'Bizarre': Chathams mayor on alleged Russian interest in islands

Thu, Jun 1

The mayor of the Chatham Islands says it is "bizarre and unreal" to hear reports that a Russian oligarch and boss of the Wagner private military group appears to be interested in the Chathams.

Yegveny Prigozhin, nicknamed "Putin's chef", recently celebrated a victory for the Wagner Group as it conquered the city of Bakhmut in Ukraine.

Following the bloodshed, he was interviewed on camera giving his thoughts on the ongoing war.

He sat in an office featuring a large world map marked with pins, showing locations of interest and operations for Wagner, most of which were placed in Africa.

Upon close inspection however, a white pin appears to be marking the Chatham Islands, east of mainland Aotearoa.

A pin appears to mark the Chatham Islands on a map, but it is unclear why the Russian oligarch is interest in the area.

Monique Croon, the Chatham Islands mayor, told Breakfast this morning she's not sure whether to take the suspicion pin placement seriously or not.

"I just thought it seemed too bizarre and unreal... I thought I'd pass it on to my [chief executive], see what he thinks, and we thought 'oh nah, this is just too far-fetched'," she said.

"I can't really see us being of any outside interest, any military interest or business interests.

"To be absolutely honest, I'm sure [Wagner's] put the wrong island.

"I don't think there's any plausible explanation for having a pin on the Chatham Islands to be honest, and everyone that I've spoken to is not aware of any Russian interest or activity here whatsoever. I'm sure it's the wrong island."

New Zealand has sanctioned the Wagner entity, as well as Prigozhin and other group leaders.

A spokesperson for Defence Minister Andrew Little told Stuff the Defence Force was unaware of "any activities or operations by the Wagner Group in New Zealand".

A Massey University expert referred to Breakfast that Prigozhin's eye on the Chathams may just be a case of mistaken identity.

Another theory seen online was the pin was mistakenly placed and meant for the Cook Islands, who have previously sold the use of their flag to other private military companies.

Watch the full story in the video above.


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