Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef” because his catering business hosted dinners attended by the Russian president, said he founded Wagner to support Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
“I cleaned the old weapons myself, sorted out the bulletproof vests myself and found specialists who could help me with this. From that moment, on 1 May 2014, a group of patriots was born, which later came to be called the Wagner Battalion,” Prigozhin said.
“I am proud that I was able to defend their right to protect the interests of their country,” he added in the statement, which was posted by his catering company, Concord.
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 believed to have named the group after Hitler’s favourite composer. The US and EU have imposed sanctions on Prigozhin and Utkin for their role in Wagner.