Wagner Group soldiers are in a difficult position as the Russian military pushes the militia out of Africa and the Middle East following the death of its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, according to a leaked audio message.
In the audio excerpt obtained and verified by the Russian research network Important Stories, a Wagner Group spokesman said that ten thousand fighters, including many sent to Belarus after Prigozhin's failed June 24 mutiny, are finding themselves prevented from working amid competition from Russia's Defense Ministry and National Guard.
The Wagner group, formed in 2014, provides fighters for hire and has been accused of doing Russia's dirty work in places like Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Mozambique and eastern Ukraine. Its mercenaries have been accused of human rights violations.
Wagner's fighters were expelled from Ukraine after its late leader, Prigozhin, led a failed mutiny against top Kremlin officials on June 24. His mercenaries advanced on Moscow after taking control of the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, then turned back less than 24 hours after the mutiny began. Prigozhin and the Wagner fighters involved in the mutiny were sent to Belarus as part of a deal reportedly brokered by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.
Prigozhin, before his private jet crashed in Russia on August 23, called for a new "mission" to Africa in a video released on August 21. The Telegram channel Grey Zone, which is affiliated with Wagner, published the video, saying it showed Prigozhin giving a speech from a country in Africa "where the Wagner Group's presence is growing."
According to Important Stories, Wagner Group is now recommending that its fighters find other jobs, since it can no longer participate in Russian President Vladimir Putin's full-scale invasion of Ukraine and because it is slowly being displaced from Africa and the Middle East due to stiff competition.
"Our employees often ask what to do next. Their vacation is coming to an end. They have to work. Guys, understand that the situation is extremely difficult," the spokesman said. "We have several tens of thousands of trained fighters ready to work and ready to defend the homeland, but because of the known conditions, we are not yet allowed. We are now forced to look for work in Africa and the Middle East. The situation is not easy there either," he said.
The Wagner spokesman said the group faces "stiff competition" from the Ministry of Defence and Rosgvardia (National Guard), "who are also planning and trying to enter there with similar activities that we did."
According to the spokesman, Prigozhin "resolved these issues" during his last trip to Africa and now "they will be further resolved by the leadership." He said Wagner would try to provide the fighters with jobs, but "when, how much, we don't know yet."
"So you will either wait or seek other options of temporary or permanent pay. Keep an eye on the international situation. And if our team is invited again and allowed [to fight in Ukraine], we will continue active activity for recruitment, for the return of our employees. There will be work," he added.
Prigozhin was laid to rest at a private funeral in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. The cause of the crash remains unclear, but both Ukraine and Russia have denied responsibility.