Russia’s Wagner Group, a private militia controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, opened a military technology center in St. Petersburg on Friday, the latest move by Putin’s ally who has criticized senior Kremlin defense brass over the ‘Ukraine.
The opening of the “Wagner Center” 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, with talks from nationalist and pro-Kremlin figures saying 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.
“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 candid interventions about Russia’s setbacks during what she calls the special military operation in Ukraine, joining Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in ridiculing the performance of Russian generals.
Last month, Prigozhin publicly confirmed for the first time that he was the founder of Wagner, which has also deployed troops to Syria, Africa and Ukraine. Both the United States and the European Union sanctioned Prigozhin for his role in the group.
There were no signs at the opening of Prigozhin himself – sometimes dubbed “Putin’s boss” for his sprawling restaurant businesses that have swept away government contracts.
“The creation of such a center has been a long time in coming. The only thing is 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 he’s two years late. »