- The former Wagner commander fled Russia to Norway
- The 26-year-old took part in the fighting near Bakhmut
- He says he was afraid of being executed for his part
- He says he wants to testify about crimes in Ukraine
OSLO (Reuters) – A former commander of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group who fled to Norway told Reuters he wanted to apologize for the fighting in Ukraine and was speaking out to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Andrei Medvedev, who crossed the Russian-Norwegian border on Jan. 13, said he witnessed the killing of Wagner and the mistreatment of Russian convicts who were taken to Ukraine to fight for the group.
“Many consider me a scoundrel, a criminal and a murderer,” Medvedev, 26, said in an interview. “First and foremost, over and over again, I want to apologize, and though I don’t know how it will be received, I want to say I’m sorry.
“Yes, I served on Wagner. There are some moments (in my story) that people don’t like, and I’ve ever joined them, but no one is born with intelligence.”
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 two people who did not want to fight being shot dead in front of newly released convicts who were enrolled in Wagner.
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Asked about other incidents he had witnessed, he said he could not comment on them at this stage because the Norwegian police war crimes investigation was still ongoing.
Reuters was not immediately able to verify his claims.
Krepos, Norway’s national criminal police, which is 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 crimes, I was just a fighter.”
The Wagner Group said Medvedev had worked in a “Norwegian unit” of Wagner’s and had “mistreated prisoners”.
“Be careful, he’s very dangerous,” the group said in a statement emailed to Reuters, echoing previous comments made about Medvedev by its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Wagner’s forces engaged in a bloody battle of attrition against Ukrainian forces in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.
In Wagner, Medvedev said that he commanded a squad, received orders from a platoon commander and was planning combat missions. He said he saw “courageous acts on both sides”.
Medvedev said he was afraid of being executed by someone from his side at any time.
“The most terrifying thing? To realize that there are people who consider themselves to be your citizens, and who can come and kill you in an instant, or on the orders of one of them,” he said. “Your people. This is probably the most terrifying thing.”
He said Medvedev left Wagner at the end of his four-month contract, even though his superiors had told him he should serve longer.
Medvedev said he fled Russia last month across the Arctic border, climbed through barbed wire fences and dodged border patrol with dogs, and heard Russian guards fire shots as he ran through a forest and over the frozen river that separates the two countries.
From orphan to bound friend
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, at the age of 18, and served in the 31st Airborne Brigade, based in Ulyanovsk.
“This was my first deployment to Donbass,” Medvedev said, declining to give more details.
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 Donbass – made up of Donetsk and Luhansk – sought to break away from Kyiv’s control.
Medvedev said he had served several stints in prison, including one for robbery, and when he got out of prison the last time, he decided to join the Wagner Group, in July 2022.
Medvedev said he was not conscripted directly from prison, but decided to join because he realized he would likely be drafted into the regular Russian armed forces anyway.
He signed a four-month contract with a monthly salary of about 250,000 rubles ($3,575). He said he crossed into Ukraine on July 16, and fought near Bakhmut.
“It was unpleasant,” he said, using the Russian name for Bakhmut. “The roads leading to Artemovsk were strewn with the corpses of our soldiers.” “The losses were heavy… I saw many friends die.”
a special report Reported by Reuters last week, a burial ground in southern Russia was found by Reuters, that of convicted men recruited by Wagner to fight in Ukraine.
($1 = 69.9305 rubles)
Additional reporting by Neregos Adomatis, Janis Laizans and Gwladys Foch in Oslo Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Leslie Adler and Frances Kerry
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