Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin sets sights on return to Africa

Mercenary group leader orders his fighters to train the Belarusian army and collect their strength for a 'new journey to Africa'

Yevgeny Prigozhin is heard on the video talking to his fighters. AP
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Wagner mercenary fighters have been welcomed in Belarus by their boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, who told them to prepare for Africa.

Mr Prigozhin was shown in a video welcoming Wagner fighters and telling them that they would take no further part in the war in Ukraine.

“Welcome lads … welcome to Belarusian soil,” he said. “We fought honourably. 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.”

In the night-time video, which has not been verified, a man whose voice and use of Russian sounded like Mr Prigozhin is heard welcoming his men. The video was reposted by his press service on Telegram.

Mr Prigozhin tells his men to behave well towards the locals and orders them to train the Belarusian army and collect their strength for a “new journey to Africa”.

“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,” he said.

A man who sounded like Dmitry Utkin, who helped to found the Wagner group, then spoke to the men, Reuters reported.

“This is not the end. This is just the beginning of the biggest work in the world that will be carried out very soon,” he said, before switching to English. “And welcome to hell!”

The Wagner military force – a mercenary group with a record of fighting in Africa and other hot spots including Syria – was brought in by Russia to fight in Ukraine alongside its regular military.

The Wagner mutiny, and its march on Moscow, ended as abruptly as it started. Mr Prigozhin ordered his troops to pull back when they were within 200km of the Russian capital.

The speed of the advance showed how effective a force they could be.

Wagner personnel have operated in five African states, including the Central African Republic and Mali, but their presence is often accompanied by reports of human rights abuse such as torture and execution.

UN experts reported “persistent and alarming accounts” of mass atrocities allegedly carried out by the organisation, as well as government forces, in Mali.

The head of Britain's MI6 intelligence said the Wagner revolt revealed the weaknesses in Moscow. He said on Wednesday in Prague that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “clearly under pressure”.

Sir Richard Moore said: “It is an extraordinary set of events. Mr Prigozhin started as a traitor at breakfast, was pardoned by supper and then invited for tea.”

The MI6 chief urged Russians angry at the war in Ukraine to spy for the UK, saying Britain’s “door is always open” and it “will work to bring the bloodshed to an end”.

“What happens in Russia is down to Russia, but what they can do is help us to bring the bloodshed in Ukraine to an end by helping us to support the Ukrainians,” he said.

“It is our sacred trust to protect them and if we didn’t we would not be in business, and we are very much in business.”

Wagner's influence in Africa

Wagner's influence in Africa
Updated: July 20, 2023, 12:27 PM