Russian Propagandist Shot in the Head Could Be 'Warning' to Wagner Leader

A Russian propagandist/mercenary was the target of an execution attempt in Ukraine over the weekend when he was shot in the head, according to reports.

One analyst speculated that the shooting could have been a "warning" directed toward Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group of Russian mercenaries who have played a prominent role in the war.

Igor Mangushev was taken to a hospital on Saturday in the Russian-occupied town of Stakhanov, which is located in Ukraine's Luhansk region. Mangushev—who has claimed to be the originator of the "Z" sign that indicates support for Russia's war in Ukraine—was known for spouting pro-Kremlin views during appearances on Russian state TV before enlisting in the Russian army using the call name of Bereg.

The Telegraph reported that Mangushev's colleague Boris Rozhkin posted photos on Telegram of the wounded mercenary wearing bloody bandages on a hospital bed. The newspaper also wrote that doctors said Mangushev had been shot in the head with a handgun at close range.

Yevgeny Prigozhin in Moscow
Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin in a meeting with business leaders at the Kremlin in Moscow on July 4, 2017. The smaller image shows a Ukrainian flag on November 17, 2022, in Lviv, Ukraine. A man with reported ties to Prigozhin, who founded and leads the Wagner Group, was shot over the weekend. Photos by Sergei ILNITSKY/AFP/Les Kasyanov/Global Images Ukraine/Getty Images

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote that Russian authorities declined to release more information about the incident, but Russian military bloggers described the shooting as an execution attempt. The ISW also referenced Mangushev's alleged ties with the Wagner Group.

"I think we can safely describe this as a hit," Mark Galeotti, a political scientist and author of the recent book Putin's Wars: From Chechnya to Ukraine, tweeted about the incident.

Galeotti noted that while Mangushev is alive, he is "unlikely to survive." He also said the Russian was not thought to be an official member of the notorious Wagner Group of mercenaries, but Mangushev is said to have connections to Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.

As such, the assassination attempt could have been a "warning" or "a proxy attack on Prigozhin," Galeotti wrote.

Galeotti also said that while Mangushev is officially listed as a captain in Russia's military ranks, he was part of a "specialist" unit that could have been "privately funded/run."

"A persistent suggestion has been that this humble 'captain' in the army is actually not only one of Prigozhin's people but operating near-autonomously," Galeotti tweeted.

Last summer, Mangushev drew attention when a video of him spread across social media. In the clip, Mangushev speaks to a crowd while holding a skull that he claims came from a dead Ukrainian soldier who was killed by Russian forces.

"We are not at war with people of blood and flesh," Mangushev said in the video. "We are at war with an idea—Ukraine as an anti-Russian state. We're alive and this guy [the skull] is already dead. Let him burn in hell. He wasn't lucky. We'll make a goblet out of his skull."

Newsweek reached out to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.