- A bizarre Russian-subtitled video appears to be trying to recruit US soldiers to fight in Ukraine.
- One Russia expert told Insider the video could be linked to the Wagner Group.
- The Russian paramilitary group said this week that it had stopped recruiting Russian prisoners.
Russia may have its sights set on a new and unexpected crop of military recruits to aid its struggling war efforts in Ukraine: United States veterans.
A brazen Russian recruitment video targeting American citizens comes as both Russia and Ukraine prepare massive offensives after a slow but violent winter. Russia is placing its hopes in tens of thousands of new conscripts as it aims to turn the tide of a so-far failing war in neighboring Ukraine.
In the minute-and-a-half video clip that’s been circling social media in recent days, a thick-accented Russian voice seems to speak directly to disillusioned American vets as Russian subtitles roll over images of US warfare and global chaos.
“You were a hero to your country, giving your best years in the army. You dreamed of defeating evil, you dreamed of doing much to make America great again,” the narrator says in an apparent reference to former President Donald Trump’s slogan.
“But in reality, you saw criminal orders, the destruction of nations, the death of civilians, and all for the will of a bunch of families, who thought they were earthly gods — deciding who would live under their rule and who would be destroyed,” the dramatic voice-over continues.
—Blackrussian (@Blackrussiantv) January 29, 2023
It is unclear who produced the video, but one expert on US-Soviet relations told Insider the advertisement could be the brainchild of the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary group that has provided tens of thousands of soldiers to Russia’s war effort in Ukraine thus far.
“It’s bonkers,” Simon Miles, an assistant professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and a historian of the Soviet Union and US-Soviet relations, said of the advertisement. “It’s very Trumpian.”
The video, which first began circulating last week, comes amid reports that Wagner has stopped recruiting prisoners as increasing numbers refuse to join a suicide mission. The group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, confirmed that Wagner had ceased its efforts in a Thursday Telegram statement.
Tens of thousands of incarcerated prisoners apparently took the initial offer of freedom for fighting, but the majority of them died while fighting, according to investigations by The New York Times and Reuters.
Politico reported last month that the Wagner Group is expanding its reach outside of Russia, launching influence operations in Africa and other parts of Europe.
The State Department did not immediately respond to Insider’s questions about whether the government was aware of the video.
Several international experts told Task and Purpose, a military news outlet, that the Wagner Group or one of its associates could likely be behind the propaganda video.
“The video is fitting with the high-end productions the group has produced in the past,” Jason Blazakis, director of the Middlebury Institute’s Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism, told the outlet. “It is also a propaganda piece aimed at American audiences – and we know that this is a common Prigozhin tactic dating back to the 2016 elections.”
The recruiting video features an image of a Wagner Group logo
In a Thursday Telegram post, Prigozhin’s press service acknowledged the existence of a Wagner Group advertisement aimed at an American audience, falsely claiming the organization had received more than 10 million applications from US citizens wishing to join Wagner’s fight after the video was released. CNN noted that the claim was likely sarcastic.
It was not clear whether the American advertisement referenced in Prigozhin’s statement is the same video circulating online.
The video’s narration is accompanied by visceral images and video footage of US soldiers both in training and on the battlefield, as well as a flurry of clips of far-right Ukrainian demonstrations, American protests, World War II-era Nazi soldiers, and photos from the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
The advertisement suggests that all are part of a “sight of evil” spurred by America, accusing the country of becoming the “focus of the evil that is destroying the whole world.” The advertisement then proposes a nonsensical conclusion: “The only country fighting this evil is Russia,” the narrator says.
In one still from the video, a Wagner Group arm patch can be seen on a Russian soldier’s uniform. Moments later, Prigozhin is seen standing among battlefield ruins. The final moments of the advertisement feature a nuclear detonation to drive the message home.
“If you’re a true patriot of the future Great America, join the ranks of the warriors of Russia,” the video commands. “Help defeat evil or it will be too late for everyone.”
If the Wagner Group did produce the video, it’s unlikely the organization genuinely believes American expat vets will help fill their ranks, according to Miles.
“The targeting of Americans is largely a propaganda ploy, and not something that will yield significant numbers,” he told Insider.