A video doing the rounds on social media has shown Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in Belarus, marking his first appearance in public since the group's failed mutiny in Russia last month.
“Welcome guys! I am happy to greet you all. Welcome to the Belarusian land! We fought with dignity! We have done a lot for Russia,” a man resembling and sounding like Prigozhin says in the video, which was posted on pro-Wagner Telegram channels on Wednesday and then shared on his account, CNN reported.
CNN geolocated the video to a previously disused military base in Asipovichy, some 80 km southeast of the capital Minsk.
In the video, a fighter addresses the Wagner chief as “Yevgeny Viktorovich”, Prigozhin’s first name and patronymic.
The video appears unedited and the metadata on the file, as well as the position of the sun in the footage, suggests it was likely filmed at dusk.
Official verfication of the video, including the identity of the speaker, is yet to be confirmed
In the video, the Wagner leader also criticised the Russian Defense Ministry’s planning and execution of military operations in Ukraine, and suggested that his mercenaries would not fight in the war-torn nation for now, CNN reported.
“What is happening now at the front is a disgrace in which we do not need to participate. We need to wait for the moment when we can prove ourselves fully.
"Therefore a decision was taken for us to station here in Belarus for some time. I am sure that during this time we will make the Belarusian army second greatest in the world. And if needed, we will defend them if it comes to it.
“I want to ask everyone to really pay attention to the fact that Belarusians welcomed us not only as heroes, but also as brothers,” he added.
Prigozhin goes on to suggest their stay in Belarus could be temporary and calls on his fighters to prepare to travel elsewhere.
“We should prepare, get better and set off on a new journey to Africa. Maybe we will return when we will be confident that we will not be asked to make an embarrassment of ourselves and our experience.”
According to The Belarusian Hajun Project, an activist monitoring group that tracks military activity in the country, Prigozhin’s plane landed in Machulishchy, on the outskirts of the capital Minsk, in the morning of July 18 and left after midnight the next day.
Under a deal brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko that ended the short-lived rebellion on June 24, the mercenaries were told they could join the regular Russian army or head to Minsk, reports the BBC.
In an interview with Kommersant business daily last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that "Wagner does not exist".
"There is no law on private military organisations. It just doesn't exist," the President said when asked whether the group would be preserved as a fighting unit.