Russian oligarch Prigozhin appears to admit US election meddling



CNN

Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin-linked oligarch known as “Vladimir Putin’s chef,” appeared to admit Russian interference in the US election in a Telegram post on Monday.

Prigozhin said Russia has interfered, is interfering and will continue to interfere in the US democratic process, in response to a reporter’s question about Russia potentially interfering in the US congressional elections on Tuesday.

“I will answer you very subtly and delicately, and I apologize, I will allow some ambiguity. Gentlemen, we interfered, we interfere and we will interfere,” Prigozhin said.

“Careful, precise, surgical and in our own way, the way we know how. During our precise operations, we will remove both kidneys and liver at once,” he added.

Prigozhin is reportedly one of Putin’s most trusted confidants – so close that the Russian press dubbed him “the chef” for the Russian president after he began arranging catering for the Kremlin. Prigozhin subsequently won lucrative catering contracts for schools and Russia’s armed forces, and by 2010 he was a Kremlin insider with a growing commercial empire.

It was not immediately clear how serious Prigozhin was in his comments, which appeared to have been made somewhat sarcastically. But the US has sanctioned Prigozhin for funding the Internet Research Agency, a notorious Russian troll farm accused of meddling in several recent US elections. Prigozhin was also charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States in 2018 by special counsel Robert Mueller in connection with the alleged election meddling.

The Kremlin has been accused of meddling in US elections since at least 2016, when Russian-linked hackers successfully hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. These documents were released during the campaign to embarrass the Democratic candidate.

US officials and prosecutors 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 agents have used far-right media platforms to disparage Democratic candidates in Georgia, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Russian government officials, including Putin, have consistently refused to interfere in American politics.

Prigozhin operated for years mostly in the shadows and behind the scenes. In recent months, however, he has developed a more public persona, possibly due to shifting balances of power inside Russia as losses in Ukraine piled up.

In September, Prigozhin admitted to founding the Wagner Group – a private mercenary group accused of war crimes in Africa, Syria and Ukraine – after years of denying involvement with the outfit.

More recently, US and European officials have claimed that Prigozhin is trying to use the faltering war effort to jockey for increased influence in the Kremlin. Prigozhin reportedly confronted Putin directly about his belief that the conflict is being mismanaged.

The Kremlin has denied that officials have criticized the conduct of the war.

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