The Russian prosecutor's office said on Thursday it had begun examining a viral video showing a Russian-speaking individual in uniform beheading with a knife a person who appears to be a Ukrainian prisoner of war. "In order to determine the authenticity of this content and to draw the necessary (judicial) conclusions, (the video) has been transmitted to the investigative bodies for review," the prosecutor's office said on its Telegram channel.
This decision is a preliminary step which may or may not lead to the opening of a criminal investigation. The prosecutor's announcement is nevertheless unusual, as Russia usually immediately, systematically and wholesale denies the accusations of war crimes brought against its troops in Ukraine, such as the summary executions of Boutcha.
On Wednesday, after Kiev blamed members of Russian forces for the beheading, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the footage "horrifying" but said its "authenticity" still needed to be established.
The Russian Prosecutor's Office, in its press release, notes that the images appear to have been filmed "in the summer", thus suggesting that the scene could have taken place in 2022. The video, which lasts one minute and forty seconds, has been circulating since Tuesday. In it, a man in camouflage, his face masked, slits the neck of another man in uniform struggling on the ground, yelling "it hurts".
After a few seconds, the screaming stops and a man is heard behind the camera urging the executioner in Russian to "cut off the head" of the victim. The latter finishes his decapitation with a knife, and shows the severed head to the camera. The torturers also showed their victim's military vest, stamped with the Ukrainian trident.
The head of the paramilitary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigojine, on Thursday rejected accusations made the day before by an NGO and a deserter from his group who claimed that the executioners of the Ukrainian soldier were members of Wagner. "It's nonsense, it doesn't correspond to reality," said Yevgeny Prigojine, in an audio commentary published by his press service on Telegram.