Video appears to show Wagner chief for first time since aborted mutiny

A video has appeared purporting to show the mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin addressing his fighters in Belarus and calling the Russian war effort in Ukraine a “disgrace”, in the first footage of the Russian warlord to emerge since his mutiny last month.

The video, which was published by two Telegram channels affiliated with the Wagner mercenary company, showed a man who resembled and sounded like Prigozhin telling his fighters: “Welcome to the Belarusian land! We have fought with dignity. We have done very much for Russia!”

Vladimir Putin last week claimed Prigozhin had rejected an offer for him to step down as the head of Wagner and allow his mercenaries to continue fighting in Ukraine. Instead, an estimated 2,000 Wagner fighters have decamped to Belarus, where some are said to be instructing Belarusian territorial forces at a training camp in Asipovichy, south-east of the capital of Minsk.

The Kremlin has begun to dismantle Prigozhin’s business and media empire, which managed everything from catering contracts to fake news websites. But the arrival of Wagner troops in Belarus suggests both sides are sticking to a deal hammered out during the mutiny that would allow Wagner to live in exile in Belarus.

In his filmed remarks to his fighters, Prigozhin continued his criticism of the Russian military’s management of the war against Ukraine, saying that Wagner troops would not fight in Ukraine for now.

“What is happening at the front now is a disgrace in which we do not need to participate,” he said. “[We will] wait for the moment when we can prove ourselves in full.”

The Wagner Orchestra Telegram channel said Prigozhin addressed several thousand fighters, although that was unclear from the video, which was shot in low light. In the video, Prigozhin said his fighters would remain in Belarus “for some time. The Belarusians have met us as brothers.”

The Belarusian national flag flies above tents at a newly built camp on a site previously used by the Belarusian army, 7 July 2023
A newly built camp in the Asipovichy district of Belarus, on a site used by the Belarusian army. Photograph: Adam Berry/Getty Images

The Belarusian defence ministry last week published video it claimed showed Wagner paramilitaries training local defence forces in tactics.

Prigozhin also said Wagner mercenaries would be training at the sites in Belarus and would be “going on a new path to Africa”. The Kremlin has said that it would seek to keep paramilitaries in Africa, where their work brings diplomatic benefits and is also considered to be extremely profitable, with Wagner receiving land and mining concessions as payment for protection and fighting from cash-poor governments.

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“Perhaps we will return to the special military operation at the moment when we are sure that we will not be forced to put ourselves to shame,” he added, using the preferred term in Russia for the invasion of Ukraine.

Prigozhin then introduced a man he indicated was the Wagner field commander Dmitry Utkin, who is rarely photographed and had not been filmed speaking with his fighters before. Utkin goes by the callsign Wagner and is the namesake of the group.

“This is not the end, this is only the beginning of the greatest work in the world, which will continue very soon,” Utkin said. “And welcome to hell,” he added, saying the last words in accented English.

The opposition Belarusian Hajun project, which monitors troop movements in Belarus, said it believed Prigozhin had flown from Russia to Belarus in order to deliver the address late on Tuesday evening, and later flew back to Russia.

Hajun has reported that an estimated 2,000-2,500 Wagner fighters are located in Belarus. Since 11 July, 382 Wagner vehicles had entered the country in at least five organised columns, it added. Video posted to the internet has shown military vehicles said to carry Wagner fighters travelling into Belarus from Russia.

Satellite data for the camp at Asipovichy indicates that as many as 7,500 fighters could be housed there, although the number of Wagner paramilitaries appears smaller. The arrival of heavy vehicles and large troop numbers is a new development this week, suggesting that the hastily struck agreement during last month’s mutiny is now being implemented. The Pentagon earlier this month said it believed that most of Wagner’s troops remained at their bases in Ukraine but were not actively involved in fighting on the frontline.


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