Russian PMC Wagner in Syria: a mercenary or a stalker?
After criticism in pro-Kremlin publications, the book was removed from print
Many were eagerly awaiting the release of the memoirs of a former Russian paratrooper who fought in Syria as part of a private military company. «Wagner Group», which belongs to the oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin.
The 54-year-old author Marat Gabidullin, who rose to the rank of commander of one of the Wagner PMC’s intelligence units, was interviewed by the independent news website last week. «Jellyfish», sharing some intriguing details from his book.
Gabidullin confirmed that the group suffered heavy losses in the fighting in Libya and that in 2017 Russian mercenaries tortured to death a deserter from the Syrian army. According to Gabidullin, the murder was committed by order of the commander and founder of the group, Dmitry Utkin, who in the past was a lieutenant colonel of the special forces of the Russian military intelligence of the GRU.
Gabidullin promised that his book «Into the same river twice» will allow you to get an idea of the internal cuisine of Wagner PMCs. He said he decided to write a memoir after he was wounded in 2016 during the battles near Palmyra in the province of Homs, fighting militants. «Islamic State».
However, as stated in the publishing house «Mercenary», the book was taken out of print at the request of Gabidullin after pro-Kremlin newspapers wrote that it contained false information.
The Russian government has long denied any connection with PMC Wagner, whose mercenaries have been spotted on the battlefields from Donbass to Libya. Russian Foreign Ministry press secretary Maria Zakharova in an interview last year «Voice of America» denied any suggestion that the mercenaries were affiliated with the Kremlin.
Gabidullin reported «Jellyfish», that he wrote the book in part to get the Kremlin to acknowledge the group’s existence, as well as the deaths of its fighters, who receive neither military funerals nor posthumous medals. It is believed that about 300 Wagner PMC fighters were killed or wounded in a shootout with Kurdish forces in Syria in February 2018..
«On the topic of PMCs, there is a complete deception on the part of the military and politicians. The whole world knows, and you are hiding the truth from your own people. Is it ok?» – he said.
In 2016, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on «the Wagner group» for supporting separatists in Donbass.
According to the US Treasury Department, Prigozhin provided extensive support to the separatists, including building a military base near the border with Ukraine to deploy Russian troops. Some Russian opposition leaders and independent military analysts suspect that Wagner’s PMC is in fact a subdivision of the Russian Ministry of Defense, which allows the Kremlin to deny its involvement and minimize the official death toll..
Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller accused Prigozhin of leadership «troll factory», who meddled in the 2016 U.S. elections. The businessman himself ridiculed these accusations, saying in an interview with the agency «RIA News»: «Americans are very impressionable people, they see what they want to see. I have great respect for them. I’m not at all upset to be on this list. If they want to see the devil – let them see».
According to Gabidullin, he joined the Wagner PMC in 2015, after which he was sent to Syria to help Assad’s army recapture the oil fields from the militants. «Islamic State». Before leaving, the recruits were warned: «Guys, you are destined for war where there are interests of our state. Get ready for the fact that all this can turn out badly for you. Death».
Gabidullin says that at first veterans of the Russian army served in the PMC, but lately it is more difficult to find professional soldiers and instead they are recruiting inexperienced youth: «People who managed to sniff gunpowder in Chechnya or during the Georgian war no longer rush to the office».
He added: «In 2015–2017 year «Wagner» led a detachment of gladiators – now he leads an army of slaves… Most of the commanders do not correspond to the level of their positions at all. And the veterans who still remain in this formation decided for themselves: «Okay, I’ll wake up on a business trip sometime. The main task – to survive». Survive, do you understand? They don’t think about victory anymore».
According to Gabidullin, many of the failures are due to the fact that Utkin began to behave not like a field commander, but like a businessman, and stopped resisting the orders of the Russian military leadership: «I just didn’t want to argue with the authorities. And the guys ended up just turning into cannon fodder. In 2017, for example, it was impossible to go to take oil fields with such weapons and the amount of ammunition. – you just can’t. But the military said to go. When mortar men stupidly lack mines, and you drive people «forward and forth», you are not a commander already. You are a businessman: you will squeeze out the [oil] fields – get a prize. As a result, the soldiers ceased to trust their commanders. – and this is not even the only reason. Since 2018, some commanders have taken up to half of the bonus fund allocated to the squad, and the rest – crumbs – handed out to the fighters».
When asked how other mercenaries felt about his memoirs, Gabidullin said that some were happy – especially those who are concerned about the lack of experience of the recruits. According to him, Prigozhin initially encouraged the writing of the book and read the manuscripts. Gabidullin admitted that he made some changes to the text at the request of Prigozhin, but then it seemed to him that the oligarch «on his side».
«In general, he is not a stupid man – and an assessment of many participants in these events can be given even more specific and harsh than me, – said the author. – On the other hand, in direct words, he then only agreed that there are excesses on the ground».
Last week, the Pentagon inspector general presented a report that says the Wagner group may have received funding from the United Arab Emirates, which also supported General Haftar in Libya..