Putin’s Private Army Goes Full ISIS With Sledgehammer Execution Video

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty

The ISIS-style video shows a man with his head tied to a block of cement. Yevgeny Nuzhin explains that he is a former prisoner recruited into the Wagner Group who decided after being captured in Ukraine in September that he would “fight against the Russians.” Then, in October, he was abducted in Kyiv.

“I got hit over the head and lost consciousness and came around in this cellar,” Nuzhin says. “They told me I was to be tried.” And those are his last words: Behind him, a man in camouflage clothing smashes a sledgehammer into Nuzhin’s neck and head, causing Nuzhin to collapse to the floor. The executioner then slams another blow onto his head.

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The unverified video, titled “Hammer of Retribution,” was posted Saturday to the Grey Zone Telegram channel—an account linked with the mercenary Wagner Group. The group, founded by Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been used as a private army acting on behalf of the Kremlin during its faltering invasion of Ukraine.

Asked to comment on the horrific execution clip, Prigozhin on Sunday praised its “excellent directorial work.” His comments, quoted by the press service for his Concord company, also included: “This show demonstrates that he didn’t find happiness in Ukraine, instead meeting unkind but fair people. I think this movie is titled ‘Dog’s death to a dog.” Prigozhin added: “I hope that no animal was harmed during filming.”

After being captured by Ukrainian forces in September, Nuzhin gave an interview with Ukrainian media in which he described being imprisoned in Russia in 1999 for murder after killing a man and injuring another in a “skirmish,” Meduza reports. He said he was sentenced to 24 years for the crime, and that he was serving his sentence in a penal colony in the Russian city of Ryazan in recent years.

Nuzhin claimed Prigozhin in July visited the prison to offer inmates the chance to join the Kremlin’s “special military operation” in exchange for pardons. Nuzhin says he accepted the offer, but was not aware that he would be joining the Wagner group instead of the Russian Army until a month later. He says the convict recruits were flown to a week-long boot camp in Luhansk in Ukraine which ended on Sept. 2. He claims he was captured by Ukrainian forces just two days later. Nuzhin said he and the other prison recruits were used simply as “cannon fodder.”

In the interview, he added that he’d decided to surrender in Ukraine long before he was captured, and that he’d hoped to reach a Russian legion fighting for Kyiv. “It’s Putin who attacked Ukraine,” Nuzhin said. “And I have relatives who live here. My uncle lives in the Ivano-Frankivsk region, and my sister lives in Lviv.”

It’s not clear how Nuzhin ended up back in Russian hands.

“Nuzhin betrayed his people, betrayed his comrades, betrayed consciously,” Prigozhin—nicknamed “Putin’s chef” for his culinary services to the Russian president—said in a statement, Reuters reports. The mercenary leader has been sanctioned by the U.S. and EU for his role with Wagner, with the group’s paramilitaries having been linked to numerous atrocities around the world.

Over the weekend, survivors of a Wagner Group raid in Mali accused the Russian mercenaries of sexually assaulting a dozen women and girls in September.

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