By Guy Faulconbridge
LONDON (Reuters) -Russia’s Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, said on Sunday that a former mercenary who was filmed being executed by a sledgehammer blow to the head after changing sides in the Ukraine war was a traitor.
Prigozhin, a Russian businessman who founded the Wagner private military group, was responding to an unverified video distributed on Telegram that showed a man identified as a former Wagner mercenary being executed after admitting that he had changed sides in September to “fight against the Russians”.
In the footage, the man, who gave his name as Yevgenny Nuzhin, 55, was shown with his head taped to a brick wall. He said he was abducted in Kyiv on Oct. 11 and came around in a cellar.
“I got hit over the head and lost consciousness and came around in this cellar,” he said. “They told me I was to be tried.”
As he said those words, an unidentified man loitering in combat clothing behind Nuzhin, smashed a sledgehammer into the side of his head and neck.
Nuzhin collapsed onto the floor and the unidentified man delivered another blow to his head.
Reuters was unable to immediately verify the video which appeared on the Grey Zone Telegram channel, one of several that Russian media said was linked to the Wagner group. The video was posted under the title “The hammer of revenge”.
Asked to comment on the execution video, Prigozhin said in remarks released by his spokeswoman that the video should be called “A dog receives a dog’s death”.
“Nuzhin betrayed his people, betrayed his comrades, betrayed consciously,” said Prigozhin, who has been sanctioned by the United States and European Union for his role in Wagner. “Nuzhin was a traitor.”
Prigozhin only confirmed in September that he founded the Wagner Group in 2014, the first public acknowledgement of a link he has previously denied and sued journalists for reporting.
Wagner group, originally staffed by veterans of the Russian armed forces, has fought in Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic, Mali and Ukraine, among other countries.
Prigozhin was shown in a video released in September recruiting convicts in a Russian jail for the war, warning them that the conflict was tough and setting down rules about their conduct.
In further remarks about the execution video on Sunday, Prigozhin also issued a warning to others in Russian society whom he described as traitors.
“Do not forget, there are not only traitors who throw away their automatic guns and go over to the enemy,” he said.
“Some traitors are holed up in offices, not thinking about their own people. Some of them use their own business jets to fly to those countries that seem neutral to us so far. They fly away so as not to participate in today’s problems. They are traitors too.”