Wagner’s former commander said he regretted the fighting in Ukraine
- Wagner’s former commander fled Russia to Norway
- A 26-year-old participated in the battles near Bakhmut
- He says he was afraid of being executed by his own country
- He says he wants to testify about crimes in Ukraine
OSLO, Feb 1 (Reuters) – A former commander of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group who fled to Norway told Reuters he wanted to apologize for fighting in Ukraine and spoke out to bring perpetrators to justice.
Andrey Medvedev, which crossed Russian-Norwegian border on Jan. 13 said he witnessed Wagner’s killing and abuse of Russian prisoners taken to Ukraine to fight for the group.
“Many consider me a scoundrel, a criminal, a murderer,” Medvedev, 26, said in an interview. “First, repeatedly and again, I would like to apologize and although I don’t know how it will be received, I want to say that I am sorry.
“Yes, I served in Wagner. There are some moments (in my story) that people don’t like that I joined them at all, but nobody 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 make my contribution, at least a little.”
He cited one incident in which he said he witnessed the shooting of two people who did not want to fight in front of newly released inmates enrolled at Wagner.
Asked about other incidents he witnessed, he said he could not comment on them at this stage as a Norwegian police investigation into war crimes was ongoing.
Reuters could not immediately verify his claims.
Kripos, Norway’s national criminal police service responsible for investigating war crimes, an interrogation has begun Medvedev on his experience in Ukraine.
He has the status of a witness and is not suspected of anything other than the illegal crossing of the border. Medvedev said he had nothing to hide from the police and added: “I did not commit any crimes, I was just a fighter.”
The Wagner group said Medvedev worked in Wagner’s “Norwegian unit” and “mistreated prisoners.”
“Be careful, he is very dangerous,” the group said in a statement emailed to Reuters, echoing earlier comments made by its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, about Medvedev.
Wagner’s forces are engaged in a bloody battle of attrition against Ukrainian forces in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region.
In Wagner, Medvedev said he led a squad, taking orders from a platoon leader and planning combat missions. He said he saw “acts of courage on both sides”.
Medvedev said he feared he could be executed by someone on his side at any time.
“The scariest thing? Realizing that there are people who consider themselves your countrymen and can come and kill you at a moment’s notice or on someone’s order,” he said. “Your own people. That was probably the scariest thing.”
Medvedev left Wagner at the end of his four-month contract, even though his superiors told him he should serve longer, he said.
Medvedev said he fled Russia last month across the Arctic border, climbing over barbed wire fences and evading a border patrol with dogs, hearing Russian guards firing as he ran through a forest and over the frozen river that separates the two countries.
FROM SIRAC TO WAGNER’S ACCESS
Medvedev was born in the Tomsk region of Siberia. He said he was placed in an orphanage when he was about 12 years old, after his mother died and his father disappeared.
He said he was drafted into the Russian army in 2014, aged 18, and served in the Ulyanovsk-based 31st Airborne Brigade.
“This was my first deployment in Donbass,” Medvedev added, declining to elaborate.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine began in 2014 after a pro-Russian president was ousted in Ukraine’s Maidan revolution and Russia annexed Crimea, while Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass – made up of Donetsk and Luhansk – tried to break away from Kyiv’s control.
Medvedev said he served several prison terms, including one for robbery, and when he got out of prison for the last time, he decided to join the Wagner group in July 2022.
Medvedev said he was not recruited straight from prison, but decided to join because he realized he would likely be mobilized into the regular Russian armed forces.
He signed a four-month contract for a monthly salary of about 250,000 rubles ($3,575). He crossed into the Ukraine on July 16, he said, and was fighting near Bakhmut.
“It was screwed up. The roads to Artemovsk were littered with the corpses of our soldiers,” he said, using Bakhmut’s Russian name. “The losses were heavy… I saw many friends die.”
A a special report published by Reuters last week found a cemetery in southern Russia, the burial site of men who had been prisoners who had been recruited by Wagner to fight in Ukraine.
($1 = 69.9305 rubles)
Reporting by Nerius Adomaitis, Yannis Laizans and Gwladys Fuchs in Oslo Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Leslie Adler and Frances Carey
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