A photo of Putin ally-turned-mutineer Yevgeny Prigozhin showing him in his underwear in what appears to be a Wagner Group campaign camp surfaced Friday as Belarusian authorities announced the mercenary group had begun to train troops in that country.
The photo, posted by a Wagner-affiliated Telegram channel, shows the rude warlord awkwardly sitting on a cot, pantsless, and raising his hand to seemingly wave at the camera. The channel says the photo was taken on Wednesday, making it the first visual confirmation that Prigozhin is still there since the days immediately following his violent uprising against the Russian military last month.
But there was no way to immediately confirm that claim, and some have questioned whether it was deliberately leaked to counter an ongoing smear campaign against Prigozhin in Kremlin-controlled media.
Belarusian media reported that the photo was apparently taken inside a newly built field camp for Wagner’s fighters in the town of Osipovichi in the Mogilev region, where Wagner’s fighters allegedly began to train Belarusian troops in their ruthless tactics. Flightradar reportedly showed Prigozhin’s private jet arriving in the country on Monday evening.
Some Wagner fighters arrived in the area as early as Tuesday, according to Reuters. The Belarusian Defense Ministry announced on Friday that the training was already underway.
“Near Osipovichi, courses are held with units of territorial troops. Conscripts master the skills of movement on the battlefield and tactical shooting, gain knowledge of engineering training and tactical medicine. Wagner fighters act as instructors in a number of military disciplines,” the department said in a statement. The statement was accompanied by a brief video noting that Wagner’s fighters were sharing their “combat experience” with the troops.
The fate of the famous Wagner group had been the subject of fervent speculation since late June, when the Kremlin shocked the world by letting Prigozhin and his men escape punishment after shooting down several military helicopters and killing scores of servicemen during their armed uprising on Russian territory. At that time, the Kremlin said Prigozhin would be allowed to move to Belarus, although for several weeks it was unclear whether this would actually happen.
Putin’s panicked purge could signal another mutiny on the horizon
Meanwhile, after publicly admitting that the “private” mercenary army with which the Kremlin has long denied having ties was in fact fully funded by Moscow, Vladimir Putin has now claimed the group “does not exist”.
In comments to the Kommersant newspaper, an exasperated Putin reportedly recounted his meeting with Commanders Prigozhin and Wagner on June 29, when the Russian leader claimed he had tried to offer a way for them all to “continue to serve” – without Prigozhin in command.
Putin claimed several commanders appreciated his proposal, but Prigozhin quickly shut it down, saying his fighters “will not agree with such a decision.”
With the Kremlin now trying to alienate Wagner’s fighters from their beloved boss, the rebellion sparked by Prigozhin last month, however, appears to have spilled over into the regular Russian army. Dozens of high-ranking military officers were reportedly arrested in the wake of Wagner’s mercenary, a prominent general has not been seen in public since, and a high-ranking general who was removed from his post this week for having accused of military leaders for covering up battlefield failures is already praised among pro-Kremlin figures for speaking truth to power.
Asked about the latest rebellion in the ranks, the Kremlin was content to reply on Friday: “We are not commenting”.
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