Sep 02, 2023

Wagner Soldiers Rail Against Military Taking Over Prigozhin's Operations

Wagner Group soldiers are in a tough spot as Russia's military squeezes the paramilitary outfit out of Africa and the Middle East following the death of its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, according to a leaked audio message.

In the audio clip obtained and verified by Russian investigative outlet Important Stories, a representative for the Wagner Group said ten of thousands of fighters, including many who were sent to Belarus in the aftermath of Prigozhin's failed mutiny on June 24, are finding they are being blocked from working amid competition from Russia's Ministry of Defense and the National Guard.

The Wagner Group, which was formed in 2014, provides fighters for hire and has been accused of doing Russia's dirty work in regions including Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Mozambique, and eastern Ukraine. Its contractors have been accused of committing human rights violations.

Wagner fighters were expelled from Ukraine after its late chief, Prigozhin, led a failed mutiny against the Kremlin's top brass on June 24. His mercenaries marched toward Moscow after taking control of the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, then turned back less than 24 hours after the mutiny began. Prigozhin and Wagner fighters who participated in the mutiny were sent to Belarus under a deal reportedly brokered by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Newsweek reached out to Russia's Defense Ministry via email for comment.

Prigozhin, before his private jet crashed in Russia on August 23, teased a new "mission" in Africa in a video released on August 21. The Wagner-linked Telegram channel Grey Zone published the video, saying it showed Prigozhin giving an address from a country in Africa, "where the presence of the Wagner Group is increasing."

According to Important Stories, the Wagner Group is now recommending its fighters find other jobs, given that it can no longer participate in Russian President Vladimir Putin's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and because it is slowly being pushed out of Africa and the Middle East due to stiff competition.

"Our employees often ask what to do next. Their holidays are coming to an end. They have to work. Guys, understand that the situation is extremely difficult," the representative said.

"We have several tens of thousands of trained fighters ready to work and ready to defend the motherland, but due to the known circumstances, we are not allowed in yet. We are now forced to look for work in Africa and the Middle East. The situation there is not easy either," he said.

The Wagner representative said the group faces "tough competition" from the Ministry of Defense and the Rosgvardia (National Guard), "which are also planning and trying to enter there with similar activities that we were doing."

According to the representative, Prigozhin "resolved these issues" during his last trip to Africa, and now "they will be resolved further by the leadership." He said Wagner will try to provide its fighters with work, but "when, how much, we don't know yet."

"So either wait or look for other options of temporary or permanent earnings. Keep an eye on the international situation. And if our team will be invited again and allowed [to fight in Ukraine], we will resume active activity on recruitment, on the return of our employees. There will be work," he added.

Prigozhin was laid to rest in a private burial in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. The cause of the plane crash remains unclear, but Ukraine and Russia have both denied responsibility.

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Do you have a tip on a world news story that Newsweek should be covering? Do you have a question about the Russia-Ukraine war? Let us know via [email protected].