A key ally of Vladimir Putin has praised President Zelensky as a “strong and confident leader” in a surprising break with Kremlin protocol. Mr Prigozhin is the founder of the notorious Wagner mercenary group and has been described as “Putin’s chef”, yet he has reportedly privately confronted the Russian leader over the direction of the war effort in Ukraine.
The statement was issued from Mr Prigozhin’s press office on Tuesday, marking a notable change from the official Russia line that President Zelensky is a drug addict and neo-Nazi.
Although Mr Prigozhin has no official role in the Kremlin, he holds significant power and has been filmed hiring convicted Russian criminals to fight in Ukraine.
In a statement on the Vkontatke social media platform issued through his catering firm, Concord he said: “Although he is the president of a country that’s hostile to Russia right now, Zelensky is a strong, confident, pragmatic and nice guy.”
He explained why he spoke so positively about the Ukrainian President, saying: “Don’t underestimate him.”
According to US intelligence reported in the Washington Post Mr Prigozhin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov have openly criticised Putin’s military efforts.
In the summer Mr Prigozhin, 61, revealed he was the founder of the Wagner Group, a military contractor responsible for Russian actions in the Middle East and Africa as well as Ukraine.
He had previously denied he had anything to do with the group, who are said to have committed a number of military atrocities in foreign countries.
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Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky has also given an insight into the Wagner Group’s leader status in Moscow, telling the British Parliament he is a “significant tool for the Kremlin”.
He added: “The number of meetings with the dictator is the only currency that’s in demand in that regime, and Mr Prigozhin has got a lot of those meetings.”
Mr Khodorkovsky was previously the richest man in Russia, however he spent a decade incarcerated there as a political prisoner.