MOSCOW (CNN): A video emerged on Wednesday that appears to show Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin greeting his fighters in Belarus, in what would be his first public appearance since he led an armed rebellion in Russia last month.
“Welcome guys! I am happy to greet you all. Welcome to the Belarusian land! We fought with dignity! We have done a lot for Russia,” a man resembling and sounding like Prigozhin says in the video, which was posted on pro-Wagner Telegram channels on Wednesday and then shared on Prigozhin’s account.
Prigozhin’s rebellion posed one of the biggest challenges to the long rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He played a prominent role in the invasion of Ukraine and since the uprising his whereabouts have been unclear.
CNN has geolocated the video to a previously disused military base in Asipovichy, roughly 80 kilometers (49 miles) southeast of the capital Minsk.
In the video, a fighter seemingly addresses the Wagner leader as “Yevgeny Viktorovich,” Prigozhin’s first name and patronymic. The video appears unedited and the metadata on the file, as well as the position of the sun in the footage, suggests it was likely filmed at dusk on July 18.
The video is grainy and filmed in low light so CNN cannot definitively say the speaker is Prigozhin or when it was filmed.
The Belarusian Hajun Project, an activist monitoring group that tracks military activity in the country, reported on Wednesday that Prigozhin’s plane landed in Machulishchy, on the outskirts of the capital Minsk, in the morning of July 18 and left after midnight on July 19.
In the video, the Wagner leader criticized the Russian Ministry of Defense’s planning and execution of military operations in Ukraine, and suggested that his soldiers would not fight in Ukraine for now.
“What is happening now at the front is a disgrace in which we do not need to participate. We need to wait for the moment when we can prove ourselves fully,” Prigozhin said. “Therefore a decision was taken for us to station here in Belarus for some time. I am sure that during this time we will make the Belarusian army second greatest in the world. And if needed, we will defend them if it comes to it.”
“I want to ask everyone to really pay attention to the fact that Belarusians welcomed us not only as heroes, but also as brothers,” he added.
The Wagner founder goes on to suggest their stay in Belarus could be temporary and calls on his fighters to prepare to travel elsewhere.
“We should prepare, get better and set off on a new journey to Africa,” he said. “Maybe we will return back [to Ukraine] when we will be confident that we will not be asked to make an embarrassment of ourselves and our experience.”
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko claimed to have brokered the deal between Prigozhin and Russian President Vladimir Putin which ended the insurrection. Since then, Lukashenko has invited Wagner forces into Belarus to help train his country’s military.
Wagner fighters arrived in Belarus on Tuesday, a CNN analysis of satellite imagery and social media videos found. The first convoy of Wagner forces arrived at a previously disused military base in Belarus, with at least two more convoys on the move towards it.
Satellite imagery taken by Planet Labs early on Wednesday showed hundreds of vehicles, presumably transporting Wagner fighters and equipment, having arrived in the base since Sunday.
The fate of Wagner chief Prigozhin, meanwhile, remained subject to speculation.
After the mutiny ended, Lukashenko claimed Prigozhin had arrived in Belarus. But for weeks, no one could confirm that. Then earlier this month, Lukashenko reversed himself, telling CNN that Prigozhin was in St. Petersburg and might be traveling “to Moscow or elsewhere.”
The head of Mi6 said Wednesday that Prighozin was alive and at liberty.
He also claimed Russian President Vladimir Putin had no choice but to reach an agreement with the Wagner leader in order to end the short-lived rebellion, saying he “cut a deal to save his skin.”