Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of notorious private unit the Wagner Group, has slammed Russian police officers after they detained a man who is believed to have deserted from the front lines in Ukraine.
The press service of the company “Concord,” owned by Prigozhin, issued a statement after police on Wednesday detained a suspected deserter who fired at police officers in the city of Novoshakhtinsk in the Rostov region, near the Ukraine border.
He opened fire on police officers with a machine gun, wounding one, before fleeing.
Baza, a Russian Telegram channel that regularly posts information about security issues within the country, identified the gunman as Pavel Nikolin, a convict who was recruited by the mercenary outfit for President Vladimir Putin‘s war in Ukraine.
According to Baza, the man served time for theft and robbery in a Russian prison. From there he was recruited by the Wagner Group, but on November 24, Nikolin changed his mind about participating in the war in Ukraine and fled.
Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti, citing the country’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, identified the man as a 38-year-old.The man was detained on suspicion of attacking policemen in Novoshakhtinsk, the ministry said.
Prigozhin responded to news of the man’s detention by criticizing those involved in his arrest. The mercenary outfit is investigating whether he is a member, he said.
“If the police have time to take pictures and leak information to journalists, then why don’t they go to the front line and let them [police] die on the battlefield with weapon in hand, instead of this convict,” Prigozhin was quoted by the press service as saying.
It is too early to tell whether he fled from the front lines in Ukraine, or if he “went crazy,” he continued.
“Perhaps he was wounded, received a severe concussion, as a result of which he went crazy or was disoriented – he did not understand where he was. And in his blood-clouded eyes, the policemen seemed like enemy soldiers, gnomes or astronauts,” Prigozhin said.
He continued by questioning how well-guarded Russia’s border with Ukraine is.
“The main question is…how a certain fighter of the Wagner PMC from among the former prisoners ended up with a weapon in his hands on the territory of the Russian Federation,” he said. “How did he cross the border?”
According to the FSB border department for the Rostov region, Novoshakhtinsk is a key checkpoint between the Rostov region and Luhansk, in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
Newsweek has contacted Russia’s foreign ministry for comment.
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