Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin-linked oligarch known as “Vladimir Putin’s cook,” revealed his acceptance of Russian interference in the US election in a Telegram message on Monday.
Prigozhin said Russia has interfered, is interfering and will continue to interfere in the US democratic process, responding to a question from a reporter on Tuesday that Russia could interfere in the US congressional elections.
“I will answer you very subtly and delicately and I apologize, I will accept a certain ambiguity. Gentlemen, we have obstructed, we obstruct and we will obstruct,” said Prigozhin.
“Carefully, precisely, surgically and in our own way, as we know. In our specific operations, we will remove the kidneys and the liver at the same time”, he added.
Prigozhin is said to be one of Putin’s most trusted confidants – so close that the Russian press called the Russian president a “chef” after he began preparing catering events for the Kremlin. Prigozhin later won lucrative catering contracts for schools and the Russian armed forces, and by 2010 he was a member of the Kremlin with a growing business empire.
It was not immediately clear how serious Prigozhin was in his comments, which appeared to be somewhat sarcastic. But the US has sanctioned Prigozhin for funding the Internet Research Agency, a notorious Russian troll farm accused of meddling in the recent US election. Prigozhin was also charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States in 2018 over special counsel Robert Mueller’s alleged election meddling.
The Kremlin has been accused of meddling in US elections since at least 2016, when Russian-linked hackers hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Those documents were released during the initial period of the campaign to embarrass the Democratic candidate.
US officials and prosecutors have warned of similar hacking attempts and disinformation campaigns by Russia ahead of the 2020 presidential election and Tuesday’s contest. Private investigators said Thursday that suspected Russian operatives have used far-right media platforms to disparage Democratic candidates in Georgia, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Russian government officials, including Putin, have consistently denied meddling in American politics.
Prigozhin operated mostly in the shadows and behind the scenes for many years. In recent months, however, he has developed a more public persona, possibly due to shifting power balances within Russia as losses in Ukraine piled up.
In September, Prigozhin admitted to founding the Wagner Group — a private group of mercenaries accused of war crimes in Africa, Syria and Ukraine — after years of denying any involvement with the outfit.
More recently, US and European officials have accused Prigozhin of trying to use the gallant war effort to gain more influence in the Kremlin. Prigozhin directly confronted Putin because he believed he was mismanaging the conflict.
The Kremlin has denied that officials have criticized the handling of the war.