Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Monday that he had founded the infamous Wagner Group in 2014 – the first time he has admitted to having done so, following repeated denials.

Staffed for the most part by veterans of the Russian armed forces, PMC Wagner Group has fought in numerous wars, including conflicts in Syria and Libya. Due to its mainly operating in support of Russian interests or foreign policy objectives, the private military company is widely considered an unofficial unit of either Russia’s MoD or its military intelligence agency, the GRU.

Since its first appearance, Russian oligarch Prigozhin – a close friend of President Vladimir Putin – has persistently denied having any connection with the Wagner Group, and has even sued journalists for reporting the claim.

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However, on social media platform VKontakte on Monday, Prigozhin released a statement, via his company Concord Catering, saying that the 2014 Russian-backed separatist movements in the Donbas region had spawned the controversial group.

In the statement, Prigozhin claimed that he personally “cleaned the old weapons, sorted out the bulletproof vests myself and found specialists who could help me with this. From that moment, from May 1, 2014, a group of patriots was born, which later came to be called the Wagner Battalion.”

The statement came in response to a request for comment from a Russian news site as to why he had stopped denying his links to Wagner, with Prigozhin adding: “I am proud that I was able to defend their right to protect the interests of their country.”

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Known as “Putin’s chef” due to him being a close confidante of the Russian President and making his fortune from catering contracts, Prigozhin has also been accused of funding a troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency, which Washington officials say attempted to illegally influence U.S. elections.

Kyiv Post’s in-depth biography and analysis of Prigozhin can be read here.

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