The unusually frank call between two Russian socialites – and what they said about Putin
Vladimir Putin is a “dwarf” and a “wimp” who is ruining Russia, according to a leaked phone conversation between two prominent society figures.
The unusually frank call purportedly involves Iosif Prigozhin, a music producer, and Farkhad Akhmedov, an Azerbaijan-born energy billionaire, and has exposed deep resentment towards the Kremlin among the country’s overtly pro-regime elite.
In the 35-minute conversation, Mr Akhmedov calls Putin “Satan”, a “wimp” and a “dwarf” who “doesn’t give a damn about anything and doesn't give a f--- about the people”.
“They f----- us over, f----- over children, their future, do you get it?” he adds.
Mr Prigozhin replies: “They’re criminals, to be honest, criminals of the worst kind. He [Putin] squandered the country away … There won’t be any future for us.”
Mr Akhmedov later says: “He has buried the entire Russian nation... How are we going to wash this off? This is a war between f------ brothers. There will be fascism there, that’s what’s going to happen... a military dictatorship. You will see. It’s going to end like this.”
The call was leaked by an obscure Ukrainian YouTube channel earlier this month but has only been picked up in the last few days.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Group – who is not related to the music producer – has suggested that the wiretappers may have been trying to target him but got the wrong Prigozhin.
If the call is real, it suggests a deep sense of frustration and anger among even members of the Russian elite who are ostensibly pro-Kremlin.
Mr Prigozhin and his wife, the pop star Valeria, have been long-time public supporters of Putin. They campaigned for him in the 2018 elections and have called on the Kremlin to go after anti-war musicians who fled the country following the invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Akhmedov, 67, made his money in Siberia’s gas industry in the 1990s and is estimated to be worth about £1.36 billion. He served as a Russian senator between 2004 and 2009 and made headlines in 2021 when he had to pay £450 million to his ex-wife following a legal battle at the High Court in London.
He has never publicly opposed the war and was sanctioned by the UK and the EU after the conflict began, measures he has tried unsuccessfully to overturn.
Mr Prigozhin lives in Moscow while Mr Akhmedov currently lives between Azerbaijan and Moscow.
In another part of the call, Mr Prigozhin refers to Putin’s inner circle as “washed-up low-lifes” who act as if they are “gods” and complains to Mr Akhmedov about different factions within the security services blaming the defence minister for blunders in Ukraine.
“They are the most f----- up people ever. I have nothing good to say about them,” he says. “They are dragging everyone down to the very bottom.”
Mr Akhmedov complains about the sanctions he is facing, including the seizure of his £225 million superyacht MV Luna, which he said was “rotting” in Hamburg.
The EU said last April that the oligarch was “close to the Kremlin”, but Mr Akhmedov said: “They write that I’m a close friend of Putin’s. F--- that! The last time I saw Putin was in 2008.”
The leaked audio has given voice to a widespread sentiment among the Russian establishment that “Putin has let his country down”, said Tatyana Stanovaya, a Russian political scientist.
“Some felt deeply satisfied that finally someone – their own kind of people – said it all out loud,” she wrote for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Wednesday. “The leak clearly had a major impact on the mental well-being of the Russian elite.”
The Kremlin and state media, which typically clamours for revenge against “traitors”, have been noticeably quiet about the call, with only a few pro-war bloggers calling for blood.
Mr Prigozhin at first claimd the leak as completely faked before later suggesting parts of it were real.
“Everyone is aware of my political stance, which is evidenced in all of my interviews,” he told the Fontanka website on Monday. “But you know, while I was listening to the audio, I almost believed it was me. There are definitely some real things here.”
However, he did not reiterate his support for Putin. Mr Akhmedov has not yet commented.
Russian opposition figures have urged Mr Prigozhin to flee the country for his own safety, but Kremlin-watchers do not expect the government to go after him because criminal charges would only confirm that the conversation was genuine and public support for Putin was waning.