Russian linked with ‘Putin’s chef’ injured in Africa attack

December 16, 2022 GMT

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian representative in Central African Republic, who is associated with Yevgeny Prigozhin, the notorious millionaire owner of the Wagner Group military contractor, was severely injured Friday when a package exploded in his hands, Prigozhin and Russian officials said.

Prigozhin, who has been dubbed “Putin’s chef” for his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said in a statement on his messaging app channel that Dmitry Sytyi who headed the “Russian House” in Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic, was in grave condition after the attack.

Prigozhin charged that before losing consciousness Sytyi said the explosive package contained a note saying “This is for you from all the French. The Russians will get out of Africa.”

Prigozhin’s Wagner Group has played an active part in the fighting in Ukraine and also has deployed to several African countries in what the West saw as part of Moscow’s efforts to expand its clout in the continent.

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Prigozhin, who has been on the U.S. and EU sanctions list for years for his Kremlin links, accused France of staging the attack and said that he asked the Russian Foreign Ministry to declare the country a “sponsor of terrorism.” He didn’t offer any evidence to back his claim.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov denounced the attack on Sytyi as “an inhuman terrorist act” and vowed Russian authorities will take every effort to track down its organizers and perpetrators.

He said Moscow will take additional security measures but won’t close the Russian House in Bangui, adding that “we mustn’t show any fear of terrorists.”

“There have been attacks by terrorists and I’m afraid more will come, and we need to be ready for that,” Bogdanov said in remarks carried by the state news agency Tass. “But it doesn’t mean that we should pack and run away.”

Yevgeny Primakov, the head of a Russian state agency overseeing cultural and humanitarian ties with foreign countries, said that Sytyi was badly wounded and doctors were fighting for his life.

The Wagner Group has deployed personnel to many African countries, including Central African Republic, in what Western officials have described as an attempt by Moscow to boost its political influence and win control of the continent’s natural resources. Wagner personnel have been accused of widespread human rights abuses.

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In Central African Republic, Wagner fighters have guarded the country’s gold and diamond mines and helped keep President Faustin-Archange Touadera in power. A report released earlier this year by the U.N.’s independent expert on the human rights situation in Central African Republic cited a number of attacks it said were reportedly carried out on the orders of the country’s armed forces and their Wagner Group allies.

Bangui residents said they’re worried the attack will add another dimension of chaos to their lives.

“We regret that this country is turning into a theatre of western attacks,” said Gaetan Betokomi, a government official. “They opened Pandora’s box and now this will be a method of settling scores in the country and it is very sad,” he said.

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Sytyi, who has been reportedly linked to Prigozhin, has worked in Central African Republic for several years. Prigozhin hailed him as a “Russian patriot.”

Prigozhin claimed that last month Sytyi got a letter with a picture of his son, who lives in France, saying that next time he will get his son’s head “if the Russians don’t get out of the African continent and open the doors to the French.” He said Sytyi carelessly opened the package on Friday because he thought that the gruesome threat had been fulfilled.

“If Dmitry Sytyi stays alive, he will continue the fight and see how those who made an attempt on his life perish in the flames of history,” said Prigozhin who has cast Wagner operations in Africa as a fight against the purported Western “colonialism.”

“If he dies, he will remain a symbol of that struggle. Not a single Russian wil ever step back from the African continent until all the colonizers pull back to their countries’ borders,” Prigozhin added.

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Associated Press reporter Jean Fernand Koena contributed from Bangui.