MOSCOW — Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on Monday he had founded the Wagner mercenary group and confirmed its deployment to countries in Latin America and Africa.
Prigozhin said in a statement from his company that he founded the group in order to send fighters to Ukraine’s Donbas region in 2014: “From that moment, on May 1, 2014, a group of patriots was born, which later acquired the name BTG Wagner.”
Prigozhin, dubbed “Putin’s chef” because of his Kremlin catering contracts, has previously denied links with Wagner.
“I myself cleaned the old weapons, figured out bulletproof vests and found specialists who could help me with this,” Prigozhin added.
“These guys, heroes who defended the Syrian people, other people of Arab countries, destitute Africans and Latin Americans have become the pillars of our motherland,” he said.
Prigozhin, 61, has been hit with EU and US sanctions.
For years, the Wagner group has been suspected of playing a role in realizing Moscow’s overseas ambitions with the Kremlin denying any links.
Wagner’s presence was forced into the spotlight in 2018 when independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that several Russian-speaking men who killed and mutilated a detainee on video in Syria were Wagner fighters.