By Katharina Krebs, Tim Lister and Josh Pennington, CNN
Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose Wagner Group is heavily involved in the fighting in Ukraine, has applauded a video in which a former member of the group is brutally murdered.
The video surfaced over the weekend on the Grey Zone Telegram channel, which frequently showcases the activities of mercenary fighters of the Wagner Group, which is accused of war crimes in Africa, Syria and Ukraine.
It showed a member of the group who had deserted and gone over to the Ukrainian side being murdered with a sledgehammer. The man is named (and names himself in the video) as Yevgeny Nuzhin.
In the video, Nuzhin says: “On the 4th of September I carried out my plan by switching to fight alongside Ukrainian troops. On the 11th of November, I was on a street in Kyiv when someone hit me on the head and I lost consciousness.”
He adds: “I woke up in this cellar, where I was told that I will be judged.”
Within seconds, he is killed, struck at least once with a sledgehammer.
Prigozhin was asked on his Telegram channel about the killing. Without directly acknowledging that Wagner fighters had carried out the murder, he said: “Nuzhin betrayed his people, betrayed his comrades, betrayed them consciously. He was not taken prisoner, nor did he surrender. Rather, he planned his escape. Nuzhin is a traitor.”
“Russian people can smell betrayal — it’s genetic. Hence the comments on social networks,” said Prigozhin, referring to some positive responses to the killing.
In a separate Telegram post Prigozhin called the video “an excellent director’s work.”
“I prefer to watch this story in the theatre. As for the executed, in this show it is clear that he did not find happiness in Ukraine, but instead met with unkind, although fair people. It seems to me that this film is called “The dog receives the dog’s death.””
Text on the Gray Zone channel accompanying the video said that “the sledgehammer and traitors have a close relationship for the ‘orchestra’ [ie Wagner]. And now, suddenly disappearing from the investigation in Kyiv, the traitor received the traditional primordial Wagnerian punishment.”
‘How can you wage war with your own family?’
In early September, Nuzhin was interviewed by Ukrainian journalist Yuriy Butusov, and spoke about surrendering to Ukrainian forces and his readiness to fight on the side of Kyiv.
Nuzhin also spoke of how the Wagner group recruits prisoners to fight in Ukraine in exchange for the promise of a full pardon in Russia.
In early October, Nuzhin gave another interview to Ukrainian journalist Ramina Eskhakzai expressing his support for Ukraine and revealing more details about how the Wagner group operates.
In the interview, Nuzhin confirmed he had spent 23 years in jail in Nizhny Novgorod for murder. He was due to be released in 2027 but chose to join the Wagner group to fight in Ukraine.
He also told Eskhakzai: “My parents live in the western Ukraine. How can you wage war with your own family? “
On Sunday, Vladimir Osechkin, head of Gulagu.net, a prisoner advocacy group, said on his blog that he had interviewed the sons of Nuzhin, who confirmed it was their father in the video.
It’s still unclear how Nuzhin ended up in captivity.
CNN has reached out to the Ukrainian authorities, asking whether Nuzhin was sent back to Russian-held territory in return for the liberation of Ukrainian prisoners of war, or whether he was abducted without their knowledge.
On Friday, the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Andriy Yermak, said in a statement that 45 Ukrainian soldiers had returned from captivity in another round of prisoner exchanges.
Anastasia Kashevarova, a former adviser to the head of the Russian State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin, said the exchange included fighters from the Wagner company, but she did not identify them.
Asked about the video Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We have no comment. We don’t know what it is, how true it is. This is not our business.”
Prigozhin is reportedly one of Putin’s trusted confidants — so close that the Russian press dubbed him the “chef” to the Russian President after he began catering events for the Kremlin.
In September, he admitted to founding the Wagner Group after years of denying involvement with the outfit.
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