A former commander of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group who fled to Norway told Reuters he wanted to apologise for fighting in Ukraine and was speaking out to bring the perpetrators of atrocities in the conflict to justice.
Andrei Medvedev, who fled by crossing the Russian-Norwegian border on Jan. 13, says he witnessed the killing and mistreatment of Russian prisoners taken to Ukraine to fight for Wagner.
He said he fled over the Arctic border, climbing through barbed-wire fences and evading a border patrol with dogs, hearing guards firing shots as he ran through a forest and over the frozen river that separates the two countries.
The 26-year-old is now seeking asylum in Norway.
“Many consider me to be a scoundrel, a criminal, a murderer,” Medvedev said in an interview. “First of all, repeatedly, and again, I would like to apologise, and although I don’t know how it would be received, I want to say I’m sorry.
“I want to explain that I am not that person. 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 said he wanted to speak out about his experiences in the war so “the perpetrators are punished” for their crimes in Ukraine.
“I have decided to stand against it publicly, to help to ensure that perpetrators are punished in certain cases, and I will try to make my contribution, at least a small bit.”
Wagner has been locked in a bloody battle of attrition in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region. A special report published by Reuters last week found a graveyard in southern Russia buried with men who were convicts who had been recruited by Wagner to fight in Ukraine.
Medvedev said he joined Wagner in July 2022 on a four-month contract and that during that time he witnessed two people who did not want to fight being shot in front of freshly-recruited prisoners.
“The scariest thing? To realise that there are people who consider themselves to be your compatriots, and who could come and kill you in an instant, or on someone’s orders,” he said.
“Your own people. That probably was the scariest thing.”
Reuters was not immediately able to verify his claims.
Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has previously said that Medvedev had worked in a Norwegian unit of Wagner and had “mistreated prisoners”.
“Be careful, he’s very dangerous,” Prigozhin said. Wagner did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Wednesday.
Kripos, Norway’s national criminal police service, which has responsibility for investigating war crimes, has begun questioning Medvedev about his experiences in Ukraine. He has a status as a witness, police have said.