversation, he said.
Journalist Dmitry Kolezev said the recording appeared “real” but “many details that are very difficult to make up and fake” with accurate voice matches and “manner of communication.”
“For the first time we have heard what some members of the Russian elite really think and feel,” he said. “They hate Putin, they are well aware of the magnitude of the disaster and they understand that the country has no future with Putin.
“At the same time, they are afraid, unwilling to do anything themselves, and basically just waiting for the regime to collapse.”
He warned of retaliation from Putin, especially because of the blemish on his height.
“In their place, I would urgently evacuate myself and my loved ones from Russia (if not already) and think nothing of returning for years to come,” he said.
Pro-Kremlin Ukrainian blogger Anatoly Shariy said the conversation was “real” and that he has known about it for two weeks. He called Prigozhin’s denial “funny.”
“The recording was made in Akhmedov’s room. Speakerphones are bad.”
Ukrainian soldiers fire on Russian positions with a TRF-1 155mm on March 27
Akhmedov – who, like Prigozhin, was sanctioned by the West for his ties to Putin – did not initially comment on the recording.
Meanwhile, Yevgeny Prigozhin – founder of the private military company Wagner that has fought in Ukraine – moved quickly to ensure there was no mistaken identity between himself and his namesake Iosif Prigozhin.
“It’s possible that the people who ran this special operation and who posted this conversation thought I was talking,” he said, Meduza reported.
He said he spoke softer than Iosif.