A military historian and Russia expert reports on a macabre and curious incident: members of the Wagner militia group tried to extort money from relatives for the corpse of a convicted prisoner. The project failed, but the method raises questions.

Did Wagner mercenaries execute one of their own men and then try to blackmail relatives into buying the body back from them? At least one military historian and Russia expert, who shared the adventurous story on Twitter, fuels this suspicion. Corresponding WhatsApp chats were available to him.

What happened? On October 15, the wife of Ukrainian prisoner Sergei Serbezov received an anonymous text message saying her husband had been shot dead as a deserter. The message allegedly came from someone close to the Wagner group.

Serbezov himself was in prison for drug offenses and was forcibly recruited by the Wagner group after the war began. He last called home on September 28 and said he had been taken to the front.

So now the news came that he had been shot. An exchange of messages between the author of the message and Serbezov’s sister followed. The suspect demanded $1,000 for information on the whereabouts of the body.

“I can assure you that the information is reliable. It can’t be a mistake, because one of the members of the consolidated entity in which Sergei was a member identified him. They merged convicts from the same colony to allow for more effective teamwork… Either the corpse stays here or you take it with you. The body is currently in a field hospital. I can’t give the exact location for reasons of staff safety. The reports on the dead are already being drawn up. As you know, deserters and looters are buried in a mass grave without military honours,” wrote the unknown.

The sister, however, did not respond to the blackmail. And lo and behold: after the matter became known, a site linked to Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin published a video showing Serbezov alive. He told his wife that he was fine and that the claims about his death were “nonsense”.

So the blackmail was not carried out by “official” members of the Wagner group, but most likely by prisoners who were forcibly recruited. According to the analysis, however, the incident shows that these members of the Wagner group are possibly moving towards establishing the corpses of dead prisoners to (false) relatives as a business model. The news also indicates that the Wagner group took over entire prison gangs and their structures into their unit, the historian continued.

With bad consequences: “Sergei Serbezov’s story suggests that recruiting criminals leads to more crimes against one’s own side,” he concludes.

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