Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s mercenary Wagner group, has denied it had any involvement in the execution of one of its fighters in Ukraine.
Last week, a social media account linked to Wagner shared unverified footage of a man identified as a former mercenary being killed after declaring that he had switched sides in September to “fight against the Russians”.
In the footage, the man, who gave his name as Yevgeny Nuzhin, 55, was shown with his head taped to a brick wall. He said he was abducted in Kyiv on October 11 and came around in a cellar.
“I got hit over the head and lost consciousness and came around in this cellar,” he said. “They told me I was to be tried.”
As he said those words, an unidentified man in combat clothing behind Nuzhin was seen smashing a sledgehammer into the side of his head and neck.
Nuzhin collapsed onto the floor and the unidentified man delivered another blow to his head.
The video appeared on the Grey Zone Telegram channel, one of several that Russian media has said was linked to the Wagner group. The footage was posted under the title, The hammer of revenge.
Asked to comment on the execution video, Prigozhin said on Sunday in remarks released by his spokeswoman that the video should be called, “A dog receives a dog’s death” and labelled Nuzhin a “traitor”.
“Nuzhin betrayed his people, betrayed his comrades, betrayed consciously,” said Prigozhin, who has been sanctioned by the United States and European Union for his role in Wagner.
But on Tuesday, the 61-year-old denied Wagner’s involvement and accused US intelligence services of being behind the killing, without providing evidence to support his claim.
“I asked Wagner employees whether they abducted Evgeny Nuzhin and if they participated in his torture. None provided information of participating in his abduction or torture,” Prigozhin said in a letter addressed to Igor Krasnov, Russia’s prosecutor general, and published on Russia’s VKontakte social media service.
“For me, it is very clear that Nuzhin was abducted and violently killed by agents of the US intelligence services,” he added, and called for Krasnov to open an investigation into the killing.
The Russian rights group, Gulagu.net, which advocates for prisoners in Russian detention, has said that Nuzhin was in prison in Russia before being recruited by Wagner to fight in Ukraine.
Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been accused of personally participating in a recruitment drive by offering contracts at Russian prisons, pledging that those who surrender or are captured would be killed.
In September, he disclosed for the first time that he had founded the Wagner group in 2014.
Originally staffed by veterans of the Russian armed forces, Wagner’s mercenaries have fought in Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic, Mali and Ukraine, among other countries, in recent years.
Earlier this month, the group opened its first official headquarters in Russia’s second city of Saint Petersburg.