A Russian businessman and close ally of Vladimir Putin accused by the US, EU and others of financing the private military company Wagner Group has said that “a dying-out western civilization” will be defeated by Russia.
The Guardian had approached Yevgeny Prigozhin seeking his reaction to evidence implicating Wagner fighters in massacres in Mali. In response he said he had “repeatedly said that the Wagner Group does not exist” and that he had “nothing to do with it”.
“You are a dying-out western civilization that considers Russians, Malians, Central Africans, Cubans, Nicaraguans and many other peoples and countries to be third world scum,” the businessman added. “Remember, this is not true…. You are a pathetic endangered bunch of perverts, and there are many of us, billions of us. And victory will be ours!”
Prigozhin said he was “closely following the events taking place in Mali” where “the collective west, namely the USA, Britain, France and other countries trying to pursue a policy of enslaving Africa, have been planting and organizing terrorist groups in Mali for years ”.
This was being done, he said, “in order to keep the population of this country in fear, to plunder its natural wealth and to write off the money allocated for so-called peacekeeping operations”.
Contradicting Prigozhin, on Sunday the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, acknowledged that Wagner was operating in Mali and Libya. Lavrov told an Italian television network that Wagner was present in the two African countries “on a commercial basis” but reiterated Moscow’s official position that Wagner “has nothing to do with the Russian state”.
Western officials alleviate the Kremlin is using Wagner to advance Russian economic and political interests across Africa and elsewhere. The group – also linked to human rights abuses in Syria and Ukraine – is known to have deployed fighters and advisers in more than a dozen countries after being first identified in 2014, when backing pro-Russian separatists in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Allegations that the Wagner Group and the Malian army were involved in massacres and other human rights abuses were false, Pirozghin said.
“Any terrorist killed by the Malian army, the collective west tried to pass off as a civilian … As to the [alleged] atrocities, neither I, nor the men I know, nor the Malian army have committed them.”
The businessman also accused the French army of “mercilessly” killing civilians and burying their remains “not far from military bases”.
France deployed troops to Mali in 2012 when Islamist and other insurgents formed a powerful alliance. In February Emmanuel Macron announced the troops were leaving after a breakdown in relations with the country’s ruling junta.
Last month, the French military said Wagner mercenaries buried bodies near a Malian military base in order to falsely accuse France’s departing forces of leaving behind mass graves. The French army said it used a drone to film what appeared to be white soldiers covering bodies with sand near the Gossi base in northern Mali.
Prigozhin, who earned the nickname “Putin’s cook” after winning catering contracts for state banquets, was indicted by the United States in 2018 for allegedly financing an online operation to influence the 2016 United States elections. He has also been accused of leading systematic efforts to influence opinion through false social media accounts in Africa, where Facebook has repeatedly removed accounts believed to have been set up by Wagner operatives.
Prigozhin said the Guardian had spread “fakes, outright lies and … falsification” and tried to “spit in the face of me, the Russian patriots, and the Malian people”.
“There is a proverb: ‘Don’t try to piss against the wind, you will get drowned in the splash.’ These atrocities are committed in your inflamed brain, infected with the disease called ‘Nazism’.”