What follows is the complete transcript of a rare email interview with Evgeny Prigozhin, widely believed to be the founder of Wagner Group, a private military company representing Russian interests in Ukraine, Syria and across Africa.
The interview was conducted by Anton Baev, a reporter for The Bell, as a part of the investigation into the story of creation of Wagner. The full report will be published on Thursday, January 31.
Question: Since 2014, Russian and foreign media associate your name with an organization called “PMC Wagner”. You have already denied your relationship with this company in a conversation with RBC in 2017, nevertheless tell me, please, do you know the history of the creation of this organization? Why is your name mentioned in connection with it? Is it a coincidence that the head of the private security company, DmitryValerievich Utkin, headed LLC Concord Management and Consulting.
Answer: I have nothing to do with PMC Wagner. Moreover, since my name is constantly mentioned in connection with this company, I can give the following comment: In the Russian Federation, there is no concept of a private military company (PMC). The fact of my name being mentioned in connection with a PMC is a consequence of information originally issued to the public through the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and the Fontanka journalist Denis Korotkov, who collaborates with them and who was reportedly fired from Fontanka for publishing unverified information. Journalists often write about the presence of PMCs in other countries. Ask your readers, how do you distinguish a man on the street from the PMC-Schnick, from the “Wagnerian”?
At your request, documents were released? regarding the director of Concord Management and Consulting LLC. I provided a copy of the passport of Dmitry V. Utkin, who headed the company during my absence. Since I do not know the head of the so-called PMC, I suggest you check it out yourself.
(Given that Prigozhin accuses the journalist Korotkov of inventing the link between Prigozhin and Wagner and claims that Korotkov was fired for false reporting, The Bell contacted Korotkov and his boss at Fontanka, where he used to write, to get their response.)
Response of Fontanka Editor-in-Chief Alexander Gorshkov: “Denis Korotkov resigned in August 2018, and his decision was a surprise to me. Over the years of his work in the editorial office, I don’t remember cases when the information in the materials prepared by Korotkov for Fontanka was not confirmed. I do not know anything about Korotkov’s collaboration with the Security Service of Ukraine, the CIA, MI-6, and the like. The compromising material on this topic was replicated in hundreds of publications of bloggers and anonymous websites after the release of Korotkov’s articles.”
Response of journalist Denis Korotkov (after leaving Fontanka, he works at Novaya Gazeta): “Information about Yevgeny Prigozhin’s activities appeared on Fontanka much earlier than his name was mentioned on the website of the SBU of Ukraine. I recall several cases when the SBU used the materials I published. But there were no cases when I used their materials. Words about my cooperation with the Security Service of Ukraine are a frank and unconditional lie. The dismissal from Fontanka took place according to my own will, both formally and in fact. I quit, retaining my sincere respect for the entire editorial team and for the editor-in-chief, Alexander Gorshkov. I do not understand what kind of unreliable information is in question, since the editors have never presented me with such claims.
In 2017, a namesake of the commander of PMC Wagner, Dmitry Valerievich Utkin, was appointed the CEO of a catering business owned by Prigozhin. However, reporters found out that the Taxpayer Identification Number of the Utkin-CEO does not coincide with the TIN of Utkin-Wagner, and assumed that the whole story with the appointment of Utkin was trolling by Prigozhin. Here is a copy of Dmitry Valerievich Utkin’s passport, sent to The Bell by the Concorde press service. Date of birth (1988) does not coincide with the expected date of birth of “Wagner” (1970).
Q: Since 2012, companies that have connected with you have received various contracts for the supply and provision of services to the army. Did you negotiate with you about organizing the financing or supply of PMCs by the Ministry of Defense or other security agencies? Did you participate in them?
A: Concord Management and Consulting LLC, as well as I do not have companies that would be associated with contracts for the supply and provision of army services, with the exception of rare catering activities. Accordingly, in the Ministry of Defense, with which I have no connection, I cannot hold talks on financing or supplying PMCs, which does not exist.
Q: Do you know what tasks in different countries face PMCs? Do you participate in the formulation or implementation of these tasks?
A: I do not know in which countries what tasks and from whom PMCs are received. Accordingly, I do not take part in the formulation or implementation of non-existent tasks of a non-existent structure.
Q: Is PMC, according to your data, a commercial structure, aimed, among other things, at making a profit? Does it have commercial projects related to mining abroad?
A: I can give a philosophical answer to this question. If PMCs can exist somewhere abroad, then, presumably, it is engaged in security and military activities. Most likely, this company aims to make a profit. However, projects related to the extraction of minerals are engaged in fossil mining companies (IDK). There is no place for PMCs in the area of IDK actions. Learn to think logically, Anton.
Q: Since 2011, you have been supplying ready meals to schools in Russia. Do we understand correctly that you received your first order in St. Petersburg? Why have your companies failed to gain a foothold in the St. Petersburg market? How much do you estimate the first contracts?
A: Indeed, the first contract was concluded in St. Petersburg for the supply of finished products. These products are successfully produced at the Concord Power Plant, which is a supplier of ready-made meals. The company did not have a goal to establish itself as a catering operator for St. Petersburg schools.
Q: Later, in 2014, you began to actively participate in the Moscow market of ready-made meals for schoolchildren. According to our calculations, in the first year you concluded contracts for 595.6 million rubles, and a year later – already for 37 billion rubles. What, in your opinion, is the reason for such explosive growth? At the expense of what you managed, in fact, to seize the market of school supplies in Moscow?
A: Your calculations are wrong. The first contract was concluded in 2011 in the amount of 200 million rubles, and the following annual contracts did not exceed 3.5 billion rubles. The contracts were won by the Kombinat within the framework of the competitions held. The Food Concorde Combine was engaged in catering services in accordance with the competition in the northern and south-eastern districts of Moscow.
Q: Are our calculations correct in that for six years – from 2014 to 2019 – you have concluded contracts for 107 billion rubles?
A: No, your calculations are wrong. Concord Management and Consulting had no contracts for the supply of food to schools and kindergartens.
Q: Do you expect renewal of contracts with Moscow schools in 2019? According to your estimates, what could be the volume of new contracts?
A: Concord Power Plant is not going to participate in contests in 2019. The management of the company decided to concentrate on the development of finished food.