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Russian Wagner mercenary force opens first official headquarters

The European Union has accused the Wagner Group of serious human rights abuses in Ukraine, Africa, Syria and Libya.

Russia’s previously secretive Wagner Group, a private mercenary force, has opened its first official headquarters in the Russian city of St. Petersburg.

The group, controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, opened its gleaming multi-story glass-fronted building, topped with a large white “Wagner” sign, on Friday.

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

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Wagner’s public headquarters follows Prigozhin’s recent steps to bolster his public profile, compared to the years the Russian businessman spent operating his military force in the shadows.

Prigozhin has made a series of outspoken remarks about Russia’s setbacks in its war in Ukraine, joining Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in ridiculing the performance of Moscow’s generals.

He had long denied being behind Wagner, whose contract soldiers support the Russian military in Ukraine and have operated in Africa, Syria and Libya.

Prigozhin last month publicly confirmed for the first time that he was the founder of Wagner.

The European Union has accused the Wagner Group, whose members are mostly former military personnel, of human rights abuses and said they have carried out clandestine operations on behalf of Moscow. The United States and the EU have sanctioned Prigozhin for his role in the group.

In 2021, the EU said that the Wagner Group was responsible for abuses, including torture and extrajudicial executions, in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Central African Republic, Sudan and Mozambique.

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“The mission of the PMC Wagner Center is to provide a comfortable environment for generating new ideas to improve Russia’s defense capability,” Prigozhin said in a statement for Friday’s launch.

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There were no signs at the inauguration for Prigozhin himself, who is sometimes known as “Putin’s Chef” for his sprawling catering businesses that have swept away government contracts.

The opening of the large glass-and-steel office building on Friday was attended by a mix of veterans in military uniforms and young professionals from technology and culture, with lectures from nationalist and pro-Kremlin figures who said Wagner’s headquarters would help “make our great country more equal.” better”.

The camera looks at two men in military uniform standing inside the building and its many floors, curving around them
An interior view of the PMC Wagner Center, a project implemented by businessman and founder of the Wagner private military group Yevgeny Prigozhin, during the official opening of the office block in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on November 4, 2022 [Igor Russak/Reuters]

People in camouflage gear wandered the building’s gray hallways looking at a display of military drones. A truck emblazoned with the “Z” symbol used by Russian forces in Ukraine was parked outside.

“We are inviting startups involved in IT, industrial technology, and those developing new ideas that are ready to apply in the field of national defense,” said Anastasia Vasilevskaya, the center’s press secretary.

“Of course, we are interested in projects that can act as import substitution,” he said.

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Western sanctions on Moscow since the Ukraine invasion have made it difficult for Russia to buy foreign weapons technology.

“The creation of such a center was a long time coming. The only thing is that he showed up very late,” said Wagner volunteer Alexey Savinsky, dressed in military camouflage.

“This center had to be inaugurated a year before the special military operation. So, it’s two years behind schedule,” he said, using Russia’s official term for the Ukraine invasion.

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