MOSCOW (Reuters) – A former commander of the paramilitary group Wagner, who fought in Ukraine, said he fled to Norway to seek asylum in fear for his life after witnessing the killings and ill-treatment of Russian prisoners brought there on the front line.
The Wagner militia, originally made up of veterans of the Russian army, recruited thousands of common law prisoners following the Russian offensive launched on February 24 by Moscow against Kyiv under the promise of regaining freedom after fighting in Ukraine.
Andrei Medvedev, who joined Wagner on July 6, 2022 on a four-month contract, said in a video posted by the NGO Gulagu.net that he crossed the border into Norway before being arrested by Norwegian police.
Andrei Medvedev, who was in prison before joining Wagner, said he walked away from the paramilitary group after witnessing the killings of Wagner recruits who had deserted.
“I’m afraid of dying in excruciating pain,” Andrei Medvedev told Vladimir Osechkin, founder of Gulagu.net, who says he helped the former soldier leave Russia.
Police had earlier said a foreign citizen was arrested overnight from Thursday to Friday after illegally crossing the Russian-Norwegian border in the Arctic and was seeking asylum.
Andrei Medvedev’s Norwegian lawyer, Brynjulf Risnes, said he was in the “Oslo area” without giving further details.
“What is important for him (Medvedev) is that the immigration services clarify his status as soon as possible,” Brynjulf Risnes told Reuters.
“He says he took part in combat, which he said was clear combat situations… and that he had no contact with civilians,” Brynjulf Risnes added.
For his part, the founder of the Wagner group Evgueni Prigojine claimed that Andrei Medvedev had worked in a Norwegian unit of Wagner but that he had “mistreated prisoners”.
“Be careful, he is very dangerous,” he said in a statement without addressing allegations of murder and mistreatment of Wagner recruits.
(Report Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow and Gwladys Fouche in Oslo; French version Lina Golovnya, edited by Blandine Hénault)