Iosif Prigozhin. Фото: Александр Щербак / ТАСС
Two weeks ago, an audio recording made waves on Russian social media. An “intercepted” phone conversation that was said to be between producer (and one of Vladimir Putin’s representatives in the last election) Iosif Prigozhin and former Russian Senator Farhad Akhmedov was an astonishingly frank discussion of the war's implications and the disconnection between the Kremlin and the elites. After the tape went viral, Prigozhin hurriedly recorded a video message calling it a fake created using “modern technology, neural networks.” Later, he clarified that “some moments” of his conversation with Akhmedov were, in fact, real.
In the conversation, the two men talk about the war for a little more than half an hour. They criticize both Kremlin officials, the military command and Putin personally, calling them scum and criminals. Here’s an abridged transcript of their conversation. We also couldn't translate most of the instances the speakers use “blyad” (157 times in the original audio), an interjection that could be translated both as “bitch” and “fuck,” but is more versatile.
Akhmedov: Tell me, where are we heading? We’re on this call, more or less. What’s the whole picture, where is it all heading?
Prigozhin: This is the largest tragedy. This is what I…
Akhmedov: They all are shitting the bed. Contradictory statements, not consolidated, not coordinated.
Prigozhin: Can you hear me? Yes, yes.
Akhmedov: Infighting going on, a struggle for power, that…
Prigozhin: Listen, they teamed up—[Rosneft CEO and longtime Putin confidante] Igor Ivanovich [Sechin], [Foreign Minister] Sergei Victorovich [Lavrov], and [National Guard director Viktor Vasilyevich] Zolotov. They blame [Defense Minister Sergei Kozhugetovich] Shoigu for everything. Call him dumbass—behind his back, obviously. Their goal is to take him down. But they aren’t doing it now, there’s this cumulative moment. Yes, because there must be a scapegoat. [CEO of Rostec Corporation and another longtime Putin confidante Sergey Viktorovich] Chemezov is here playing golf, he doesn’t give a shit, and he’s responsible for the military-industrial complex. He’s just... These are the most unhinged people. My opinion is simple: they act like kings, like fucking gods. Animals, that’s what I’ll tell you. Can’t say anything good about them. They’re scum.
Akhmedov: But they have collective guilt. They are all at the top, each responsible for their own sector of the economy.
Prigozhin: One hundred percent, yes.
Akhmedov: They messed up all sectors. Not a single one… He said, nothing matters, only the army’s what matters, turns out there’s no army as well.
Prigozhin: Of course! Of course! They lied to him, they lied to him, they were lying to him. They live in their own, in their own, in their own paradigm, they live in their own world. Behaving like… More so, the wives of a lot of them are ex-secretaries, do you understand? It’s just so messed up… Listen — Borya, Borya was here, Arkadiy’s brother. Pure trouble. I tell you honestly, pure trouble.
Akhmedov: He was always like that, greedy.
Prigozhin: It’s just… I’m so disappointed. All this crowd, I’m just in shock.
Akhmedov: Well, will they hold on or not? That’s the question.
Prigozhin: I don’t know.
Akhmedov: They messed up the situation. They messed up the country. They messed up everything. They messed up all and everything.
Prigozhin: Yes-yes. Don’t know. I don’t know… (to the side) What are we waiting for, Lera?
Akhmedov: The question is, what will happen after them. And how. It’ll be chaos, Kadyrov’s guys, Prigozhin’s guys, state enforcers, all swinging daggers and sledgehammers around. This is all nonsense. I didn’t hear a single cohesive statement. Not a single right move.
Prigozhin: You’re right, you’re right, you’re right, Farhad.
Akhmedov: Back then, when [the oil market] was on the rise, they could wallow in the shade, [when the prices] for energy products [were high], when it was just raining on them, raining with cash… They could be invisible. And now, when the situation is tough, they showed that they’re worthless, incompetent, unwise, witless, unqualified.
Prigozhin: You see what he did? He pitted them against each other on the chessboard. Only to save himself.
Akhmedov: No, it won’t save him, he’s responsible for everything. We’re a republic, uhm, a federation, a presidential country. President will have to answer for all, for all that. He’ll have to answer.
Prigozhin: Farhad, there’s no doubt about the fact that they ruined the country... (to the side) Lera, later, please.
Akhmedov: They ruined us, our children, their future, their lives, do you understand?
Prigozhin: Yes. Honestly, I’ll be honest, they are criminals, just criminals.
Akhmedov: Yes. Thank God, we have somehow lived through more than one collapse and seen worse.
Akhmedov: But how, I don’t understand! They started it. Unable to finish up. So why start?
Prigozhin: Listen, they are very creative… they lost to Kvartal 95. And all that gaff they say, that someone else is fighting against them... He got driven into this shit. He drove himself into it. To be honest… Just stop, grab the Nobel Peace Prize and leave. You’ve lost the country anyway. Lost. And there’s no other way. We’ll get fucked. Not like there’re any options. Even if he’ll go nuts and press the [nuclear] button, there’s no future for the whole nation. That’s it. He fucked it up for us all.
Akhmedov: You know my vision, Ios? Do business, take care of your family, of the business, make as much money as you can, rest, travel abroad and pay less attention to all this. And talk to them less, by the way. Nothing good will come of it, because you’ll not get any positive emotions from that. And stay farther, farther away from them. Farther from all that.
This will last for a long time, unfortunately. He will not back down, he cannot go forward, he’ll stay like this. It’s a rat fight. These are cockroaches in a glass, they started chewing on each other already. They will start banding up together. They’ll destroy one, then another, drown each other, because they are drowning. They understand that that’s it. It’s past due. The end.
Prigozhin: They want to drag everyone to the bottom.
Akhmedov: Yes, and it’s impossible to revert that. And no need to get involved. Step aside. Fuck them. Won’t get anything positive from talking to them. Take this Tatar, Bashkir guy, do business with him. Set up projects, start them and make money. That’s it. Do productive stuff. They can all go to hell. We all understand what’s going on there.
Prigozhin: Yes, I agree. One hundred percent agree.
Akhmedov: [Travel] more often to Maldives, Dubai, I don’t know, Altai, Baikal, wherever you want, but further from Moscow.
Prigozhin: Yes, listen, it’s true. You know, it’s such a depressing scene there now, there’s nothing to do. I just… You don’t even understand, Lera and I came back from the dinner, and had such an awful feeling, I can’t even describe it. We had a meeting there. It was a nightmare.
Akhmedov: They come, pour out their soul, all this dirt. Right?
Prigozhin: You hearing me? They’re unhappy.
Akhmedov: They need to get it off their chests. They can’t do that otherwise.
Prigozhin: They’re unhappy. They’re unhappy that they weren’t let live out their best lives. They are completely detached. They are crazy, that’s the real tragedy. Crazy, you understand?
Akhmedov: Not to worry, they’ll get back to earth. The Lord will put everything in its place, everyone will get what they deserve. They will [not] get to where they were. They’ll get to… Being nobodies. They will all serve [time in prison].
Akhmedov: Yes, true. Where's Idris, by the way? He's not calling for some reason.
Prigozhin: Idris's birthday was the day before yesterday. He's in the Czech Republic, he left too. Took the family and laid low. Between us. Laid low. He doesn't need all that, he realized, that…You know, here's a question: who betrayed whom. Understand? At first they, so to say, raised all those people and now they are tussling with them. That's their whole ideology.
Akhmedov: They bamboozled everyone. Scum, just scum. And [he] spills the blood of the innocent people.
Prigozhin: Stole the country’s future.
Akhmedov: I had two nannies here with [my] kids. They’re crying from dawn till dusk, their children are there. ‘Dont’ know,’ they say, ‘if they’ll survive or not, what are they fighting for, why the heck are they there?’ So, they say to me, these simple Russian women, ‘if we were actually attacked, we would go to war ourselves.’
Prigozhin: Listen. There’s another mistake, you know what? I’ll tell you. Ukrainians make a mistake, it looks like, they did not need to follow the path of prohibitions, they needed, on the contrary, not to ban but to permit. They would’ve gained more this way than they would’ve lost. And they began to blacklist people and thereby became similar [to him] and gave him the reason [to perceive] hatred towards Russians. They, on the contrary, should have given the Russian language [equal rights]. Now he says: you ban this, ban that. But what if [Zelenskyy] permitted instead. They wouldn’t have a choice, do you understand? And by doing so, he… And also, you know, our people are playing the zombies’ part. That is, by and large, he can disregard the elite. He doesn’t care about the elite. He…
Akhmedov: He doesn’t care about anything. He doesn’t care about the people either. He’s Satan.
Akhmedov: They took away my business. Everything is in the media. Well, they spin it differently, and there’s nothing you can prove. That I’m doing farming, planting, I don’t fucking know, trees, vineyards, pomegranate orchards and so on. I don’t have any natural gas, no coal, I don’t work with gold. I don’t serve in the Kremlin, I’m not working [there], didn’t even meet with him since 2008. They aren’t listening to any of this. Pointless. Exonerating myself is a mission impossible. This is politicking. Dirty politicking. So…
Akhmedov: So, God forbid you get there, on this [sanctions] list. After that even [paying] with the credit card is impossible. Cannot even keep the dollar account, or any other foreign currency, only in rubles and local currency. And ruble, you see how it is: up and down, down and up; you can’t invest. We were exporting pomegranate juice to 56 countries. Now, it’s down to 26. Exactly half is gone. All transactions fail. Here’s that.
Prigozhin: Yeah, darn…
Akhmedov: Hear me out, Yosi. If you have any chances of being sanctioned, sell everything. Everything will be frozen. They know everything, only bad stuff and no good stuff. They’ll dig through your dirty laundry, find, discover, identify, localize, freeze, and then you’ll be tussling with them and so on, and so on. Here, listen to me. No need to sell the Swiss [property], but definitely sell London, because it will be like this for a long time. This won’t end soon, it’ll come in waves. Sell it, hop up to a Dubai, take money and gone. Question closed.
Prigozhin: You think we need to leave London?
Akhmedov: Yes, leave. Listen to me. The sky will not clear for a long time.
Prigozhin: Well, they need to have a reason to confiscate the property. How in hell are they going to do it?
Akhmedov: They would not, but they’ll freeze it. Even if you’ll be able to sell it, the money will be frozen. Everyone has a file: what we own, where. They just press the button, and everything is locked, frozen, it’s called ‘court injunction.’ That’s it. Then Poor Ivan is free to run in circles trying to prove something. And my lawyer, a good lawyer, admits that it’s pointless. Pointless, just pointless. The art of survival, you know?
Prigozhin: Listen, we didn’t break any law, we paid the mortgage, we didn’t break the law…
Akhmedov: It doesn’t matter, they're not looking at that. How I made this money breaking my back in the tundra, in permafrost, at minus 55 degrees Celsius... They don’t give a fuck. You think for yourself. If there’s a 5-10% chance that you can be sanctioned, sell.
Prigozhin: But I'm wondering… Yes, yes, I understand…
Akhmedov: I know, it’s a pity. I also pitied the boat, the paintings, and so on. All was taken. The boat isn’t, but who knows. I already wasted four years in Dubai. Been moored for a year…
Prigozhin: Should’ve left it in Dubai. Would've been better to call the technicians to Dubai and do repairs there. More expensive though, yes.
Akhmedov: Who knows though, my son recommended me to repair the boat where it was made and then go on a ride. I even thought that I solved this issue with a special deal for myself, as you remember, with the wife and those people.
Prigozhin: Should’ve moved it to Turkey or left it in Dubai…
Akhmedov: Well, who knew, who knew about February 24th? Who knew? Yoska, this is our life, our fate. We cannot reverse time. Who knew? Some people have like 35 billion frozen. Cannot eat. Who knew that he, without proper thinking, would decide such a thing. He set everyone up. Everyone and everything. The whole country, all the fucking people. It’s not about the money. The question of morality, psychology.
Prigozhin: He buried the Russian people, first of all.
Akhmedov: Yes. Buried the entire Russian people, and for a long time. How are we going to wash it all off? This is a fratricidal war, fratricidal war.
Prigozhin: Yes-yes, but one way to do that is if he wins it. If he loses it, it’ll be terrible. That’s the end.
Editor: Maria Klimova
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