Yevgeny Prigozhin was filmed telling prisoners who served six months on the front line ‘don’t rape women’ in Russia.
The first group of Russian prisoners offered amnesty in exchange for fighting in Ukraine has been released, the head of Wagner, the Russian mercenary group, said in a video.
In a video published by Russia’s Ria Novosti news agency, Yevgeny Prigozhin is seen telling a group of men: “You have fulfilled your contract. You have worked honourably, with dignity”.
Prigozhin said the men “must be treated [the] deepest respect by society” after completing their six-month contracts in Ukraine.
“Don’t drink a lot, don’t do drugs, don’t rape women, don’t stand up,” he added.
The Wagner group, originally staffed by hardened veterans of the Russian armed forces, has fought in Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic and Mali, as well as in the Ukraine.
The video emerged after Russia was criticized by Zambia after a Zambian student, serving a prison sentence in Russia, was killed on the front line in Ukraine after being granted amnesty for fighting in the conflict.
Prigozhin releases the first group of Wagner’s convicted recruits who managed to survive in Ukraine for 6 months, back to their hometowns, and instructs Russian police to treat these men with “the utmost respect”. Will they become the new oprichniks as Russia descends into darkness? pic.twitter.com/YYrtaKTF5A
— Yaroslav Trofimov (@yarotrof) January 5, 2023
Out of the shadows
Before the invasion of Ukraine, the Wagner group, which was financed by its founder Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch known as “Putin’s chef”, existed in the shadows.
Last year, in an interview with Al Jazeera, Marat Gabidullin, an exiled whistleblower who fought for the group, said Wagner exists to redistribute power away from the military and use those who could become a security risk.
But since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Wagner mercenaries have been on his front line with a new public persona.
Conditions of release
In September, a video circulated of a man who looked like Prigozhin in a prison courtyard offering contracts to prisoners to fight in the war in Ukraine.
But the contracts had a long list of conditions.
In the video, the unnamed man said: “If you arrive in Ukraine and decide it’s not for you, we will consider it desertion and shoot you. Any questions, guys?”
“No one surrenders themselves,” he said, adding that recruits must have grenades on them in case of capture.
“If you die, your body will be repatriated to the place you wrote down on the form.”
It was impossible to verify that the man in the video is Prigozhin, but his company, Concord, has not denied that it is him.
“Of course, if I were a prisoner, I would dream of joining this friendly team to be able not only to pay off my debt to the Motherland, but also to pay it back with interest,” Concord quoted him as saying .