Also under U.S. sanctions is Prigozhin, the St. Petersburg entrepreneur dubbed “Putin’s chef.”
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The St. Petersburg-based website Fontanka reported that about 3,000 Russians under contract to the Wagner group have fought in Syria since 2015, months before Russia's two-year military campaign helped to turn the tide of the civil war in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a longtime Moscow ally.Russian troops are expected to remain in Syria for years while the contractors are likely to stay to guard lucrative oil and gas fields under a contract between the Syrian government and another Russian company allegedly linked to a businessman known as "Putin's chef" for his close ties to the Kremlin.The Russian Defense Ministry has said 41 of its troops have died in Syria.Russia has used such proxies before – in the conflict to help pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014 .One Russian commander boasted of working alongside Russian troops who said they were "on vacation" while fighting in Ukraine.The Defense Ministry has refused to say how many of its troops are in Syria, although one estimate based on absentee ballots cast in the Russian parliamentary election last year indicated 4,300 personnel were deployed there. The AP obtained a copy of a 47-page contract between Evro Polis and Syria's state-owned General Petroleum Corp., which said that the Russian company would receive 25 percent of the proceeds from oil and gas production at fields its contractors capture and secure from Daesh militants.
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