Russia-Ukraine War: Russia Says It Destroyed Ukrainian Vessels in the Black Sea

By John Mercury August 23, 2023
Yevgeny V. Prigozhin appears in an image from a video released on Monday via a Telegram channel affiliated with Wagner forces.Credit…Razgruzka Vagnera Telegram, via Associated Press

The mercenary chief who led a short-lived mutiny against Russia’s top military brass in June has emerged in an unverified video message posted on Telegram channels affiliated with his Wagner forces, appearing to recruit for the group’s operations in Africa.

The fate and whereabouts of Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the Wagner chief, have remained largely shrouded from public view since he led Wagner troops to seize military headquarters in southern Russia before leading them on an advance toward Moscow in late June. The rebellion, which Mr. Prigozhin called off after 24 hours, was the most significant challenge to Mr. Putin’s authority in decades.

Neither the authenticity of the video that surfaced Monday, nor when or where it was made could be determined.

The video appeared to be the first glimpse of Mr. Prigozhin since late July, when he appeared in unverified photographs. A few days later, a recording circulated with a voice that appeared to be his saying that Wagner had paused recruiting while figuring out its “next tasks.”

In the video, posted around the same time on a number of Wagner-affiliated accounts Monday night Moscow time, Mr. Prigozhin is seen in fatigues holding an assault rifle in an unspecified location, before a backdrop of a barren terrain with scant, low-lying brush. He said it was more than 50 degrees Celsius — or 122 degrees Fahrenheit. His location could not be confirmed, but his whereabouts has been a regular source of mystery.

He said in the video that the Wagner Group was carrying out search-and-reconnaissance activities making Africa “freer,” suggesting the group was recruiting for its operations in Africa.

For years, Wagner has been expanding its reach in several African nations, particularly in the Central African Republic, where it controls large mining and timber interests. Last month, Mr. Prigozhin praised the coup in Niger in a voice message on Telegram and offered Wagner’s services to the country’s new leaders. One of the leaders visited neighboring Mali, where about 1,500 Wagner troops are allied with the military regime there.

The group has provided security to African presidents, propped up dictators and crushed uprisings, and has been accused of flagrant human rights abuses including torture and murder in the process. As payment for its services, it receives cash or lucrative mining concessions.

The degree of operational control Mr. Prigozhin maintains over the group, however, is unknown. Russia’s Defense Ministry has demanded that Wagner fighters sign contracts instead with the military, and as a part of the deal brokered by President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, Wagner forces relinquished weapons and equipment before leaving Russia.

Mr. Putin has also sought to draw a distinction between the Wagner rank-and-file and Mr. Prigozhin, putting the blame of the failed mutiny strictly on the mercenary leader while keeping open the possibility of using the fighters’ skills and experience.

On Saturday, the Kremlin said Mr. Putin had traveled to the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don to meet with military commanders, in his first publicized visit to the military hub since it was seized by Mr. Prigozhin as a part of his mutiny.

Mr. Prigozhin has apparently been in Belarus and was recently still able to travel to Russia — last month, unverified images appeared to show him meeting with African leaders in St. Petersburg during a summit hosted by Mr. Putin.

But his extensive media holdings, including a troll farm that figured prominently in Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election in 2016, have largely been taken apart, and state media has depicted him as a thug. He has also toned down his criticism of Russia’s top military leaders.


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