- Wagner’s former commander fled Russia for Norway
- A 26-year-old man took part in the fighting near Bakhmut
- He says he was afraid of being executed by his side
- He says he wants to testify about crimes in Ukraine
OSLO, Feb 1 (Reuters) – A former commander of the Russian mercenary group Wagner who fled to Norway told Reuters he wanted to apologize for fighting in Ukraine and was speaking to translate perpetrators of crimes brought to justice.
Andrei Medvedev, who crossed the Russian-Norwegian border on January 13, said he witnessed Wagner’s murder and mistreatment of Russian convicts taken to Ukraine to fight for the group.
fought in Ukraine
“Many consider me a scoundrel, a criminal, a murderer,” Medvedev, 26, said in an interview. “First, many times, and again, I would like to apologize, and while I don’t know how this would be received, I want to say I’m sorry.
“Yes, I served in Wagner. There are times (in my history) that people don’t like, that I joined them at all, but no one is born smart.”
Medvedev added that he decided to speak out “to help ensure that the perpetrators are punished in certain cases, and I will try to contribute, at least a little”.
He cited an incident in which he said he saw two people who did not want to fight being shot in front of newly released convicts who had been drafted into Wagner. fought in Ukraine
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Asked about other incidents he witnessed, he said he could not comment on them at this stage as a war crimes investigation by Norwegian police was ongoing.
Reuters was unable to immediately verify its claims. fought in Ukraine
Kripos, Norway’s national criminal police service responsible for investigating war crimes, began questioning Medvedev about his experiences in Ukraine.
He has witness status and is not suspected of anything other than illegal border crossing. Medvedev said he had nothing to hide from the police, adding “I didn’t commit any crime, I was just a fighter.”
The Wagner Group said Medvedev worked in a “Norwegian unit” of Wagner and “mistreated prisoners”. fought in Ukraine
“Be careful, he is very dangerous,” the group said in a statement emailed to Reuters, reiterating previous comments by its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, about Medvedev.
Wagner’s forces were locked in a bloody attrition battle against Ukrainian forces in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.
At Wagner, Medvedev said he led a squad, took orders from a platoon commander and planned combat missions. He says he saw “acts of courage on both sides”. fought in Ukraine
Medvedev said he was afraid of being executed by someone on his side at any time. fought in Ukraine
“The most frightening thing? To realize that there are people who consider themselves your compatriots, and who could come and kill you in an instant, or on someone’s orders,” he said. “Your own people. It was probably the scariest thing. fought in Ukraine
Medvedev left Wagner at the end of his four-month contract, even though his superiors told him he had to serve longer, he said.
Medvedev said he fled Russia last month via the Arctic border, scaling barbed wire fences and dodging a border patrol with dogs, hearing Russian guards firing shots as he walked through a forest and across the frozen river that separates the two countries. fought in Ukraine
FROM ORPHAN TO JOIN WAGNER
Medvedev was born in the Tomsk region of Siberia. He says he was placed in an orphanage around the age of 12, after the death of his mother and the disappearance of his father. fought in Ukraine
He said he was drafted into the Russian army in 2014, aged 18, and served with the 31st Airborne Brigade based in Ulyanovsk. fought in Ukraine
“It was my first deployment in Donbass,” Medvedev added, declining to give further details.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine began in 2014 after the overthrow of a pro-Russian president in Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, while Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass – consisting of Donetsk and Luhansk – sought to break away from Kyiv’s control.
Medvedev said he had served several prison terms, including one for robbery, and on his last release from prison he decided to join the Wagner Group, in July 2022.
Medvedev said he was not recruited straight out of prison, but decided to enlist because he realized he was likely to be drafted into the military anyway. regular Russian armed forces.
He signed a four-month contract for a monthly salary of around 250,000 rubles ($3,575). He entered Ukraine on July 16, he said, and fought near Bakhmut.
“It was screwed. The roads of Artemovsk were littered with the corpses of our soldiers,” he said, using the Russian place name for Bakhmut. “The losses were heavy. … I saw many friends die.”
A special report published by Reuters last week uncovered a cemetery in southern Russia, the burial place of men who were convicts who had been recruited by Wagner to fight in Ukraine.
($1 = 69.9305 rubles)
Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis, Janis Laizans and Gwladys Fouche in Oslo Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Leslie Adler and Frances Kerry
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