Russian mercenary organisation Wagner Group unveils corporate HQ

Lorry parked outside building emblazoned with 'Z' symbol used by Russian forces in Ukraine

An office at the PMC Wagner Centre during its official opening in St Petersburg, Russia. AP
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Russian paramilitary organisation the Wagner Group has come out of the shadows and into the open with new corporate headquarters in St Petersburg.

The shiny glass-fronted office and technology centre, topped with a large, white Wagner sign, opened on Friday.

In recent weeks, the man behind Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been raising his profile after years spent operating behind the scenes and denying a role in the group.

The opening of the Wagner Centre is seen as another step by Mr Prigozhin to publicise his military credentials and take a more public role in shaping Russia's defence policy. His contract soldiers are supporting Russia's army in Ukraine.

“The mission of the PMC Wagner Centre is to provide a comfortable environment for generating new ideas to improve Russia's defence capability,” Mr Prigozhin said in his statement.

The opening of the large steel and glass office building was attended by a mix of veterans in military uniforms and young professionals.

A lorry was parked outside, emblazoned with the “Z” symbol used by Russian forces in Ukraine.

“We are inviting start-ups involved in IT, industrial technology and those developing new ideas which they are ready to apply in the field of national defence,” said Anastasia Vasilevskaya, press secretary for the centre, where several drone aircraft were on display.

“We are, of course, interested in projects that can act as import substitution,” she said. Sanctions by western countries have made it harder for Russia to buy foreign weapons technology.

Mr Prigozhin has made a series of public comments about Russia's setbacks during what Moscow calls the “special military operation” in Ukraine, joining Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in ridiculing the performance of Russian generals.

Last month, he publicly confirmed for the first time that he was the founder of Wagner, which has also deployed troops to Syria and countries in Africa. The US and European Union have sanctioned Mr Prigozhin for his role in the group.

“The creation of such a centre was a long time coming. The only thing is that it appeared really late,” said volunteer Alexey Savinsky, clad in military camouflage.

“This centre had to be opened a year before the special military operation. So, it’s two years behind schedule.”

There was no sign at the opening of Mr Prigozhin — sometimes called “Putin's Chef” for his sprawling catering businesses that have swept up government contracts.

For years, the Wagner Group has been suspected of playing a role in realising Moscow's overseas ambitions, with the Kremlin denying any links.

The force — and its leader — have taken an increasingly prominent role in the Ukraine offensive.

Updated: November 04, 2022, 10:23 PM