Russian warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin joked about getting supplies 'via New Zealand' prior to launching armed rebellion

  • 26/06/2023

Russian warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin reportedly joked about getting supplies "via New Zealand" days before launching a brief armed rebellion against his country's defence ministry.

Politico last week published a story saying Priogzhin had recorded a "sarcastic" voice message which "appeared intended as a joke".

In it, the outlet said Prigozhin joked that Politico could help him get US equipment, including the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets.

"So: F-35s. If it's possible, as we previously discussed, to buy up supplies via New Zealand. They may need to refuel in Hawaii, but I don't really foresee a problem," the outlet quoted Prigozhin as saying.

F-35s aren't used in New Zealand. The New Zealand Defence Force's list of aircraft includes the C-130H Hercules, NH90 helicopter and the SH-2G(I) Seasprite helicopter.

Politico said the statement was made in a "jovial, ironic tone" and had been made in response to a request for a comment about an investigation. 

Prigozhin, the leader of the private military group Wagner and a former close confidant to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is sanctioned by New Zealand. 

The Wagner Group has been assisting Russian forces with their invasion of Ukraine, but Prigozhin has for a while criticised Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and other top generals.

Last week, Prigozhin claimed Russia's invasion had been based on lies and accused the Russian forces of launching a missile strike against Wagner troops. 

He then turned his force towards Moscow, capturing the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-don and marching north. A criminal case was opened against him and Putin made a televised address accusing Prigozhin of treason.

But just hours later Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's office said he had brokered a deal with Prigozhin for the warlord to stop his rebellion and move to Belarus. The criminal case against Prigozhin was closed.

Earlier this month, Stuff spotted a photo of Prigozhin pictured in front of a world map with a pin on New Zealand's Chatham Islands. A spokesperson for the warlord, also known as Putin's chef, said it wouldn't disclose Wagner's interests in relation to the Chathams. 

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told Stuff that he had seen "absolutely no evidence to suggest there is any credibility to any claims that there has been any foreign interference in the Chatham Islands" and locals would know about it if there was.

The owner of Hotel Chatham, Toni Croon, whose sister is the Mayor of the Chatham Islands, told AM at the time that "there is no secrets on Chathams" (sic) and she doesn't believe there is any truth to Prigozhin's claim.

"I don't think there's any truth in it, we haven't officially heard, but I don't think there is," Croon told AM.