Shrouded in secrecy for years, Russia’s Wagner Group opens up

On paper, the Wagner Group, a Russian network providing fighters for hire, does not exist.

It does not file tax returns, its alleged backers deny any connection to it and officially, private military companies (PMCs) are illegal in Russia.

Gabidullin, whose identity has been confirmed by Russian and Ukrainian media, is the only former mercenary of the Wagner Group to publicly come forward about his experiences.

He now lives in southern France, and has written a memoir, In the Same River Twice, about his experiences.

Founded by intelligence officer Dmitry Utkin in 2014 to back Ukrainian separatists, Wagner has since represented the interests of Russia and its allies across Africa and the Middle East, taking part in Syria’s civil war on the side of President Bashar al-Assad – and its fighters are accused of several atrocities.Previously a shadowy force, it is now embracing an ever-public image as the Ukraine war grinds on.

“Mercenaries have no official status, so they don’t have the same rights or guarantees as an official representative of the armed forces, and payment is only after completing a mission,” Marat Gabidullin told Al Jazeera. “You finish the mission, get paid and you can go on vacation.”

Gabidullin, whose identity has been confirmed by Russian and Ukrainian media, is the only former mercenary of the Wagner Group to publicly come forward about his experiences.

He now lives in southern France, and has written a memoir, In the Same River Twice, about his experiences.

Founded by intelligence officer Dmitry Utkin in 2014 to back Ukrainian separatists, Wagner has since represented the interests of Russia and its allies across Africa and the Middle East, taking part in Syria’s civil war on the side of President Bashar al-Assad – and its fighters are accused of several atrocities.Previously a shadowy force, it is now embracing an ever-public image as the Ukraine war grinds on.

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