‘Justice and happiness’: Yevgeny Prigozhin appears in fresh recruiting video

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London: Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin posted his first video address since leading a short-lived mutiny in late June, appearing in a social media clip which he suggested was shot in Africa.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner Group military company speaks to a camera at an unknown location. Credit: AP

In the video, posted on Telegram channels affiliated with the Wagner group on Monday, Prigozhin speaks of making Russia greater on all continents and Africa more free. It is likely to exacerbate Western fears that Wagner could expand its African operations after a coup in Niger that has taken on anti-Western overtones.

Prigozhin is seen standing in a desert area in camouflage with a rifle in his hands. In the distance are armed men and a pickup truck.

Reuters was not able to geolocate or verify the date of the video. Prigozhin’s comments and some posts in the pro-Wagner channels suggested it was filmed in Africa.

“The temperature is +50 – everything as we like. The Wagner PMC (private military company) makes Russia even greater on all continents, and Africa – more free,” Prigozhin says in the video.

“Justice and happiness – for the African people, we’re making life a nightmare for ISIS and al Qaeda and other bandits,” he says.

He then says Wagner is recruiting people and the group “will fulfil the tasks that were set”. The video is accompanied by a telephone number for those who want to join the group.

Wagner is already present in Niger’s neighbour Mali, where its fighters were hired in 2021 by a military junta which has ordered out French troops and UN peacekeepers who had been helping the Malian army battle Islamist insurgents for a decade.

UN sanctions monitors alleged in a report in August that Malian troops and their Russian partners were using violence against women and other grave human rights abuses to spread terror.

Wagner and Mali have denied this, as well as accusations that they executed at least 500 people in a village last year.

In Niger, where US, French, German and Italian troops are stationed as part of international efforts to contain the Islamists, a junta that seized power on July 26 has been using anti-French rhetoric in its broadcasts. Mali’s military government has given support to Niger’s coup leaders.

Pro-coup demonstrators in Niamey have waved Russian flags, adding to Western countries’ fears that Niger could follow Mali’s lead and replace their troops with Wagner fighters.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for a return to constitutional order in Niger, while Prigozhin has welcomed the coup.

Prigozhin’s video appeared on the eve of a BRICS summit in South Africa where efforts by some members to strengthen and possibly expand the bloc as a counterweight to the West are on the agenda. Putin will take part virtually, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected in person.

General Sergei Surovikin.Credit: AP

The future of Wagner and Prigozhin has been unclear since he led a short mutiny against the Russian defence establishment in late June and the Kremlin said he and some of his fighters – who have fought in some of the fiercest battles of the Ukraine war – would leave for Belarus.

Since the mutiny, some Wagner fighters have moved to Belarus and started training the army there. In comments published in late July, Prigozhin also said Wagner was ready to further increase its presence in Africa.

As well as Mali, Wagner is active in Central African Republic and Libya. Western nations say it is also present in Sudan, though it denies this.

The message from Prigozhin comes as a Russian general who hasn’t been seen in public since the mutiny by Wagner mercenaries has been removed from his post, RBC news reports.

Sergei Surovikin, 56, was relieved of his post as commander of Russia’s aerospace forces but remains in the Defence Ministry, the news website reported, citing unidentified people familiar with the situation.

He is no longer the deputy commander of military operations in Ukraine, RBC said, citing one person. The Defence Ministry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The general was quizzed by security officials over his links to Prigozhin following the short-lived revolt in June, a person with knowledge of the matter said at the time, as the Kremlin investigated whether elements in the military had knowledge of the uprising.

Prigozhin had repeatedly praised Surovikin’s leadership in Russia’s war in Ukraine, while demanding the ouster of Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

Surovikin, a career military officer whose brutal reputation earned him the nickname “General Armageddon,” was last seen in a Defence Ministry video on June 24 urging Prigozhin to end the uprising. The mercenaries came within 200 kilometers of Moscow before Prigozhin agreed to withdraw his army to Belarus.

Putin put Surovikin in charge of Russia’s army in Ukraine in October and he oversaw the retreat by Russian troops from the Ukrainian city of Kherson the following month. Gerasimov replaced the general as overall commander of operations in Ukraine in January.

Putin has stood by Shoigu and Gerasimov since the mutiny. The president met Gerasimov during a visit Saturday to the headquarters of Russia’s Southern Military District in Rostov-on-Don, which Prigozhin had taken over at the start of his rebellion.

Reuters, Bloomberg

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