“Leaked” audio of Russian elites slamming the Kremlin makes a splash on social media

The Bell

Unexpectedly, the hot news item over the weekend was the leak of what appears to be a half-hour telephone conversation between Iosif Prigozhin, a famous music producer and Putin’s confidante during the last presidential elections, and Farkhad Akhmedov, a businessman and former senator. The pair sharply criticized Russian authorities over the war in Ukraine (the Russian word for “fuck” is heard 157 times) and complain about how hard it is to live with sanctions.

  • The recording first appeared on social media two weeks ago, circulated by a pro-Ukrainian group. Akhmedov has yet to comment, and Prigozhin denounced the recording as a fake, arguing that “everyone knows” his position. “Today’s technology, with its neural networks, allows you to fake not just a voice but a whole conversation,” the producer said. However, he later clarified that “certain moments” of the recording were real, although he claimed not to remember there being any criticism of Putin.
  • Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, who shares the music producers’ surname, reacted to the clip by saying it was “possible that the people who set up this ‘special operation’ and posted this conversation believe that it’s me talking.”
  • The voice alleged to be Akhmedov’s repeatedly says that the Russian authorities “pissed everyone off,” by launching the war in Ukraine, “crapped themselves” and “plundered the whole country.” The voice believed to be Iosif Prigozhin repeatedly agrees with him. Akhmedov complains he lost his yacht due to sanctions and advises his friend to sell anything that could fall under similar restrictions.
  • After Russia invaded Ukraine, Akhmedov was sanctioned by the EU for his businesses “in sectors of the economy that provide significant sources of income for the Russian government.” He is currently ranked 49 on the Forbes list of the richest Russian businessmen after making a fortune in oil and gas companies. Between 2004 and 2009, he served as a senator in the upper house of Russia’s parliament.

Why the world should care:

We don’t know – and probably never will – whether the recording is genuine. Prigozhin himself didn’t specify which fragments were real. In theory, artificially generating this kind of conversation is possible using neural network technology. Nevertheless, whenever snatches of private conversation between members of Russia’s elites emerge, they attract enormous interest.


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