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Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, "Putin's chef," admits interference in U.S. elections

Krebs: Twitter turmoil creating "very chaotic environment" for midterms
Krebs says Twitter turmoil creating "a very chaotic environment" for midterms 07:14

Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin and a key figure in the war in Ukraine, admitted bluntly on Monday to interfering in U.S. elections.

"Gentlemen, we interfered, we are interfering, and we will interfere," declared Prigozhin in a statement quoted by his company, Concord. The oligarch has been sanctioned by Washington for running a "troll factory" to influence the outcome of votes in the U.S. and elsewhere.

"Accurately, precisely, surgically, and the way we do it, the way we know how to," Prigozhin quipped in response to a request for comment on the specifics of the interference from a Russian news outlet.

Prigozhin is the financial benefactor behind a so-called Russian "troll farm" previously called the Internet Research Agency. The group, which has changed it's name multiple times, creates and uses inauthentic social media pages to spread misinformation or incendiary speech to affect voters and sow discord. Such organizations are believed to exist in Russia, China and Iran, at least, with the same intent.

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The U.S. Treasury Department accused Prigozhin and the Internet Research Agency of interfering in the 2016 presidential election and the 2018 midterm elections. The organization was frequently mentioned by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his probe into Russia's election interference.

In July, the State Department offered a reward of up to $10 million for information on Prigozhin in connection with his "engagement in U.S. election interference."

Prigozhin's own admission came on the eve of this week's round of U.S. midterm elections, which will be key to shaping the rest of President Joe Biden's presidency. It was the first such admission from an individual who has been formally accused by Washington of efforts to influence American politics.

Speaking on Sunday to CBS' "Face the Nation" moderator Margaret Brennan, Chris Krebs, the former director of the U.S. government cybersecurity agency said, "we've seen reports of Russia, China, Iran back at their old tricks," referring to online interference operations.

Former employee of Russian "troll farm" on special counsel indictment 02:22

Krebs said two U.S. research firms had released information suggesting trolls linked to Russia's Internet Research Agency "are back at it and are undermining Democratic candidates for Senate" in this week's midterms. 

Combined with Elon Musk's tumultuous takeover of Twitter, Krebs said it was all "going to create a very chaotic environment" for the U.S. democratic process.   

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied ever seeking to influence elections in the U.S. or any other outside nation. Russian President Vladimir Putin ridiculed Mueller's 2018 indictment of 13 Russians accused of a conspiracy to meddle in the presidential election that put Donald Trump in the White House.

"How low the Western information and political environment has fallen if a restauranteur from Russia could influence elections in the United States or a European country," the Russian leader said at the time, referring to Prigozhin.

Trump Russia Probe
Yevgeny Prigozhin, left, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool/AP

The businessman is sometimes called "Putin's chef" for the lucrative catering contracts he received from the Russian state.

The oligarch has kept a low profile for years, but recently Prigozhin has emerged as an increasingly public figure as the mercenaries from his Wagner Group have become a key force in bolstering Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Prigozhin denied bankrolling the Wagner Group for years, but in September he admitted to funding the pseudo-military company since 2014. Since then, the private Wagner army has helped advance the Kremlin's geopolitical and business objectives in conflicts from Syria and Africa to Ukraine.

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