A new video appears to show the head of Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, welcoming his fighters to Belarus, telling them they would take no further part in the Ukraine war for now but to prepare for “a new journey to Africa“.
The footage, published by Prigozhin’s press service on Telegram on Wednesday, is the first video evidence of his whereabouts since Wagner’s failed mutiny last month against Russia’s top military brass.
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“Welcome lads … Welcome to Belarusian soil,” Prigozhin said.
“We fought honourably,” he added. “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.”
On June 23-24, Prigozhin’s heavily armed troops took control of the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and its military command centre steering Russia’s campaign in Ukraine. They then drove an armed convoy within 200km (125 miles) of the capital, Moscow, on what Prigozhin said was a “march for justice” aimed at removing corrupt and incompetent Russian commanders.
Russian President Vladimir Putin initially pledged to crush the mutiny, but hours later a deal struck by his ally Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko averted an armed confrontation.
Under the deal, Prigozhin and his fighters were expected to move operations to Belarus. But earlier this month, Lukashenko said Prigozhin had visited the country then returned to Russia.
After it was confirmed last week that Prigozhin had met Putin days after the failed mutiny, Belarus announced that Wagner fighters would be training its soldiers at a military range southeast of the capital, Minsk.
In the video, the authenticity of which was not immediately verified, Prigozhin told his men to behave well towards the Belarusian locals and collect their strength for Africa, where the mercenary group has played an increasingly central role in several long-running internal conflicts.
“And perhaps we will return to the SMO [special military operation in Ukraine] at some point when we are sure that we will not be forced to shame ourselves,” Prigozhin said.
Since 2018, Wagner has been operating in a number of African countries, including the Central African Republic (CAR), Libya and Mali.
On Monday, the CAR’s presidency said dozens of Wagner fighters had arrived to help secure a constitutional referendum on July 30.
The video, which was shot after night had fallen, also showed Prigozhin receiving a Wagner black flag, decorated with the motto “Blood, Honour, Motherland, Courage”, from their camp in southern Russia.
Dmitry Utkin – a former special forces officer in Russia’s GRU military intelligence, who helped found the Wagner Group – also spoke to the men.
“This is not the end. This is just the beginning of the biggest work in the world that will be carried out very soon,” Utkin said before switching to English. “And welcome to hell!”