The leader of the Wagner Group has been seen in a video for the first time since he abandoned a mutiny in Russia.
Yevgeny Prigozhin released footage of himself, wearing camouflage and holding a rifle, in an unknown location but believed to be somewhere in Africa.
In the video, posted on social media app Telegram, he talked about making Africa “free” and tackling terrorist groups on the continent.
Prigozhin also gave details about Wagner recruitment and a telephone number for those who want to join the private army.
The group is believed to have thousands of fighters in Africa, where it has lucrative business interests and soldiers embedded in countries including Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR).
The UK last month imposed sanctions on the two heads of Wagner’s operations in CAR, following accusations that civillians had been tortured and killed.
Prigozhin’s soldiers have also been accused by the US government of getting rich through illicit gold deals on the continent.
In the video, he claims Wagner is looking for minerals on the continent as well as fighting Islamist militants.
“We are working. Wagner conducts reconnaissance and search actions, makes Russia even greater on all continents, and Africa even more free,” Prigozhin is heard saying.
“Justice and happiness - for the African people, we’re making life a nightmare for ISIS and Al-Qaeda and other bandits.”
Prigozhin has been keeping a low public profile since leading a short-lived attempted coup against Putin in June.
Some 5,000 Wagner troops seized control of the city of Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia and began marching towards Moscow, with the aim of removing the country’s official military leadership.
The advance stopped after just 24 hours when Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko mediated negotiations with the Kremlin and struck a deal that mutiny charges against Prigozhin dropped and offered him refuge in Belarus.
However, he was photographed in St Petersburg during July’s Africa-Russia summit.
Meanwhile Ukraine destroyed a supersonic Russian bomber in a drone strike, it was reported today.
Images posted on social media appear to show the long-range aircraft, the Tupolev Tu-22, on fire.
The burning plane was located south of St Petersburg, according to analysis by the BBC.
Russia’s defence ministry said on Saturday that a Ukrainian drone had targeted a military airfield in Russia’s Novgorod region, damaging a warplane.
Ukraine has not acknowledged the strike and often refuses to comment on attacks in Russian territory.