A photograph from 2006 showed Yevgeny Prigozhin serving dinner to President George W. Bush.
Bush said he was surprised to learn he'd met Prigozhin, now believed dead, in person.
Prigozhin was catering for Russian President Vladimir Putin, earning the name "Putin's chef."
Former President George W. Bush on Sunday said he was shocked to discover that Yevgeny Prigozhin — the longtime Wagner Group leader — had served him dinner more than 17 years ago.
While speaking at the Yalta European Strategy conference, Bush was asked whether he felt the reports of Prigozhin's death in a plane crash were "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," the former president said, cracking a smile.
Bush said he couldn't recall meeting the man in person. "All I know is I survived," he added.
He was then asked whether he thought Russian President Vladimir Putin could "survive" the consequences of Russia's war in Ukraine if the conflict didn't end in Moscow's favor.
"That's up to the Russian people," Bush replied. "It's not up to the American people. It's not up to Ukrainian people. It's up to the people of Russia to decide. They're smart people."
A photo dated July 14, 2006, showed the moment Bush and his wife, Laura, 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 in St. Petersburg during the 32nd G8 Summit. It was the first time Russia had 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" — as described by the US Justice Department — and the military company Wagner Group.
Among other deployments around the world, Wagner was sent to fight in Ukraine, where Prigozhin complained of heavy losses and publicly criticized Russia's top military leaders.
Because of what he said were grievances against the Kremlin, Prigozhin staged an armed rebellion in June, announcing that his troops were marching to Moscow. But 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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