A highly-publicized search of the home of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has prompted a vocal – and exceptionally varied – response in Russia, ranging from outrage and disgust to admiration and even a little social media swooning. 

Russian state media published footage from the search on July 5, which revealed a lot of weapons, boxes filled with wads of banknotes, gold bars, wigs, Prigozhin’s personal intensive therapy room and a large number of passports.

The video shows law enforcement officials breaking into Prigozhin’s two-story luxury mansion which boasts a helipad in the large yard, and a pool, a sauna and a gym.

Russian media pointed out two interesting objects in particular: a sledgehammer with an inscription in Russian meaning “For Use in Important Talks” – a chilling nod to the execution of a Wagner fighter who deserted the group – and a photograph of severed human heads.

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Russian state media predicably toed the Kremlin line, painting Prigozhin as corrupt, a hypocrite and out of touch with the ordinary people he proclaims to be fighting for.

Let’s have a look at the palace built for this campaigner against corruption and crime

On the talk show 60 Minutes before a video showing Prigozhin’s opulent home, commentator Eduard Petrov, said sarcastically: “Let’s have a look how this fighter for the truth lived, someone who has two criminal convictions and who kept claiming that everyone else was a thief. 

“Let’s have a look at the palace built for this campaigner against corruption and crime.”

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 This sentiment was echoed on NTV where commentators said: “Fighting for truth costs a lot of money.”

And over on Channel One, pro-Kremlin talking heads suggested Prigozhin was in the pay of Western intelligence services which were now “too shy” to admit their involvement in the mutiny.

Yet away from the official media channels the tone was very different – on social media some questioned why such a big deal was being made of the search. 

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“Why are they only now digging into his dirty laundry? Was no one aware of this before? Wagner is cool!” wrote one person.

“He had to survive, that’s great. It’s not as easy as writing comments (on social media),” another said.

Another apparent fan said: “Prigozhin is handsome and creative.”

Journalist and Putin critic, Aleksandr Nevzorov, was far less generous in his assessment of what was found in Prigozhin’s home.

In a post on Telegram, Nevzorov was outraged that ordinary Russians could still idolize a man who displayed pictures in his home of dead bodies.

“Ah, what a surprise! A search of Mr. Prigozhin's house turned up a framed color photograph. It shows a bunch of neatly severed heads.

“So, he has a profession – head-cutting, which he has never concealed.

“Moreover, exactly this fact generated in Russia ‘the cult of Prigozhin’ and made him an idol of Russian peasants.”

Russian ultra-nationalist Igor Strelkov was similarly critical, suggesting Prigozhin had read Gianni Rodari’s book Gelsomino in the Country of Liars and “fell in love with the image of King Giacomone.”

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In the book, a young boy finds himself in a country where a wig-wearing pirate seizes power and becomes king and forces everyone to lie.

In a post on Telegram, Strelkov wrote: “Over the years, Prigozhin has become a pirate and bald.

“He is yet to seize the state, become and king and convince everyone that he has a luxurious head of hair…”

 

Meanwhile, the current whereabouts of Prigozhin are a bit of a mystery. He is still in Russia and none of the mercenary group's fighters have set up in Belarus, its president said Thursday, casting doubt on a Kremlin deal to end their insurrection.

“As far as Prigozhin is concerned, he is in Saint Petersburg... He is not in Belarus,” Alexander Lukashenko told reporters. 

He spoke to a group of international and Belarusian journalists, including AFP, in a three-and-a-half hour roundtable interview at the presidential Palace of Independence in Minsk.

Lukashenko said he knew "for sure" that Prigozhin was a free man, adding: "I spoke to him on the phone yesterday."

He also said Wagner members had not set up a base in Belarus yet, despite an offer from the Kremlin for those who took part in the failed mutiny to do so.

"At the moment the question of their transfer and set-up has not been decided," Lukashenko said. The decision is not up to him, but to Moscow, he said.

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Prigozhin launched a mutiny against Russia's military leadership on June 23 and sent an armed column towards Moscow in the biggest challenge to President Vladimir Putin's leadership.

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