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Russia launches probe into alleged brutal killing linked to Vagner group

Yevgeny Prigozhin (FBI/Released) | Russian President Vladimir (Kremlin/Released) Putin

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russian law enforcement structures have started a preliminary investigation into a video published on a Telegram channel linked to the private Russian mercenary group Vagner that shows the brutal death by sledgehammer of a fighter who allegedly defected to the Ukrainian side in the war against Russia.

Russian Ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova said on November 15 that investigators are working to verify the video, and to find and hold those responsible for the killing accountable if it is true.

The video was published on the Gray Zone Telegram channel on November 12. In it, a man who identifies himself as 55-year-old Yevgeny Nuzhin is sitting with his head taped to a brick wall in a basement. He said that after being recruited from prison by Vagner to fight for Russia against Ukraine, he changed sides on September 4 to “fight against the Russians.”

Nuzhin, a Russian national, said he was clubbed in the head while walking down a street in Kyiv and found himself in the cellar of a house when he came to.

A man in combat fatigues then appears to strike Nuzhin in the head with a sledgehammer, causing him to slump to the floor before another blow is delivered, again to the head. Nuzhin’s body is not shown after the second strike.

In September, Nuzhin appeared in a video interview with Ukrainian journalist Yuriy Butusov in which he said he was a convicted murderer who was recruited in jail by the Vagner group and criticized Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Nuzhin said he joined Vagner with the intention of surrendering as soon as possible in order to fight for Ukraine, where he said his sister and uncle live.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin who founded Vagner, has been shown on previous videos offering Russian prisoners their freedom if they joined Vagner as part of the effort to boost the Kremlin’s war effort in Ukraine.

In response to a media request asking Prigozhin to comment on the video allegedly showing Nuzhin being killed, the Vagner head said on November 13 that the footage showed excellent directorial work “that’s watchable in one sitting,” though it should have been called “A Dog Receives A Dog’s Death.”

“I prefer to watch history in the theater,” Prigozhin added in the comments released by his spokeswoman.

“As for the sledgehammer, in this show it is clear that he [Nuzhin] did not find happiness in Ukraine and met with unkind but fair people.”

After the video caused a public outcry in Russia, Prigozhin on November 15 officially asked the Prosecutor-General’s Office to launch a probe into it, now claiming that U.S. special service agents were behind it.

In a letter addressed to the Prosecutor-General’s Office, Prigozhin said there were no Russian swear words used by the men in the video, which is not “usual for such videos.” He also said that the camouflage patterns on the uniforms worn by men in the video were similar to what Prigozhin called those “developed by an American company.”

He also said the color of the bricks in the house shown in the video were not the same as of those used in Russia.

On November 14, members of the presidential council for human rights urged the Investigative Committee’s chief, Aleksandr Bastrykin, to investigate the video.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refused to comment on the video, saying “this is not our business.”

There has been no confirmation of Nuzhin’s death from the Ukrainian authorities.

On November 13,, a website that exposes prison abuse in Russia, called on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to explain how Nuzhin could have been kidnapped after surrendering to Ukrainian forces.