The head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhinsaid this Friday that his organization had begun to train civilians in the Russian regions bordering Ukraine to form a militia and build fortifications.
“Wagner is helping and will continue to help people in border areas learn to build engineering structures, train and organize a militia”, Prigozhin said according to the press service of his company Concord.
He stated that “a large number of people are already willing to defend their land.”
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Prigozhin indicated that Wagner’s main goal was to start building fortifications and training schools in the regions of Belgorod and Kurskwhich have come under fire regularly in recent months in attacks attributed by Moscow to the Ukrainian military.
“If you want peace, prepare for war”he said, insisting that every Russian has the right to defend his homeland as he sees fit.
Prigozhin revealed in September for the first time that he founded the Wagner group in 2014 to fight in Ukraine and acknowledged his presence in Africa, Middle East and Latin America.
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This came after he and the Kremlin had long denied the group’s existence. Serving as a mercenary is still illegal for the Russians.
Wagner’s fighters have been at the forefront of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine and a video surfaced in September that appeared to show Prigozhin visiting a prison and offering prisoners contracts to fight in exchange for their release.
Ukrainian officials say Prigozhin has been sending thousands of soldiers recruited from Russian prisons to the front lines.
Prigozhin, who has also long been accused of running a “troll factory” to influence voting in Western countries, admitted on Monday to having interfered in the United States elections.
The 61-year-old who earned the nickname “chef” from Putin and was once a shadowy figure is becoming an increasingly public figure and analysts say he may be considering a political role.
This month, Wagner opened a branch in St. Petersburgthe second city of Russia.
Prigozhin complained on Thursday that the city’s governor, Yevgeny Beglovhas refused to let the center function, accusing it of promoting the interests of “Ukrainian nationalists”.
(With information from AFP)
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