Vladimir Putin’s spokesman has for the second day in a row refused to endorse an investigation into footage showing the beheading of a Syrian prisoner by what appear to be Russian mercenaries.
The victim was murdered in 2017, but a complete video of the increasingly savage torture appeared only last week. The footage shows men in camouflage first breaking the victim’s legs with a sledgehammer, then crushing his chest, before beheading him and cutting off his lower arms with a military entrenching tool.
The men hang the victim’s decapitated corpse by the legs, and set his body on fire.
The Kremlin’s press-secretary Dmitry Peskov described the footage as “truly shocking.” But he would not be drawn on whether the four Russian-speaking soldiers featured in the video were members of a private military group controlled by a close ally of President Putin.
Nor would he commit to an investigation.
“We have no information and no relationship to these people,” he told journalists during his daily briefing on Friday. There would be “no answer” to the question as to whether the president felt that a government probe was warranted.
A fragment of the video first appeared two years ago, but it was only with the publication of a complete video last week that the scale of the torture became clear. It is understood that the victim, identified as Syrian national Mohammed Taha Ismail Al-Abdullah, had deserted from a unit loyal to the country’s president Bashar al-Assad. The video was was likely filmed at an oilfield west of Palmyra.
Russian media say they have identified the soldiers in the footage using facial recognition software. Two of the men, identified as Vladislav A and Stanislav V, are known to have been employed in Wagner units in Syria.
The Independent understands Vladislav A, a joint Moldovan-Russian citizen, was killed in early 2018. The fate of Stanislav V is uncertain.
Wagner is a military contractor associated by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who goes by the moniker of “Putin’s chef” on account of his close relationship to the president and the multiple state catering contracts awarded to his companies.
Fighting abroad in mercenary formations is formally illegal under Russian law. That has not hindered Wagner’s aggressive expansion — in the shadows of the Russian army — across Ukraine, the Middle East and Africa.
The Kremlin on Thursday distanced itself from a video showing four Russian-speaking men torturing, stabbing and beheading a Syrian man in 2017 and said the incident had nothing to do with Russia's military.
A video has emerged purporting to show Russian mercenaries torturing and beheading a Syrian army deserter, in what is thought to be rare footage of Moscow's shadowy paramilitary outfit operating in Syria.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday that the United States had betrayed and abandoned the Syrian Kurds and advised the Kurds to withdraw from the Syrian border as per a deal between Moscow and Ankara or be mauled by the Turkish army.
A Syrian man on trial in Hungary has denied charges that he took part in a beheading and other killings in his homeland while a member of the Islamic State group.
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