Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, has admitted to being behind The Wagner Group for the first time. His mercenary company is accused of being an extension of the Russian state.
Prigozhin says he founded the paramilitary group in 2014 to send people to eastern Ukraine after war broke out there between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian state. Later, mercenaries were also sent to Latin America and Africa, the 61-year-old Russian said.
The businessman is known as “Putin’s cook” because of his close ties to the Russian state, a reference to the catering contracts he has with the Kremlin. He previously denied having any ties to The Wagner Group, which the United States and the European Union had reported on. They have imposed sanctions on Prigozhin.
Putin argues that The Wagner Group does not represent the Russian state but can operate anywhere worldwide as long as the company does not violate Russian law. However, the mercenaries have been accused for years by human rights groups and the Ukrainian government of war crimes in Syria and eastern Ukraine.
The British Ministry of Defense reported last summer that Russia is deploying Wagner mercenaries to bolster its forces in Ukraine. As a result, the Russian army has suffered losses since it invaded neighbouring Ukraine in late February.
As a US official said last week, the Wagner Group is also suffering heavy losses in Ukraine. The defence official stated that an attempt had been made to recruit 1,500 convicted criminals for the war in Ukraine, but many have refused. The official referred to images circulating on social media, which allegedly showed Prigozhin, among others, trying to recruit Russian prisoners.