A man released from prison after volunteering to fight for Russia in the Wagner private military company has been arrested in South Ossetia for the murder of a local man with disabilities.
South Ossetian state-run news agency RES reported the arrest of South Ossetian man Georgiy Siukayev in the early hours of Tuesday.
Siukayev is accused of stabbing to death Soslan Valiyev, a 38-year-old resident of Tskhinvali (Tskhinval), on Monday. Valiyev was reported to have succumbed to his injuries in the hospital soon after the incident.
On Wednesday, the press service of Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who heads the Russian state-backed private army, Wagner, defended Siukayev.
Prigozhin’s press service insisted that Siukayev stabbed Valiyev while defending bystanders in the South Ossetian capital. They said Valiyev had ‘insulted and threatened’ others before Siukayev intervened upon the request of others who were being harassed.
Two local Telegram channels, Sapa 15 and Nog Iriston, asserted that Siukayev joined Wagner while serving time for killing a military commander in the Donbas in the mid-2010s.
In response to a query from the American outlet the Daily Beast, Prigozhin cautioned the media against sensationalist headlines. Prigozhin claimed that repeat crime among Wagner combatants recruited from Russian prisons was low.
Prigozhin’s Wagner Group, designated an international criminal organisation by the US, began recruiting Russian prison inmates several months after Russia invaded Ukraine, promising a pardon after six months of fighting against Ukraine.
‘A kind and harmless guy’
Valiyev’s murder has caused outrage in South Ossetia.
On Monday night, less than an hour before news emerged of Siukayev’s arrest, RES reported that South Ossetian President Alan Gagloyev had held an emergency meeting with law enforcement leaders. Gagloyev reportedly demanded that they ‘leave no stone unturned’ in their search for the suspect.
‘This is a resonant case’, Gagloyev’s website reported him as saying.
Many South Ossetians expressed sorrow and outrage over the murder of Soslan Valiyev, also known locally as ‘Tsugri’. He was widely described as a man with developmental disabilities and with strong ties to the local community.
He was a ‘kind and harmless guy whom everyone, with rare exceptions, loved as their own’, Bibilov wrote on his Telegram channel.
Prigozhin’s press service, in contrast, referred to the victim on Wednesday as a ‘lunatic who was frequently inebriated with alcohol and harassed local residents’.
While Prigozhin’s press service defended their former fighter, they also released CCTV footage purportedly showing the stabbing.
The video, which has been widely shared in Ossetian and Russian-speaking online communities, depicts a man in military garb approaching and attacking another man as the victim tries to evade him.
The unverified footage only amplified outrage among South Ossetians.
Valiyev was the third person to be arrested in connection with the murder, according to official sources in South Ossetia. It remains unclear how the other two people were connected to the crime.