MOSCOW – A Russian newspaper says video released by the self-styled Libyan National Army shows a businessman allegedly linked to a private contractor that sent mercenaries to Syria at a meeting with the head of the Libyan army and top Russian military officials.
Novaya Gazeta reported Friday that a man seen wearing civilian dress at the meeting was Yevgeny Prigozhin. The Moscow meeting included Libyan National Army head Khalifa Hifter, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of staff of Russia's armed forces.
Prigozhin is allegedly tied to a military contractor believed to have sent thousands of mercenaries to Syria, augmenting regular Russian troops deployed there. He also has been indicted by the United States over the alleged Russian "troll farm" accused of using social media to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Prigozhin's presence at the meeting had not been reported by the Defense Ministry. Several hours after Novaya Gazeta wrote about the video, state news agencies cited an unnamed military source as saying that Prigozhin had arranged the official dinner for the visit and took part in discussing its "cultural program."
The businessman has been dubbed "Putin's chef" for organizing catering for the Russian president and even personally serving him on occasion.
Reports have linked him to the private security contractor Wagner, which has been characterized as effectively an unofficial arm of the defense ministry. More than 100 fighters contracted to Wagner have died in Syria, the investigative group Contact Intelligence Team said this year.
Russia has denied reports that it has sent troops to eastern Libya to support Hifter's forces.