The Russian Wagner Group opens a defense technology center in Saint Petersburg | Russia

Russia’s Wagner Group – the once-secret private militia controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin – has opened a military technology center in St Petersburg, in the latest move by Putin’s ally who has criticized senior Kremlin defense brass over the Ukrainian conflict.

The opening of the “Wagner Center” on Friday is seen as another step by Prigozhin to publicize his military credentials and play a more public role in shaping Russia’s defense policy.

He is taking several steps to boost his public profile in recent weeks, unlike the years the businessman has spent operating in the shadows and denying he was behind Wagner, whose contract soldiers support the military Russian in Ukraine.

The opening of the large steel and glass office building brought together a mix of veterans in military uniforms and young tech and cultural professionals, and saw lectures by nationalist and pro-Kremlin figures saying that the center would help “make our great country even better”. .

A truck was parked outside emblazoned with the Z symbol used by Russian forces in Ukraine.

Inside the Wagner Center in Saint Petersburg. Photograph: Igor Russak/Reuters

“We invite startups involved in IT, industrial technology and those who develop new ideas that they are ready to apply in the field of national defense,” said Anastasia Vasilevskaya, press secretary of the center, where several drones were on display.

“We are of course interested in projects that can serve as import substitution,” she said. Sanctions imposed by Western countries have made it more difficult for Russia to purchase foreign weapons technology.

Prigozhin has made a series of outspoken interventions about Russia’s setbacks during what he calls the special military operation in Ukraine, joining Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in ridiculing the performance of Russian generals.

Prigozhin, nicknamed “Putin’s chef” because his catering business hosted dinner parties attended by the Russian president, first publicly confirmed in September that he was Wagner’s founder.

Wagner was established in 2014 to support pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, but after years shrouded in secrecy he has taken an increasingly public role in Russia’s foreign policy and the invasion of Ukraine.

Prighozin has made a series of visits to Russia’s vast prison system, seeking to draft prisoners in a bid to make up for the country’s personnel shortages on the battlefield in Ukraine.

Wagner has been accused of committing human rights abuses in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Central African Republic, Sudan and Mozambique. The group’s alleged co-founder, Dmitry Utkin, has been linked to the far right and is said to have named the group after Hitler’s favorite composer. The United States and the EU imposed sanctions on Prigozhin and Utkin for their role in Wagner.

There was no sign at the opening of Prigozhin itself.

“The creation of such a center has been a long time in coming. The only thing was that he appeared very late,” said volunteer Alexey Savinsky, dressed in military camouflage. “This center was to be opened a year before the special military operation. So that’s two years late.

About Michael S. Montanez

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