(Reuters) – Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a voice message published on Monday that his Wagner group was not currently recruiting fighters but was likely to do so in future.
The future of Wagner and Prigozhin has been unclear since he led a short mutiny against the Russian defence establishment in late June and the Kremlin said he and some of his fighters – who have fought in some of the fiercest battles of the Ukraine war – would leave for Belarus.
Despite that, Prigozhin attended a meeting with Putin five days after the mutiny and was photographed last week in St Petersburg, where President Vladimir Putin was hosting African leaders.
“Today we are defining our next tasks, whose outline is becoming clearer and clearer. Undoubtedly, these are tasks that will be carried out in the name of the greatness of Russia,” a voice sounding like Prigozhin’s said in the message. It was published on Grey Zone, a Telegram channel affiliated with Wagner.
After the June mutiny, the Kremlin said Wagner fighters who had not taken part would transfer to the regular army, signing contracts with the Defence Ministry.
Apparently alluding to this, Prigozhin said in the voice message that “unfortunately” some of his fighters had moved to other “power structures”, but he said they were looking to return.
“As long as we don’t experience a shortage in personnel, we don’t plan to carry out a new recruitment,” Prigozhin said.
“However, we will be extremely grateful to you if you keep in touch with us, and as soon as the Motherland needs to create a new group that will be able to protect the interests of our country, we will certainly start recruiting.”
Since the mutiny, some Wagner fighters have moved to Belarus and started training its army. In comments published last week, Prigozhin also said Wagner was ready to further increase its presence in Africa.
Its role there, especially in support of governments in Mali and Central African Republic, is a source of concern for Western governments. The United States has accused it of committing widespread atrocities and imposed sanctions on it as a criminal organisation.
Prigozhin says it works in line with the laws of the countries where it operates. Last week he welcomed a military coup in the west African state of Niger and made what appeared to be a pitch for his fighters to bring order there.
(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; editing by Philippa Fletcher)