A video posted on social media by the Libyan military shows a Russian oligarch with close personal ties to President Vladimir Putin and who owns Russia’s best-known private security firm attending a November 7 meeting in Moscow between high-level Russian defense officials and a Libyan military delegation.
Novaya Gazeta reported on November 9 that oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin — who is connected to the Vagner private-security firm that has been involved in mercenary activities in Ukraine, Syria, and Africa –appeared in the video showing official talks between the head of the Libyan Army and top Russian officials, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
Earlier releases by the Russian government about the Libyan meeting did not mention Prigozhin’s participation.
The Russian government has not commented officially on the video.
However, the Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies on November 10 quoted an unidentified “military and diplomatic source” as confirming the authenticity of the video and saying Prigozhin was present in his capacity as the event’s caterer.
“Well-known Russian restauranteur Yevgeny Prigozhin has made arrangements for a meeting between the Russian and Libyan top military officials in the Russian Defense Ministry,” the source was quoted as saying by Interfax.
“He arranged an official dinner and took part in the discussion of the cultural program of the Libyan delegation’s visit.”
The Kremlin generally denies any government connection with the activities of private Russian security companies.
Mercenary activity is illegal under Russian law.
Among other businesses, Prigozhin owns Concord Management and Concord Catering, which control a group of restaurants.
The firms often cater official events, and Prigozhin has earned the nickname “Putin’s chef.” He also owns the Internet Research Agency, better known as the St. Petersburg “troll factory” that has been accused of carrying out covert influence campaigns in the United States and elsewhere.
All three companies and Prigozhin were named in an October 19 U.S. indictment charging them with funding and organization operations aimed at influencing U.S. political processes, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Prigozhin has also been sanctioned by the United States for his alleged involvement in Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea and Moscow’s military support of separatist formations in eastern Ukraine.
Novaya Gazeta reported last month that people hired by Prigozhin had organized attacks against figures in Russia’s political opposition.