"He is Satan": audio of 2 prominent Russian figures allegedly criticising Putin gains traction in Russia

·4 min read

A recording of a conversation that likely took place between Iosif Prigozhin, a music producer, and oligarch and billionaire Farkhad Akhmedov has leaked online and is gaining traction in Russia. In the audio, Prigozhin and Akhmedov criticise Russia’s leadership, in particular President Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin called the recording a "symbiosis" of spoken and computer-generated speech.

Source: Meduza, a Latvian-based Russian media; Fontanka; Vazhnye Istorii (Important Stories), an investigative media outlet founded by Russian investigative journalists; Iosif Prigozhin on Telegram

Details: Meduza reported that the recording of a conversation, which likely took place between Iosif Prigozhin and Farkhad Akhmedov, was posted on YouTube on 7 March, but did not gain traction until 24 March, when it was widely shared by Russian media. Akhmedov did not comment on the recording. Prigozhin called it a "fake" at first but later conceded that it contained some of the things he said.

In the recording, two men discuss the possibility that military and security forces in the Kremlin want to blame Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu for Russia’s military failures in Ukraine. The person believed to be Iosif Prigozhin says that Putin "put them head-to-head against each other on the chess board" in order to "save himself". His interlocutor, believed to be Farkhad Akhmedov, replies that Russia is a "president-ruled country" and that "the president will bear all responsibility" and "will be called to account".

Akhmedov then says that the Russian government "f***ed us up" and "f***ed up our children, their future, their destiny". Prigozhin agrees and says, "To be honest, they are of course all criminals."

Prigozhin is also openly sceptical about Russian propaganda claims that Russia is at war with the West, saying that the Kremlin "lost to Kvartal 95" [President Zelenskyy’s comedy show before he was elected the President of Ukraine - ed.].

Akhmedov advises his interlocutor to "stay away from them", meaning the Kremlin officials.

Referring to Putin, he says: "He will not reverse course, but he can’t go forward either. This is how he’ll be. There’s infighting. These people are like cockroaches in a glass jar; they’re already fighting one another. They’ll form groups. They’ll eliminate one person, then start attacking each other, going for each other’s throats. Drowning each other. Because they are drowning. They know this is the end".

The entire conversation is suffused with criticism of Putin, government officials and oligarchs in his inner circle. The person believed to be Akhmedov calls Putin "Satan".

"He is Satan. Totally vacuous, f**k. Both [Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council] are messed up. F**k, they’re both Lilliputian, immature, messed up," he says.

More details: After the audio went public, Russian music producer Iosif Prigozhin at first said it was a "fake" "generated by [artificial] neural networks".

"This is a fake recording with, allegedly, my voice and my conversation with an influential person. I want to say that modern technologies, like neural networks, make it possible to fake not just a person’s voice but also an entire conversation. You know, the Internet is now just a giant pile of trash [...] making it possible to discredit any person. Everyone knows what my political stance is; it is in all of my interviews and in the public sphere," Prigozhin said in a video he posted on Telegram.

On 26 March, however, he changed tack, saying that "the recording is composed of phrases that I said and phrases that were [computer-] generated and that I have never uttered."

"People can say whatever they want in private conversations. What matters is what you really say and how you act under various circumstances in life," Prigozhin said in an interview with Fontanka.

He confirmed that he maintains contact with Akhmedov and said that the two last spoke in January, though he claimed to not remember what they discussed.

"We’ve had all sorts of conversations. Sometimes he would pour his heart out, and sometimes I would. It’s regular human communication. Maybe we said some things that could have been used to splice this [recording] together. This was done seamlessly," Prigozhin said.

He also said he was afraid of the consequences he might be forced to bear after the recording has been made public.

"All this is extremely unfortunate for me. Especially because I don’t know the majority of people mentioned in this conversation. Others I only met a couple of times," he added.

Investigative media Vazhnye Istorii (Important Stories) said that its source in the Russian Federal Security Service said the recording was genuine.

"The audio of the conversation between Prigozhin and Akhmedov is genuine, and the Federal Security Service has recently held a meeting and instructed officers to take appropriate measures," the source said.

They noted that by claiming that the recording was fabricated, Prigozhin was trying to absolve himself of responsibility.

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