Russia's Wagner Group Soldiers Behind Bucha Killings, German Intel Claims

Intercepted radio chatter apparently consolidates claims that Russian troops committed atrocities in the town of Bucha, the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel has reported. It also said that the Russian mercenary unit called the Wagner Group played "a leading role in the atrocities."

The claims by the publication come on the heels of separate audio released by Ukraine's Security Service, which although not independently verified, purportedly also shows Russian troops getting orders to kill civilians.

The US and European Union have linked Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, to the Wagner Group, which has been accused of committing war crimes and human-rights abuses in Syria in 2015.

Global outrage greeted scenes of dead civilians discovered after the withdrawal of Russian troops from Bucha. Some victims were found with their hands tied behind their backs, while others showed signs of torture.

Bucha, Ukraine
Residents walk amid debris and destroyed Russian military vehicles on a street in Bucha, Ukraine on April 06, 2022. German newspaper "Der Speigel" said that intercepted radio traffic from German intelligence points to Russian atrocities in the city. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelensky has accused Russia of "genocide" while his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden, said that Vladimir Putin was guilty of a "war crime."

The Kremlin has denied the accusations and made claims, albeit unsubstantiated, that the alleged actions had been staged by Ukraine.

Der Spiegel reported that Germany's foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), had intercepted comments from troops that "appear to completely refute" Russia's denials.

The magazine said that some of the intercepted traffic apparently matches the locations of bodies found along the main road through town.

In one message, a soldier apparently told another they had just shot a person on a bicycle, which is in keeping with a widely shared image of a dead body lying next to a bike.

The New York Times published independently verified aerial footage of a Russian armored vehicle shooting at a civilian on a bicycle in Bucha although it is unclear if it was the same person referred to in the radio messages.

In another intercepted conversation, a man is heard saying that soldiers should be first interrogated and then shot.

Der Spiegel reported that the intercepted radio traffic suggested that the alleged atrocities civilians suffered in Bucha "were neither random acts nor the product of individual soldiers who got out of hand."

Sources familiar with the audio said that it showed how the murder of civilians is a standard part of Russian military activity. The publication reported that the BND had briefed parliamentarians on Wednesday about its findings.

The Washington Post reported that the audio was also verified by three people briefed on the information.

In a statement to Newsweek, a BND spokesperson Isabelle Kalbitzer said, "as a matter of principle, the Federal Intelligence Service does not comment publicly on matters concerning any intelligence findings or activities.

"This does not imply any statement as to whether the facts are accurate or not."

"The Federal Intelligence Service reports on relevant matters in particular to the Federal Government and to the competent committees of the German Bundestag, which meet in secret," the statement added.

Newsweek has contacted the Kremlin for comment.

As previously reported by Newsweek, Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov said that claims made about alleged Russian actions in Bucha could threaten peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv.

Ukraine's defense ministry tweeted the Der Spiegel article.

Antonov said that Ukrainian authorities were "scaling up their anti-Russian disinformation campaign," and spreading "new baseless accusations about alleged atrocities and war crimes."