With alarm over foreign manipulation of the U.S. midterm elections swirling ahead of Tuesday’s vote, an influential Russian businessman and close associate of President Vladimir V. Putin sardonically boasted on Monday that Russia was interfering in the election.
“Gentlemen, we have interfered, we do interfere and we will interfere,” the businessman, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s Chef,” said in a statement posted by his catering company in response to a question from a Russian news outlet. “We will do it carefully, precisely, surgically as we are capable of doing it. During our targeted operations, we will remove both kidneys and liver at once.”
RIA Novosti, a Russian state-owned news agency, described the comments as ironic. But Mr. Prigozhin — the founder of a shadowy mercenary force closely linked to the Kremlin — has been accused of being deeply involved in such operations. In 2018, he was indicted by the United States in a case involving the troll factory that spearheaded Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 elections in the United States.
Last year, the F.B.I. also put Mr. Prigozhin on its most-wanted list and the U.S. Treasury placed him under sanctions for organizing disinformation campaigns in elections in Asia, Europe and Africa. The U.S. government imposed additional sanctions on Mr. Prigozhin in March, shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
A U.S. State Department spokesman, Ned Price, called Mr. Prigozhin’s comments “a bold confession.”
“If anything, it appears to be just a manifestation of the impunity that crooks and cronies enjoy under President Putin and the Kremlin,” he said during a briefing Monday afternoon in Washington. He added that it was clear that a person of Mr. Prigozhin’s stature would not be in a position to make such claims unless “the Kremlin, at some level” didn’t approve. [Continue reading…]