In this image taken from video released by Razgruzka_Vagnera telegram channel on Monday, Aug. 21, 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner Group military company speaks to a camera at an unknown location. (Razgruzka_Vagnera telegram channel via AP)BY EMMA BURROWS
LONDON (AP) — Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin on Monday published his first recruitment video for the Wagner Group since organizing a short-lived mutiny against defense officials in Russia, according to information on Russian social media channels.
Prigozhin moved into the global spotlight in June with a dramatic, short-lived rebellion that posed the most serious threat to President Vladimir Putin of the Russian leader’s 23-year rule. The Wagner founder long benefited from Putin’s powerful patronage, including while he built a private army that fought for Russian interests abroad and participated in some of the deadliest battles of the war in Ukraine.
In the video, which was posted on Telegram messaging app channels which are believed to be affiliated with Prigozhin, a person who appears to be the 62-year-old mercenary leader says the Wagner Group is conducting reconnaissance and search activities, and “making Russia even greater on all continents, and Africa even more free.”
“We are hiring real strongmen and continuing to fulfill the tasks which were set and which we promised to handle,” the speaker in the video says, toting an assault rifle and wearing military fatigues. Pickup trucks and other people dressed in fatigues are in the background.
The Associated Press was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the video or where and when it was created.
Russian social media channels linked to the mercenary leader said Prigozhin was recruiting fighters to work in Africa and also inviting investors from Russia to put money in the Central African Republic through Russian House, a cultural center in the African nation’s capital.
The Central African Republic is one of the countries where Wagner’s soldiers for hire have been active and accused of committing human rights abuses.
In the video posted Monday, the person who appears to be Prigozhin says Wagner is, “giving ISIS, al-Qaida and other gangsters hell” in temperatures of 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius).
The Kremlin has used the Wagner Group since 2014 as a tool expand Russia’s presence in the Middle East and Africa.
Prigozhin spent months criticizing Russia’s military performance in Ukraine before he called for an armed uprising on June 23 to oust the defense minister and headed from Ukraine toward Moscow with his mercenaries.
Under a deal brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Prigozhin agreed to end his rebellion in exchange for amnesty for him and his fighters and permission to relocate to Belarus. Before moving to Belarus, Wagner handed over its weapons to the Russian military, part of efforts by Russian authorities to defuse the threat posed by the mercenaries.
Putin branded Prigozhin a traitor as the revolt unfolded and vowed harsh punishment, but the criminal case against the mercenary chief on rebellion charges was later dropped. Unusually, the Kremlin said Putin had a three-hour meeting with Prigozhin and Wagner Group commanders days after the rebellion.
A video in July apparently showed Prigozhin in Belarus but he was photographed after that on the sidelines of a Russia-Africa summit in the Russian city of St. Petersburg. His current whereabouts are unknown.