Pro-Kremlin businessman confirms he founded Wagner mercenary group

Pro-Kremlin businessman confirms he founded Wagner mercenary group
Yevgeny Prigozhin shows Vladimir Putin his school lunch factory outside Saint Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 20, 2010. (AFP)
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Updated 26 September 2022

Pro-Kremlin businessman confirms he founded Wagner mercenary group

Pro-Kremlin businessman confirms he founded Wagner mercenary group
  • Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin said that he founded the group to send fighters to Ukraine’s Donbas region in 2014
  • Critics say it is Putin’s ‘shadow army,’ promoting Russian interests by providing fighters, military instructors and advisers

MOSCOW: Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, said on Monday he had founded the Wagner mercenary group and confirmed its deployment to countries in Latin America and Africa.
Prigozhin said in a statement from his company, Concord, that he founded the group to send fighters to Ukraine’s Donbas region in 2014.
“From that moment, on May 1, 2014, a group of patriots was born, which later acquired the name BTG Wagner,” he said.
Prigozhin, dubbed “Putin’s chef” because of his Kremlin catering contracts, has previously denied links with Wagner.
“I myself cleaned the old weapons, figured out bulletproof vests and found specialists who could help me with this,” Prigozhin added.
“These guys — heroes who defended the Syrian people, other people of Arab countries, destitute Africans and Latin Americans — have become the pillars of our motherland,” he said.
Prigozhin, 61, has been hit with EU and US sanctions, accused of being behind a “troll factory” that attempted to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election.
For years, the Wagner group has been suspected of playing a role in realizing Moscow’s overseas ambitions, with the Kremlin denying any links.
Its presence has been reported in conflict zones including Syria, Mali, Ukraine and the Central African Republic, where it has been accused of abuses and capturing state power.
Critics say it is Putin’s “shadow army,” promoting Russian interests by providing fighters, military instructors and advisers.
Wagner’s presence was forced into the spotlight in 2018 when independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that several Russian-speaking men who killed and mutilated a detainee on video in Syria were Wagner fighters.
Earlier this month, a video was shared on social media seeming to show Prigozhin recruiting inmates of a Russian prison to bolster Wagner’s ranks in Ukraine.
The Russian army has faced difficulties in its seven-month-old military intervention, with Putin last week ordering a partial mobilization of reservists to regain momentum after Kyiv’s forces retook swathes of Moscow-controlled territory in a counter-offensive.
Russian media have reported that Prigozhin controls Wagner’s finances, whereas its operations are managed by Dmitry Utkin, a shadowy figure who allegedly served in Russia’s military intelligence.
Utkin was received at the Kremlin in 2016 for a ceremony paying tribute to “heroes” who served in Syria and has been photographed with Putin.


Malaysia swears in new cabinet led by Anwar Ibrahim

Malaysia swears in new cabinet led by Anwar Ibrahim
Updated 03 December 2022

Malaysia swears in new cabinet led by Anwar Ibrahim

Malaysia swears in new cabinet led by Anwar Ibrahim
  • PM Anwar Ibrahim will also hold finance ministry portfolio
  • New government to focus on good governance, economy

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s new Cabinet led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in on Saturday, after divisive polls last month.
Anwar became Malaysia’s 10th premier on Nov. 24 after a general election that produced no outright winner ended in a hung parliament.
With his reformist alliance Pakatan Harapan failing to secure a simple majority, he eventually formed a coalition government with the help of other political blocs.
Anwar unveiled his Cabinet lineup in a televised speech on Friday night, taking himself the Finance Ministry portfolio — a Cabinet role he first held 30 years ago — and appointing two deputy prime ministers: Ahmad Zahid Hamidi from the Barisan Nasional alliance, which had long dominated Malaysia’s political scene, and Fadillah Yusof, another key coalition partner from Gabungan Parti Sarawak, a regional Borneo-based bloc.
“The strength of the unity government has exceeded the two-thirds support in the parliament.  This mandate has given us the confidence to form a stronger cabinet line-up and we will work as a team,” Anwar said as he announced the lineup.
The new ministers, some clad in traditional Malay attire, took their oath on Saturday before King Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah at the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur.
The government with many new faces was expected to bring stability following a spate of political uncertainty in the Southeast Asian country, which saw three prime ministers in as many years. Anwar said good governance, spurring the economy, and reducing the burden of living costs will be their top priorities.
“This is the most stable lineup we can expect from the new administration,” BowerAsiaGroup director Adib Zalkapli told Arab News. “He has to balance the demands of all political parties in the coalition.”
The appointment of Hamidi as one of Anwar’s deputies had raised eyebrows as it appeared to contradict his anti-corruption platform. Hamidi, president of the Barisan Nasional coalition and the United Malays National Organization, has been charged with graft and was a key ally of jailed ex-leader Najib Razak.
Dr. Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said the move was necessary.
“Anwar needs Zahid to keep the Malay nationalist party UMNO with him,” he told Arab News.
Ethnic Malays make up a majority of Malaysia’s 33 million population, which also has a significant population of ethnic Chinese and Indians.
Dr. James Chin, a professor of Asian Studies at the University of Tasmania, said Anwar represented “a moderate Malaysia.”
“Most Malaysians will welcome this cabinet,” Chin told Arab News. “This cabinet has a better reflection of the multiracial society in Malaysia.”


Ukraine detains 8 over Banksy mural theft

Ukraine detains 8 over Banksy mural theft
Updated 03 December 2022

Ukraine detains 8 over Banksy mural theft

Ukraine detains 8 over Banksy mural theft
  • The stencil image of a person in a nightgown and gas mask holding a fire extinguisher next to the charred remains of a window in the town of Gostomel went missing on Friday
  • The image is in good condition and in the hands of the authorities
KYIV: Ukraine has detained eight people over the theft from a wall in the Kyiv suburbs of a mural painted by elusive British street artist Banksy, the authorities said.
The stencil image of a person in a nightgown and gas mask holding a fire extinguisher next to the charred remains of a window in the town of Gostomel went missing on Friday, they said.
“A group of people tried to steal a Banksy mural. They cut out the work from the wall of a house destroyed by the Russians,” Kyiv governor Oleksiy Kuleba said in a post on Telegram late Friday.
He attached the image of a gaping hole in the wall where the image once stood.
“Several people were detained on the spot,” he said. “The image is in good condition and in the hands of the authorities.”
Other works in the area thought also to be the work of Banksy are under police protection, he said.
Kyiv police chief Andriy Nebitov said “eight people had been identified” as possibly involved, and a preliminary inquiry had been opened into the matter.
“All were aged between 27 and 60 years old. They are residents of Kyiv and Cherkasy” some 200 km (120 miles) southeast of the capital, he said.
Last month, Banksy posted an image of the stencil of a gymnast performing a handstand on the wall of a wrecked building in Borodyanka, another suburb of the capital.
He then posted a video of several more of his artworks, including the person in a gas mask holding the fire extinguisher.
Others included the portraits of a bearded man scrubbing up in a bathtub, and a young boy in a karate outfit slamming his adult opponent to the ground.
Together with towns such as Bucha and Irpin, Borodyanka and Gostomel were severely hit by Russian bombardment after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US

Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US
Updated 03 December 2022

Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US

Estonia to buy HIMARS rocket launchers from US
  • Estonia, which neighbors Russia, has increased defense spending since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine
  • The HIMARS systems delivered to Ukraine are widely seen as one of the most effective tools in its arsenal

Tallinn, Estonia: Estonia has agreed to buy six HIMARS rocket systems from the United States worth over $200 million, the state defense investment agency said on Saturday.
It is the largest arms purchase in the country’s history.
Estonia, which neighbors Russia, has increased defense spending since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, as has its Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Lithuania.
The HIMARS systems delivered to Ukraine are widely seen as one of the most effective tools in its arsenal, as the pro-Western country fights back against Russian troops.
Magnus-Valdemar Saar, director general of the Estonian Center for Defense Investments (ECDI), signed a contract on Friday with the United States’ Defense Security Cooperation Agency to boost the country’s indirect fire capability, the ECDI said in a statement.
Estonia will also “procure ammunition, communications solutions, as well as training, logistics, and life-cycle solutions,” said armament category manager Ramil Lipp.
The ECDI did not provide details on how many rockets were ordered but said the purchase included those which can strike targets at a distance of 300 kilometers (186 miles), and rockets of shorter range.
The first deliveries will arrive in 2024.
Lithuania last month said it would buy eight HIMARS rocket systems from the United States for $495 million.


UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan

UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan
Updated 03 December 2022

UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan

UK could fast-track asylum claims from Syria, Afghanistan
  • New 2-tier system being considered to reduce country’s 150,000-person backlog
  • Syrian, Afghan applications have 98% success rate in UK: Home Office

LONDON: The UK is to establish a two-tier asylum system to speed up claims from people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, in plans set to be announced next week.

The country faces a significant backlog of 150,000 applications driven in part by mass migration of people from places such as Albania, which is considered a safe country. 

A huge number of people have taken to crossing the English Channel illegally in small boats to reach the UK, which has placed enormous burden on the state’s ability to house and support asylum-seekers.

The UK Home Office says by the end of the year it expects at least 50,000 people to have arrived in the country to claim asylum. 

Its figures also show that around 98 percent of applications from people fleeing Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea, 87 percent from people from Sudan and 82 percent of Iranians — who make up around a third of the backlogged asylum claims in total — end up being approved.

Under the proposals, those from the likes of Afghanistan and Syria will now be prioritized and their processes streamlined, removing things such as follow-up interviews after initial approval, and security and identity checks. 

It is thought that this will allow more deserving refugees to start their lives in the UK, as it will allow them to find work and their own accommodation.

Applications from Albanians, meanwhile, will also be dealt with quicker, with a deal to be struck between London and Tirana to expedite the process of deporting those whose applications are denied.

One source told The Times that the new scheme is being overseen directly by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has “completely taken control of the policy” from Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who had previously gone on record to say speeding up application processes based on nationality “wouldn’t be the right way to go.”

The source said: “He’s got teams of Home Office officials working directly to him, and Suella has been sidelined.”

A Home Office source told The Times that the department is looking at “focusing resources on very high grant rate cases.”


Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth

Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth
Updated 03 December 2022

Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth

Albanian who entered UK in back of truck recalls serving lunch to Queen Elizabeth
  • Catering course gave Ismet Shehu chance to serve late monarch during Diamond Jubilee celebrations
  • ‘Can you imagine that? A poor boy from the countryside serving lunch to the queen of England?’

LONDON: An Albanian who traveled to Britain hidden in a truck has told the Daily Mail that he served lunch to the late Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip during Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Ismet Shehu, now 32, made the dangerous journey aged 17 after traveling to Italy and then France, where in Lille he entered the back of a truck heading for Britain.

Shehu entered the construction and hospitality industries after arriving in the UK, working low-wage jobs before signing up to a university course teaching high-end catering in London.

That course, as part of its training program, offered a small group of students — including Shehu — the opportunity to serve lunch to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip during the 2012 Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Now back in Tirana, the Albanian capital, Shehu has used his experience in hospitality to open a range of successful restaurants.

He told the Mail: “Can you imagine that? A poor boy from the countryside serving lunch to the queen of England?

“It was such an honor for me to do that and all just a couple of years after getting into the country hiding in the back of a lorry. It was the most frightening experience of my life.”