The paramilitary group are “patriots” who do the right thing, Yevgeny Prigozhin said FILE PHOTO: Yevgeny Prigozhin © AP Photo / Alexander Zemlianichenko

The Wagner group are Russian patriots and top-notch military professionals, and it’s time they were recognized as such, businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin said, while taking credit for founding the organization.

Prigozhin admitted his connection to the group of Russian private military contractors on Monday in a statement released by the press service of his company.

The unit started in 2014 as his personal project to fund a fighting force to intervene in Ukraine’s civil war on the side of Donetsk and Lugansk regions, Prigozhin claimed. He said he was one of several wealthy people in Russia, who were willing to invest their money to “defend Russians” from Kiev, but didn’t trust anyone else to use the resources the way he wanted.

“On May 1, 2014, a group of patriots was born, which was later named the Wagner group. Their valor and courage made possible the liberation of Lugansk airport and other territories and played a pivotal role in the fate of the two regions,” he said. Russia has since recognized the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics as sovereign states.

RT witnesses Wagner group fighting in Donbass (VIDEO) RT witnesses Wagner group fighting in Donbass (VIDEO)

For years Prigozhin denied any connection with the Wagner group. He said he was trying to shield it from possible repercussions and accused journalists of trying to “find dirt” on members of the organization.

Wagner fighters were always on shaky ground and didn’t have many job opportunities in civilian life, the businessman added. An assault team commander would find it hard being hired “by a cranky oligarch, whose wife would make him carry her bags while shopping,” he said.

“Those brave fellows knew one thing – fighting to defend those in need, putting their lives on the line on the side of good and justice,” the businessman said. “Live up to the code, do what you must, come what may.”

Prigozhin said he believed it was time for the fighters to get recognition for what they did for Russia as well as for people in Syria, other Arab nations, Africa and Latin America.

Western officials have described the Wagner group as a tool of Russian foreign policy that gives Moscow plausible deniability. Critics claim that Prigozhin has personal ties to the Kremlin. The businessman owns a catering service that won some government contracts, and earned him the moniker “Putin’s chef” in the Western media. Moscow denied claims that the Wagner group acts on its behalf.

Over the years, Wagner fighters have reportedly been involved in operations in Libya, Mali, Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic, among others. Some of its members were arrested in 2020 in Belarus on their way to the Middle East in what was allegedly a failed plot by Ukrainian intelligence to intercept their plane and capture them.