A photo of Vladimir Putin ally-turned-mutineer Yevgeny Prigozhin, showing him in his underwear in what appears to be a Wagner Group field camp, surfaced Friday just as Belarusian authorities announced the mercenary group has begun training troops in that country.
The photo, released by a Wagner-affiliated Telegram channel, shows the foul-mouthed warlord awkwardly sitting on a cot, without pants, and holding up a hand to apparently wave to the camera. The channel claims that the photo was taken on Wednesday, which would make it the first visual confirmation that Prigozhin is still at it 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 constructed field camp for Wagner fighters in the town of Osipovichi, in the Mogilev region, where Wagner fighters have reportedly begun training Belarusian troops on 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 on Friday announced that training was already underway.
“Near Osipovichi, classes are being held with units from the territorial troops. The conscripts are mastering the skills of moving on the battlefield and tactical shooting, gaining knowledge in engineer training, and tactical medicine. Wagner fighters are acting as instructors in a number of military disciplines,” the ministry said in a statement. The statement was accompanied by a brief video noting that Wagner fighters were sharing their “combat experience” with troops.
The fate of the notorious Wagner Group had been a subject of fervent speculation since late June, when the Kremlin shocked the world by letting Prigozhin and his men evade punishment after shooting down several military choppers and killing a slew of service members in their armed uprising on Russian territory. At that time, the Kremlin said Prigozhin would be allowed to move to Belarus, though for several weeks it was not clear if that would actually happen.
Meanwhile, after publicly admitting that the “private” mercenary army the Kremlin has long denied having any ties to was actually bankrolled entirely 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 Prigozhin and Wagner commanders on June 29, when the Russian leader claimed he tried to offer them a way for them all to “continue to serve”—without Prigozhin in charge.
Putin claimed several commanders took a liking to his proposal, but Prigozhin quickly shut it down, saying his fighters “won’t agree with such a decision.”
With the Kremlin now trying to lure Wagner fighters away from their beloved boss, the rebellion Prigozhin unleashed last month appears to have spread to the regular Russian military, however. Dozens of high-ranking military officers were reportedly detained in the wake of Wagner’s mercenary, one prominent general hasn’t been seen in public since, and a top general who was dismissed this week for accusing military leaders of covering up battlefield failures is already being praised among pro-Kremlin figures for speaking truth to power.
Asked about the latest rebellion in the ranks, however, the Kremlin on Friday only said, “We are not commenting.”