Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian billionaire nicknamed “Putin’s boss”, has defended a plan he allegedly launched to recruit prisoners to fight in the war in Ukraine.
The Wagner Military Group, an elite paramilitary force that has been linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin and sent mercenaries to fight in Ukraine, has reached out to Russian prisoners, media reported Thursday.
The BBC released a video of a man speaking to inmates, reporting that the speaker is Prigozhin.
“If you serve six months [in Wagner]you are free,” he said, according to the BBC. However, he warned that “if you arrive in Ukraine and decide this is not for you, we will execute you”.
According to the US State Department, Prigozhin, “known as ‘Putin’s boss’ because of his catering contracts with the Kremlin, is a Russian oligarch and Wagner’s manager and financier.”
According to Washington PostPrigozhin’s restoration company, Concord, released a statement saying it “can confirm that the person in the video bears a strong resemblance to Yevgeny Viktorovich [Prigozhin].”
The Job also reported that Prigozhin issued a statement saying, “If I were a prisoner, I would dream of joining this friendly team in order not only to repay my debt to the motherland, but also to repay it with interest.”
“Those who don’t want mercenaries or prisoners to fight…who don’t like this subject, send your children to the front,” Prigozhin said. “It’s either them or your children, decide for yourself.”
Newsweek contacted the Russian Foreign and Defense Ministries for comment.
In July, investigative news outlet Important Stories reported that the Wagner Group made a similar speech and offered to pay prisoners 200,000 rubles ($3,446) and amnesty for six months of “voluntary” service. in the Donbas region.
The alleged efforts to recruit prisoners to fight in Ukraine come as reports in recent days have claimed Russian troops are fleeing the front lines.
The British Ministry of Defense said that as Ukrainian troops consolidated their control over areas of the northeast Kharkiv region which they recaptured from the Russians, some soldiers “fleed in panic”. In some cases, the Russians abandoned “high-value equipment” after leaving the area.
Last week, the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff claimed that the Russian military had deployed “helicopters and weapons” to search for soldiers who had deserted their positions.