Lower than a month after leaving the Kremlin quaking as his Wagner mercenaries marched on Moscow, leaked pictures of Yevgeny Prigozhin in his underwear in a tent have been leaked on-line amid an ongoing marketing campaign to discredit the exiled mutineer.
As Vladimir Putin – whose grip on energy is perceived by many to have been severely weakened by the favored mercenary boss’s armed rebel – sought to insist that Wagner had by no means truly existed, pictures displaying a dishevelled-looking Mr Prigozhin in a state of semi-nudity appeared on Telegram.
Within the newest weird twist of the saga, the president insisted to the Kommersant newspaper on Friday that the personal army firm “merely doesn’t exist” as a authorized entity beneath Russian legislation – whereas his emboldened ally Alexander Lukashenko claimed that among the exiled mercenaries had been now coaching Belarus’s army.
Whereas the latter’s remarks indicated the enactment of not less than a part of the deal struck by Mr Lukashenko and Mr Prigozhin for him and his fighters to relocate to Belarus, halting their armed progress lower than 125 miles from Moscow final month, efforts to undermine the mercenary chief appeared to proceed.
Simply days after a pro-Kremlin media outlet revealed pictures supposedly seized in a raid at Mr Prigozhin’s St Petersburg mansion displaying him donning varied weird disguises akin to prolonged wigs and stick-on beards, a brand new picture started circulating on Russian social media areas on Friday.
The image seems to point out Mr Prigozhin sitting in a tent sporting Y-fronts and a T-shirt, sparking futher hypothesis over his whereabouts after weeks of uncertainty.
In claims showing to chime with Minsk’s assertion that Wagner fighters are instructing the Belarusian army at a camp close to Osipovichi – some 50 miles from the capital – the pro-Russian Telegram account which first posted the picture claimed its metadata confirmed it was taken on 12 July, in keeping with monitoring group Belarusian Gayun, which famous similarities with different pictures from the camp.
The floorboards within the tent seem to match these proven in pictures taken final week throughout an official tour of the previously disused Osipovichi camp, at which satellite tv for pc pictures reported by Radio Free Europe and the BBC appeared to point out scores of newly erected tents and different constructions.
Regardless of the exercise on the camp, and potential presence of Mr Prigozhin, Nato secretary basic Jens Stoltenberg had advised reporters as not too long ago as Tuesday that the alliance had not witnessed “any deployment or motion of any Wagner forces into Belarus”.
Regardless of it being a long-favoured international coverage software of his personal creation, Mr Putin seems to have urgently sought to defang the personal army firm since its fighters seized the southern Russian metropolis of Rostov-on-Don final month and threatened Moscow.
In remarks denouncing the aborted mutiny as “excessive treason”, the Russian president toed a cautious line in a televised deal with final month during which he claimed the mercenaries – whose status on the battlefield in Ukraine has boosted their home recognition – had been “tricked right into a legal journey”, with out particularly referring to these beneath Mr Prigozhin.
Criticising what he referred to as “a stab at the back of the troops and the folks of Russia”, Mr Putin insisted nonetheless that Wagner troops had been free to hitch the Russian army, return to their households, or go away Russia for Belarus.
Putin appeals to Russian public after Wagner mutiny
The extraordinary mutiny got here after Wagner withdrew from Bakhmut, which it seized from Ukraine after months of bloody attrition within the frontline Donetsk metropolis, with Mr Prigozhin having steadily voiced his anger at an alleged lack of ammunition and coordination by Russian army leaders.
The 62-year-old’s vitriolic criticisms drew shock from many observers given their obvious disregard for the Kremlin’s usually inflexible grip on the narrative of its struggle in Ukraine, and had been broadly interpreted as an indication of the previous convict’s rising political stature inside Russia.
A former scorching canine vendor, Mr Prigozhin rose to prominence as he garnered the eye and favour of the Russian president whereas working as a restaurateur, with each males having grown up in St Petersburg.
He benefitted from giant state loans whereas increasing his enterprise beneath Mr Putin’s gaze, successful thousands and thousands of kilos in contracts to offer meals to public colleges, the Kremlin and Russian army – additionally drawing the eye of jailed opposition determine Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Basis.
Claiming to have served 10 years in jail throughout the remaining throes of the Soviet Union, reportedly after the violent theft of a girl whom he choked unconscious, Mr Prigozhin was permitted by Mr Putin to create Wagner in 2014, regardless of Russia’s structure outlawing such teams.
Following exploits within the Donbas and Syria, whereas additionally combating for nationwide leaders and warlords in Africa in return for profitable sums and belongings, Wagner has change into a family title throughout the Ukraine struggle on account of its relative status compared with the faltering Russian army – and its obvious brutality.
Whereas Mr Prigozhin’s recruitment drive in prisons fuelling “human wave” assaults was deemed largely liable for Wagner’s good points in Bakhmut, footage has additionally circulated of its fighters bludgeoning an alleged deserter to loss of life with a sledgehammer, symbolism since adopted by Mr Prigozhin himself.
Having lengthy sought believable deniability with regards to Wagner, in looking for to discredit Mr Prigozhin following his shortlived mutiny, Mr Putin reversed his place by looking for to say final accountability for the group, as he insisted the fighters’ wages had come out of state coffers.