Video shows Wagner chief welcoming troops into Belarus after botched coup
Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin on Wednesday appeared in a video welcoming fighters of the private mercenary group to Belarus, suggesting they will shift their focus to Africa and away from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The video, which was posted to Telegram and reported by Reuters, appears to be the first time Prigozhin has been on camera since troops under his control marched on Moscow in a brief mutiny, which began on June 23 and ended less than 24 hours later.
Prigozhin’s voice welcomes Wagner troops, though the video was shot at night and only a profile of what appears to be Prigozhin can be seen along with a group of men.
“Welcome lads. . . . Welcome to Belarusian soil,” he reportedly says in the film, which Reuters could not immediately verify as authentic.
“We fought honourably,” Prigozhin said. “You have done a great deal for Russia. What is going on at the front is a disgrace that we do not need to get involved in.”
Wagner troops had been heavily involved in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including the effort to take the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut. But thousands of those soldiers apparently relinquishing their weapons to Moscow’s military and were given the option to go to Belarus after Prigozhin launched his doomed rebellion against the Kremlin last month.
At the time, Prigozhin said the mutiny was in response to a contentious relationship with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov and not meant to unseat Putin.
He was last seen leaving the Russian city of Rostov a day after starting the coup, but much is unknown as to where he is now after Putin called him a traitor.
Also unclear is what is to become of Wagner’s 25,000 fighters. In the new video, Prigozhin says the fighters should prepare for a “new journey to Africa.”
“And perhaps we will return to the [special military operation in Ukraine] at some point, when we are sure that we will not be forced to shame ourselves,” Prigozhin said, referring to the war in Ukraine.
Wagner already has a robust presence in Africa, including in the Central African Republic and Mali, where the group is often hired as a private security contractor to supplement weak armies and eventually gains a foothold in the economy for exploitation. It has also been accused of heinous atrocities against civilians.
The Biden administration in January designated Wagner as a Transnational Criminal Organization as part of efforts to identify and cut off parts of its global support network.
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