A Russian man who said he had killed children and other civilians while serving with the Wagner private military company in Ukraine appears to have recanted the claim, suggesting he was blackmailed into making it.
Azamat Uldarov, a former convict, made his retraction in a video call with Russian news agency RIA-FAN. It’s unclear if there were any conditions to the interview.
He and another former convict, Alexey Savichev, previously gave long and rambling interviews to Russian human rights group Gulagu.net, saying they were among the tens of thousands of Wagner fighters recruited from Russian jails to fight in Ukraine.
Speaking with Gulagu founder Vladimir Osechkin, Uldarov said he shot and killed a young girl, calling it “a management decision.”
“I wasn’t allowed to let anyone out alive, because my command was to kill anything in my way,” he said, estimating that the girl was five or six years old.
In his interview with RIA-FAN – which is associated with Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin – Uldarov said he was drunk when he gave the interview, and alleged that Osechkin had blackmailed him about his time in prison.
Asked by RIA-FAN: “They made you say what you said in the video, correct?” Uldarov replied: “Not only correct, it’s [expletive] correct. I had to say it because I had no choice.”
“I said whatever I was told to say,” Uldarov then said.
“Prigozhin is a great guy,” he added, giving a thumbs up. “He saved our lives.”
He also claimed – without specifying who – that “they have a video of me,” adding: “They are exploiting me, using my past life and my previous conviction.”
The call appeared to end with Uldarov saying: “What was said there was said under dictation. Is this enough? Have you got enough?”
But Gulagu’s Osechkin, who is based in France, told CNN he stood by the content of his interviews with the two men, citing Uldarov’s retraction as proof of how quickly dissenting voices are silenced in Russia.
Osechkin also claimed that both interviewees, Uldarov and Savichev, had been threatened with murder if they didn’t retract their statements to him. Savichev told Gulagu that his unit was ordered to kill any men 15 years old or older.
Wagner has been seeking Savichev for the past 24 hours, according to Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Savichev “must get in touch with the Wagner PMC call center, and I guarantee that he will not be persecuted, neither judicially nor otherwise. He must get in touch with the Wagner PMC call center and explain why he provided this falsehood, who is behind it, how he was blackmailed and whether he was given any other objectives,” Prighozhin said in a statement on social media app Telegram.
“Get in touch with the Wagner PMC call center, come, tell us everything. I guarantee that you will leave safe and sound,” he added.
In another statement, Prigozhin said that according to “information we are receiving from convicts and former convicts, a group of people including former convicts and Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) employees, are actively cooperating with foreign groups including Gulagu.net.”
Prigozhin claimed: “This group collects compromising material on convicts and former convicts,” and he suggested that they might react by committing “quite major unlawful acts as a result of their recruitment, such as assassination of various persons protecting the interests of the Russian Federation, acts of sabotage including in frontline areas, and acts of sabotage and terrorism in the Russian Federation.”
Osechkin refuted the allegation and told CNN he believed Prigozhin is doing his best to avoid criminal responsibility for Wagner fighters’ conduct.