After years of denying any connection, Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin admitted that he was directly involved in creating the Wagner Group, a network of mercenaries and a de facto private army of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
In a statement, Prigozhin confirmed the reporting of an investigation by the Russian independent online portal “Bloknot.”
The entrepreneur, who is also sanctioned by the EU, had previously sued media outlets that associated him with the mercenary group, including the investigative website Bellingcat or now-shuttered radio station Echo of Moscow.
Prigozhin said that “like many other businessmen” he went to training grounds where, “the Cossacks gathered” to recruit a group that “would go and protect the Russians” when “the genocide of the Russian population of Donbas began.”
He explained the fighters he found there “did not suit him” and he decided to form a group on his own. “From that moment, on May 1, 2014, a group of patriots was born, which later acquired the name of BTG Wagner,” the statement reads.
The Wagner mercenaries have been accused of fighting Moscow’s overseas missions on several continents, which the Kremlin has previously denied. Prigozhin also confirmed this in his statement, saying they who “defended the Syrian people, other people of Arab countries, destitute Africans and Latin Americans have become the pillars of our motherland.”
Asked why he has previously denied links to Wagner, Prigozhin said, “I have long evaded the blows of many adversaries with one main goal — not to undermine these guys, who are the foundation of Russian patriotism,” adding that he had won on this issue in numerous courts.
In the Russian war against Ukraine, Wagner mercenaries have also been sent to the front lines as Russia suffered continued heavy losses in the course of battle.
The group has been repeatedly accused of war crimes and human rights absuses.