Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the unruly head of the Wagner mercenary group, appears to have reappeared in Belarus to deliver a welcome speech to his fighters who were deployed there as part of a deal that ended his brief rebellion last month, according to a video. published on Wednesday by at least three Telegram channels associated with the group.
In the videofilmed at dusk, a man whose silhouette and voice closely resembles Mr Prigozhin said the Wagner fighters would remain in Belarus for some time to train its army, with the aim of making it the best army in the world outside Russia.
In the aftermath of the aborted rebellion, the fate of the Wagner group seemed to be in limbo. Last week, President Vladimir V. Putin said its troops could continue fighting but without their militant leader.
In the video, however, Mr. Prigozhin appears to still be the leader of a large group of fighters. He did not tone down his criticism of the Russian commanders in chief, calling the situation on the front lines in Ukraine a “disgrace” that Wagner fighters “should not take part in.” He also left open the possibility that Wagner forces would return to combat in the Ukraine.
“We have to wait for the moment when we can prove ourselves fully,” says the figure believed to be Prigozhin in the video, his face never fully shown. “Perhaps we will return to the special military operation, unless we are forced to embarrass ourselves and our experience.”
The Times verified that the video was shot at Wagner camp in the village of Tsel’ near the town of Asipovichy, about 50 miles southeast of the Belarusian capital Minsk. It was filmed on Tuesday evening.
To verify the videos, The Times compared features seen in them — two large buildings and uniquely colored tents — with the same features that appear in satellite images captured on Wednesday.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Belarusian monitoring group Hajun Project tracked a jet formerly associated with Mr. Prigozhin until it landed at a military airport south of the capital, Minsk.
Early Wednesday, after the video at the camp was shot, the same plane was traced leaving Belarus and flying to Moscow. The Times previously reported that convoys of Wagner Group vehicles arrived at the camp on Monday.
In the video, the man who looks a lot like Mr. Prigozhin is seen speaking in front of hundreds of fighters who clapped and whistled. After finishing, he turns the floor over to Dmitri Utkin, the mercenary whose nom de guerre, Wagner, gave the group its name. “This is not the end,” says Mr. Utkin. “This is the beginning of the greatest task in the world.”
Last week, the Belarusian Defense Ministry said Wagner fighters were training their military in defense and battlefield tactics, and state television reported that the mercenaries had already begun instructing regular troops near Asipovichy. The report could not be independently confirmed.
Since Mr. Prigozhin abruptly ended his rebellion on June 24, the Kremlin has publicly sought to diminish Mr. Prigozhin’s role in Russian politics and diminish his role in the war effort. His media empire, including several news websites, was shut down. Russian state television portrayed him as a petty and immoral thug hoarding cash, weapons, passports, and eventually drugs.