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Prigozhin appears in first video since mutiny, says Wagner making Africa ‘more free’

In a brief video shared by Russian social media channels, a man who appears to be the exiled mercenary chief says he is recruiting “real strong men.”
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Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin appears to have given his first video address since the mutiny that shook the Kremlin.

Vowing to make Africa “more free” and “Russia even greater on every continent,” a person who appears to be Prigozhin hints at his location in the 41-second clip, which was published by several Telegram channels affiliated with Wagner on Monday.

The video shows the man standing in a desert-like area, dressed in military fatigues and wearing a bulletproof vest featuring the Wagner logo. The exiled mercenary leader's exact whereabouts remain unknown two months after he led the short-lived rebellion against Moscow’s military leadership.

“We are working. The temperature is plus 50 (degrees Celsius). Everything is how we like it,” Prigozhin appears to say in the video while holding an assault rifle in his hands. Armed men on pickup trucks can be seen in the background, seemingly keeping a safety perimeter around him.

“Wagner is conducting reconnaissance and search operations, making Russia even greater on every continent — and Africa even more free. Justice and happiness for the African nations,” he said, adding that he is hiring “real strong men” and will “continue working on tasks that were set to us and we promised to carry out,” without elaborating. 

Alongside the video address, one of the Telegram channels posted a phone number for potential recruits. 

NBC News was not able to verify the video’s authenticity, as well as when or where it was shot. 

Wagner has had extensive operations in Africa for years, with the Kremlin looking to extend Russia’s influence in the region. 

The White House National Security Council declined to comment directly on Prigozhin's current location.

Asked about his whereabouts and the Wagner Group’s possible presence in Niger, the scene of a recent coup led by the head of the elected president's Presidential Guard, an NSC spokesperson said: “We’ve seen the Wagner transnational criminal group exploit and amplify instability around the world, including in Africa. There is no indication to date the Wagner Group instigated the actions of these members of the Nigerien Presidential Guard. However, Yevgeniy Prigozhin has publicly lauded this move. Everywhere we’ve seen Wagner go, death and destruction has followed. We are not going to speculate as the situation continues to be fluid.”

The U.S. government and human rights groups have accused Prigozhin’s mercenary force of committing atrocities on the continent and of exploiting countries’ gold and diamond mines in return for military support. 

Prigozhin backed up the ongoing military coup in Niger in an audio message earlier this month, also shared by Wagner-linked Telegram channels, throwing his support behind the junta leaders and calling it “a liberation struggle.” NBC News could not verify the authenticity of that audio message. 

He was spotted by Russian media at the Russia-Africa summit in his hometown St. Petersburg last month.

Brief glimpses like that have added to the mystery surrounding the mercenary chief’s fate.

On June 23, Prigozhin led his Wagner fighters to capture the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and threatened to march on Moscow before standing down after an alleged deal brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. It was meant to see Prigozhin go into exile in Belarus and his fighters either sign contracts with the Russian Defense Ministry or join him there. 

The mutiny followed months of public criticism and mockery from Prigozhin of Russia’s top military brass, accusing them of incompetence in Ukraine.

But the Kremlin’s treatment of Prigozhin since the rebellion has confounded many observers. 

Although Russian President Vladimir Putin called Wagner’s rebellion treason and a criminal investigation was initially launched, it does not appear that Prigozhin is facing charges or any real punishment for his stunning challenge to the Russian president’s authority. 

Putin praised the Russian military for stopping Prigozhin’s forces and averting a “civil war,” while the mercenary chief has been battered by the Kremlin’s propaganda as a self-centered traitor, exposing his lavish style. But then the Kremlin admitted that Putin met with Prigozhin and his commanders just five days after his rebellion.

His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, also raised eyebrows last month after he said the Kremlin “neither has the ability nor desire” to track Prigozhin’s movements. 

Since the mutiny, only two audio statements came from Prigozhin’s official social channels. In them, he claimed that he never meant to topple the Putin regime, but that he was motivated by the desire to preserve his mercenary force — a marked departure for a man who used to dominate Russian social media space with almost daily video and audio messages from the front lines in Ukraine often laced with profanities.

In July, Prigozhin appeared in another video shared by Wagner-affiliated channels and not verified by NBC News, but his face was barely visible against a dark backdrop. In it, he appeared to be speaking to his fighters stationed in Belarus and training the country’s troops, vowing to make the Belarusian army “the second strongest in the world.” 

The presence of his fighters close to Belarus’ western borders has unnerved NATO members. 

And on Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Belarus issued a warning for American citizens to depart the country immediately.

The advisory cited that action by neighboring Lithuania, a U.S. ally, which closed two border crossings with Belarus last week, and the potential for further border closures by NATO members in the region. It also urged Americans not to travel to Belarus because of “Belarusian authorities’ continued facilitation of Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine” and “the buildup of Russian military forces” in the country.