A new video appears to show Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner mercenary group, making his first public appearance since his failed rebellion against the Kremlin more than three weeks ago.
In the video, which has not been independently verified, a man who appears to be Prigozhin is welcoming his troops in Belarus, telling them, “What is happening at the front is a shame in which we do not need to participate,” according to Meduza.
He says, “And wait for the moment when we can prove ourselves in full,” adding that they will be in Belarus for “some time.”
Belarus offered to host Wagner troops in return for putting down arms during their attempted coup.
Here are curated insights from experts and advocates on what to make of Prigozhin’s speech and his plans for the mercenary group.
- Veteran Russian military officer Dmitry Utkin, a central Wagner figure, also appeared to have addressed troops in the video. A potential takeaway from his and Prigozhin’s speeches was that a “significant cadre of Wagner personnel” may have have been assigned to train the Belarusian army, according to conflict analyst Alec Bertina. Prigozhin allegedly vowed to make it “the second army of the world” in his speech. Utkin’s apparent appearance in the video “is no small thing either” and confirmed that Wagner would be based in Belarus, Bertina said.
- Wagner has several other “less chaotic and more reliable” rivals that can provide security services in Africa, writes former UN Security Council investigator Amanda Kadlec. Wagner has proven immensely popular in some countries like the Central African Republic, but that could change if the spat between Prigozhin and Putin shows Wagner as “incompetent or unreliable because of the chaos at home.” — New Line Magazine
- The U.S. and EU should take lessons from their sanctions battle against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda to kill the “Wagner virus” abroad, actor George Clooney and The Sentry co-founder John Prendergast write for The Economist. Building an ”ad-hoc coalition" and targeting lawyers and financiers who enable Wagner in Africa, would deter any future alliances on the continent and “weaken a large cog in Russia’s colonial looting machine,” the pair argue.
“I want to ask everyone to really pay attention to the fact that Belarusians welcomed us not only as heroes, but also as brothers,” Prigozhin reportedly tells his troops in the video.
He also suggests that the mercenary group should recover and prepare to “set off on a new journey to Africa,” and only return “when we will be confident that we will not be asked to make an embarrassment of ourselves and our experience.”
A CNN satellite imagery analysis confirmed Tuesday that the first convoy of Wagner fighters arrived in Belarus on Tuesday, with at least another two expected to arrive over the coming days.