Russia's Prigozhin challenges Ukraine's Zelenskiy to aerial duel in cockpit video

Feb 6 (Reuters) - The founder of Russia's Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin on Monday published a video of himself in the cockpit of a military aircraft, challenging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to an aerial duel.

The clip was release by Prigozhin's press service, which said it was filmed aboard a Su-24 bomber plane operated by Wagner.

It was the latest in a series of statements and videos in which Prigozhin has sought to promote himself and his private army as the spearhead of Russian military operations in east Ukraine.

"Volodymyr Oleksandrovych (Zelenskiy), we have landed. We have bombed Bakhmut," Prigozhin said in the short video.

"Tomorrow, I will fly a MiG-29. If you so desire, let's meet in the skies. If you win, you take Artyomovsk (Bakhmut). If not, we advance till (the River) Dnipro."

Prigozhin acknowledged only last September that he was the founder of the Wagner group which has been active for years in the Middle East and Africa.

Since then, he has sharply raised his own profile and that of his fighters, criticising the failures of Russia's armed forces in Ukraine and demanding that Wagner be given greater credit for its role.

The United States last month announced new sanctions against Wagner, calling it a transnational criminal organisation. Washington assesses that Wagner currently has about 50,000 personnel deployed to Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts recruited from Russian prisons.

Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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