In Norway, a Wagner deserter sets out to unravel his secrets about the enigmatic Russian group

In Norway, a Wagner deserter sets out to unravel his secrets about the enigmatic Russian group

A valuable witness that could shed light on the brutality of the Russian paramilitary group in Ukraine from the inside. But also to fuel the case against Moscow. After fleeing to Norway in epic conditions, an ex-Wagner mercenary reveals behind the scenes of the sulphurous mercenary group.

In a video released this weekend by the NGO Gulagu.net, this square-faced Russian with close-cropped hair claims to have fought in Ukraine as head of a section of ten men inside Wagner. A sulphurous group he says he quit when his four-month contract was renewed against his will in November.

Under bullets, he says, from Russian guards with dogs at his heels, Andrei Medvedev, 26, last week secretly crossed the Pasvik, a currently frozen river that marks the Russian-Norwegian border in the far north.

Ten executions mentioned

“He is an interesting personality, especially as a first-hand witness within the Wagner group (…), also in possible post-war trials on the atrocities committed in Ukraine,” estimates Tor Bukkvoll, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Research.

“He was probably in Bakhmout,” a town in eastern Ukraine that Russian troops have been trying to capture for months, “and he can tell things from the inside that nobody else could tell,” he told AFP.

In an interview with The Insider website in December, Alexei Medvedev said he was aware of 10 executions by Wagner of mercenaries who refused to return to combat. He also states that he has in his possession a video showing the murder of two of them and is demanding that it be released if anything bad happens to him.

He himself would have had under his command Evguéni Nouzhin, a man accused of surrendering to Ukrainian forces and being killed with sledgehammers on his return to the Russian ranks. AFP has been unable to independently confirm the accuracy of its comments.

recruitment in prison

Alexei Medvedev was briefly detained upon arrival in Norway to seek asylum and was or was due to be heard by the authorities. His Norwegian lawyer, Brynjulf ​​Risnes, told AFP his client was “ready to speak to those who investigate war crimes about his experience with the Wagner group.”

According to him, the deserter had several USB sticks with him when he fled to Norway. The precise articulation of the Wagners, formed in 2014, with the Russian army remains controversial, with many observers saying they view the tensions between the two forces against a backdrop of political ambitions attributed to the leader of that paramilitary group, businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin.

While the latter emphasized the fact that only his men had fought in the village of Soledar in eastern Ukraine, which Moscow claimed to be capturing, the Kremlin denied the existence of any divisions. Wagner, who recruited extensively in Russian prisons to fight in Ukraine, expressed irony after Alexei Medvedev’s defection.

According to his Norwegian lawyer, the latter was himself given a two-year suspended sentence for theft and eventually served part of the sentence after a dispute with a government official. “He should be prosecuted for trying to attack prisoners,” Evguéni Prigojine commented through his press service. “He was previously on the wanted list. Be careful, it’s very dangerous.”

The head of the Wagner mercenary group also hinted that amid a bitter struggle to capture Bakhmout, his troops had “things to learn” from the Ukrainian army. “The Ukrainian army works efficiently and consistently. We can learn from them. But in any case, Wagner’s units are moving forward meter by meter,” he said in a statement released by his press service on Thursday.

He assured that “the place Artiomovsk (name given by the Russian authorities to Bakhmout, editor’s note) will be taken”.