Putin Boosts Private Military Groups Outlawed in Russia

(Bloomberg) -- President Vladimir Putin said private military contractors have a right to “push their business interests in any corner of the planet” as long as they act within Russian law. The problem is, mercenaries are illegal under Russian law.

The president’s endorsement of mercenaries came in response to a question at his annual press conference Thursday about the Wagner group, a shadowy military contractor said to be controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who’s known as “Putin’s Cook” because one of his companies provides food services to the Kremlin. While Russian law bans mercenaries, private security companies are allowed to operate.

Prigozhin, who’s known Putin since the 1990s, denies any link to Wagner, which has a training camp in southern Russia and deploys mercenaries in eastern Ukraine, Syria and parts of Africa. He’s also been indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for allegedly funding operations to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Putin said prosecutors should examine Wagner’s activities if it’s accused of violating Russian law, adding that all of his cooks are military staff from the Federal Guard Service. About one million people are employed by private security companies in Russia, Putin said.

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