Ghosts of War: How the Russian Private Army Appeared in Syria

RBC – 09 September 2016

PMCs around the world are a huge business: “privateers” often replace the armed forces. In Russia, they are outlawed. But in Syria, a prototype of Russian PMCs was tested – the Wagner Group, and the authorities are again thinking about legalization.

Original article

(Photo: Yuri Smityuk/TASS)

The military unit on the Molkino farm of the Krasnodar Territory is a regime facility. The 10th Separate Special Forces Brigade of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) of the Ministry of Defense is stationed here, Gazeta. Ru». A few dozen meters from the federal highway “Don” is the first checkpoint on the way to the base. Then the road branches off: to the left – a town belonging to part of the town, to the right – a landfill, explains to the journalist of RBC postovoy at the checkpoint. Behind the range is another checkpoint with guards armed with AK-74s. Behind this checkpoint is the camp of a private military company (PMC), says one of the employees of the military unit.

Archival satellite images from Google Earth show that there was no camp in August 2014. It began to function around the middle of 2015, say two interlocutors of RBC, who worked in this camp and are familiar with its device. These are two dozen tents under the flag of the USSR, surrounded by a small fence with barbed wire, one of them describes the base. On the territory there are several residential barracks, a checkpoint, a canine station, a training complex and a parking lot for vehicles, an employee of a private military company who was there describes the base.

This structure has no official name, the name of its head and revenue are not disclosed, and the very existence of the company, possibly the largest on the market, is not advertised: formally, the activities of PMCs in our country are illegal. RBC magazine figured out what the so-called Wagner PMC is, from what sources and how it is financed and why the business of private military companies may appear in Russia.

Mercenaries and “privateers”

According to Russian laws, a military man can only work for the state. Mercenarism is prohibited: for participation in armed conflicts in the territory of another country, the Criminal Code provides for up to seven years of imprisonment (Article 359), for recruitment, training, financing of a mercenary, “as well as his use in an armed conflict or hostilities” – up to 15 years. There are no other laws regulating the sphere of PMCs in Russia.

In the world, the situation is different: the principles of work of private military and security companies are fixed in the “Montreux Document” adopted in the autumn of 2008. It was signed by 17 countries, including the United States, Great Britain, China, France and Germany (Russia is not one of them). The document allows people who are not in the civil service to provide services for the armed protection of facilities, maintenance of combat complexes, training of military personnel, and so on.

In a 2011 UN report, the annual volume of the private military services market was estimated by the organization’s analysts at $ 20 billion to $ 100 billion, the non-profit organization War on Want in 2016 – at $ 100-400 billion. In 2011, she noted that at the end of the fiscal year, the costs of contracts with private military companies only in Iraq and Afghanistan will exceed $ 206 billion The revenue of the largest PMC in the world – G4S Plc in 2015 amounted to $ 10.5 billion: in Russia this is comparable only to the same indicator of Bashneft and a third more than that of Norilsk Nickel.

Employees of the world's largest private military company G4S in 2010 helped clear mines near Kandahar in Afghanistan
Employees of the world’s largest private military company G4S in 2010 helped clear mines near Kandahar in Afghanistan (Photo: Reuters/Pixstream)

The use of “privateers” is typical for Western countries, where the rejection of large losses is more high, explains Sergey Grinyaev, general director of the Center for Strategic Assessments and Forecasts. Large casualties among the personnel of the armed forces can affect the decision to stop the operation and withdraw troops, as was the case with the special forces involved in the UN peacekeeping operation in Somalia, the expert says. In 1993, during a city battle in Mogadishu, the Americans lost 18 people, about 80 soldiers were wounded, one was captured. This accelerated the withdrawal of the US contingent from the country. Such situations can be avoided if we are not talking about the regular army, but about private military companies, Grinyaev is sure.

Reducing losses through the use of PMC fighters is a common practice used, for example, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2008, the number of employees of private companies in these countries exceeds the number of US military personnel, and since at least 2010, “privateers” account for the main percentage of dead and wounded, according to the Private Security Monitor project of the University of Denver (USA).

Difficulties of legalization

The last attempt to legalize PMCs in Russia was made in March 2016, when deputies from the “Fair Russia” Gennady Nosovko and Oleg Mikheev submitted to the State Duma a draft law on private military security organizations. The document called the goals of such activities “participation in ensuring national security through the performance and provision of military security works and services”, the protection of Russia’s interests outside the country, the promotion of Russian PMCs to world markets, etc. At the same time, according to the bill, such companies were supposed to be prohibited from “directly participating in armed conflicts <…> on the territory of any state.”</…> Licensing of PMCs was to be handled by the Ministry of Defense, to monitor the implementation of the law – the FSB and the Prosecutor General’s Office.

The government opposed the adoption of the law, noting in the review that the bill contradicts Part 5 of Article 13 Constitution: “The establishment and activities of public associations whose goals or actions are aimed at <…> undermining the security of the state, the creation of armed groups are prohibited.”</…> The deputies were not supported by colleagues in the relevant committee, who pointed out that the duties of such companies are not demarcated from the functions of private security companies (CHOPS), departmental security and National Guard troops.

The final decision on the document was not made – its consideration was postponed to the autumn, but the authors of the bill themselves decided to withdraw it. The spring document is Nosovko’s third attempt to legalize PMCs in Russia, while the biography of the deputy himself is in no way connected with the Armed Forces: except that in 2014 he was awarded the medal of the Ministry of Defense “For strengthening the combat commonwealth”. The deputy hopes that he will be able to finalize and re-introduce the document in the autumn. In a conversation with RBC magazine, he said that when discussing the bill at round tables with the participation of relevant departments, the security forces generally supported the initiative, but asked to correct various kinds of shortcomings. “There is no sharp denial, but, for example, representatives of the GRU and the FSB say that now it is not necessary to heat up the situation and open a Pandora’s box,” Nosovko said.

The authorities do not intend to abandon the idea of legalizing PMCs, says an FSB officer familiar with the situation, and confirms the interlocutor in the Ministry of Defense: the issue is being worked out, they say. Despite the absence of a law, there are private military companies in Russia. They do the same work as their counterparts abroad, from escorting ships across the Gulf of Aden near the coast of Somalia, where pirates operate, to guarding sites in Africa and Southeast Asia.

The Russian PMC market is extremely small in volume, explains Boris Chikin, co-owner of the private military company Moran Security Group (MSG). There are no real military companies in Russia, insists Oleg Krinitsyn, the owner of another large PMC, RSB-Group. The main activities of domestic firms are conducted abroad. For example, employees of another large PMC – “Antiterror Center” in the 2000s carried out orders in Iraq, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and other countries.

To facilitate work abroad, Russian PMCs register subsidiaries in offshore companies. In particular, the main founder of MSG with a share of 50% is Neova Holdings Ltd (British Virgin Islands). The owners of Russian PMCs do not disclose the financial side of their business, there are no reports of firms in the SPARK-Interfax database and foreign registers.

“Special tasks”

Russian troops did not participate in a full-scale ground operation in Syria, but in March 2016, the commander of the Russian group in the country, General Alexander Dvornikov, said that certain tasks are carried out by fighters on the ground. “I will not hide the fact that units of our special operations forces (highly mobile troops of the Ministry of Defense) are also operating in Syria. — RBC),” he said in an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta. According to him, the military performed additional reconnaissance of objects for air strikes, was engaged in guiding aircraft to targets in remote areas and solved “other special tasks”

“Special tasks” in Syria were performed by Sergei Chupov, who died there in February 2016, his friend told RBC. According to him, Chupov served in the internal troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but resigned in the early 2000s. This information was confirmed to RBC by another acquaintance of Chupov. The representative of the Ministry of Defense did not comment on the information about the deceased. The Military Prosecutor’s Office of the Southern District, in response to a request from RBC, reported that Chupov was not on the lists of the Russian group in Syria. The interlocutor of RBC, who knew the soldier closely, claims that the veteran of the internal troops, who went through both Chechen campaigns, was in Syria as an employee of a private military company known as the Wagner Group.

Wagner is the call sign of the head of the squad, in fact his name is Dmitry Utkin and he used to serve in the Pskov brigade of the GRU, say four interlocutors of RBC, personally familiar with Wagner. In 2013, Utkin, who had left the ranks of the Armed Forces by that time, left for the Middle East as part of a group of fighters recruited by the Slavic Corps company. This is a subsidiary of Slavonic Corps Limited, registered in Hong Kong, Kommersant wrote. The company was included in the register of legal entities in 2012, its director is listed as a citizen of Russia Anton Andreev.

The heads of the Slavic Corps, Yevgeny Sidorov and Vadim Gusev, former managers of Moran Security Group, promised employees when hiring them that they would guard the oil pipeline and the warehouse in Deir ez-Zor, a city in eastern Syria, Kommersant noted and a source told RBC in MSG. Instead of ensuring the security of energy facilities, 267 “corps” fighters were ordered to support the rebels near the village of as-Sukhna in the province of Homs, the RBC interlocutor notes. Without the necessary equipment and with outdated weapons, they were ambushed by militants of the “Islamic state” (the organization is banned in Russia). In October 2013, the fighters of the “Slavic Corps” left Syria.

In January 2015, Sidorov and Gusev were convicted in Russia under the very article 359 of the Criminal Code and received three years in prison each. The rest of the participants in the events were not brought to justice.

Wagner Group

For the first time, Fontanka wrote about the Wagner group and its participation in the Syrian war in October 2015: with reference to anonymous sources, the publication claimed that former employees of the Slavic Corps were later seen among the “polite people” in the Crimea during the events of February-March 2014, and a little more than a year later – in the south-east of Ukraine, already as an independent detachment. The Participation of the Wagner Group in the battles on the side of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, also citing anonymous sources, was written by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) at the end of 2015. In the same article, WSJ journalists told about the death in the Middle East of nine people from the Wagner group. The Ministry of Defense of Russia called this information “stuffing”.

The base in Molkino was equipped shortly after the completion of the active phase of the Luhansk operation – in mid-2015, recalls one of the officers who worked in the Wagner group. In this camp, fighters are trained before going to Syria, an FSB officer and one of the fighters who served under Wagner explain to RBC.

The issue of creating full-fledged PMCs in Russia has been discussed many times, but a breakthrough in this sense occurred after the Crimean events of 2014, in which the GRU units proved themselves well, said the interlocutor of RBC, close to this organization. It is the GRU that secretly supervises the Wagner group, an officer of the Ministry of Defense and an FSB officer confirmed to RBC, adding that this detachment arose after “the situation in the world escalated.”

In the Middle East, the Wagner group appeared shortly before Russia began to officially deploy its bases in the fall of 2015, says a Defense Ministry officer and confirms a source familiar with the course of the operation. In total, almost 2.5 thousand people were located near Latakia and Aleppo, the operation was led by employees not only of the GRU, but also of the FSB, he adds.

The war in Syria began in the spring of 2011. During the conflict, more than 5 million people became refugees. The fiercest fighting unfolded around Aleppo
The war in Syria began in the spring of 2011. During the conflict, more than 5 million people became refugees. The fiercest fighting unfolded around Aleppo (Photo: Reuters/Pixstream)

Officially, no one announced the recruitment to the Wagner detachment, but the rumor quickly spread to groups on social networks, whose users were actively interested in “how to get into the Wagner PMC.” There was no shortage of applicants: in 2016, from 1,000 to 1,600 PMC employees were in Syria at the same time, depending on the intensity of the situation, says a source familiar with the operation. The Ministry of Defense did not respond to the request of RBC, whether “citizens who are not in the service of the Armed Forces of Russia” are really fighting in Syria, and whether it is true that these fighters are trained at the base in the Krasnodar Territory.

Money to the soldiers of the Wagner group was paid in cash, they were not officially formalized anywhere, and the purchase of weapons and equipment is classified, an officer of the Ministry of Defense explains to RBC and confirms two interlocutors familiar with the course of the operation. According to them, the expenses were taken over by the state and “high-ranking businessmen.” Rbc’s interlocutors refuse to call their names even in an informal conversation with the voice recorders turned off.

“Fontanka” in the summer of 2016 wrote about the connection of one of the entrepreneurs with the Wagner group: the publication claimed that for the past two years Wagner moved around Russia accompanied by people working for the St. Petersburg restaurateur Yevgeny Prigozhin. In the entourage of the commander of the PMC “Fontanka” found the head of the security service of one of prigozhin’s companies Yevgeny Gulyaev and his subordinates.

Prigozhin’s Concord M is one of the main food suppliers for managing the affairs of the President of Russia, and the Concord Food Plant serves Moscow schools. Prigozhin’s firms are practically monopolists in the school feeding market of the capital, as well as one of the largest providers of services for the Ministry of Defense: companies deliver food and are engaged in cleaning in military units.

For private investors, the financing of PMCs is a way to prove their loyalty, explains the interlocutor in the Ministry of Defense, for example, for closer cooperation with the military department. RBC magazine found no evidence that Prigozhin’s firms provided financial support to PMCs. At the same time, if in 2014 the volume of services provided by companies related to the businessman to the Ministry of Defense and its structures amounted to 575 million rubles, then in 2015 the volume of such contracts reached 68.6 billion rubles, follows from the data of SPARK-Marketing.

These contracts make up the lion’s share of all state contracts that 14 companies received (the connection of most of these firms with Prigozhin can be traced to SPARK-Interfax; the rest of the structures are managed by those who worked with the restaurateur at different times, Fontanka wrote). In 2015, the total volume of tenders won by them amounted to 72.2 billion rubles.

Hybrid finance

The cost of maintaining a PMC numbering several thousand people is quite difficult to calculate. The Wagner Group does not pay for the rent of buildings and the site, say two interlocutors of RBC, familiar with the structure of the camp. The state and private units of the camp in the Krasnodar Territory are located, according to Rosreestr, on a single plot of about 250 square kilometers. km There is no information about who is the owner of the land in the database, but several neighboring plots are registered to the territorial forestry department of the Ministry of Defense.

The military department is engaged in the equipment of the training ground. As follows from the documents on the public procurement portal, in the spring of 2015, the Ministry of Defense held a corresponding auction in the amount of 294 million rubles, its winner was JSC “Garrison”, a subsidiary of the Ministry of Defense. The base in Molkino was also re-equipped: 41.7 million rubles were spent on the test site.

The maintenance of the base itself, as well as other military units, is also on the balance sheet of sergei Shoigu’s ministry. Tenders for garbage collection and linen transportation services, sanitary services, cleaning of territories, heat supply are carried out in packages for several dozen or hundreds of military units, grouped by territorial basis. On average, in 2015-2016, the military department spent 14.7 million rubles on one military unit. without taking into account classified contracts, follows from the procurement documentation of six auctions, which mentions the base in the Krasnodar Territory.

In 2015-2016, the Ministry of Defense allocated an average of about 410 thousand rubles for the removal of waste from one part of the Southern Military District: Megaline became the winner of the tender. The co-owners of the company until the end of 2015 were Concord Management and Consulting and Lakhta, which owned 50% each. Until mid-2011, yevgeny Prigozhin was the owner of a 14 percent stake in the first company, and until September 2013 he controlled 80% of Lakhta.

Sanitary maintenance of one military unit of the district in 2015-2016 cost an average of 1.9 million rubles, technical operation of heat supply facilities – 1.6 million rubles. The most expensive item of expenditure for the maintenance of the camp is cleaning. In 2015, the Ministry of Defense allocated an average of 10.8 million rubles for cleaning one part of the Southern District. contracts for cleaning in Molkino were concluded with the Agat company (the company is registered in Lyubertsy, the connection with Prigozhin and his entourage could not be traced).

Unlike the maintenance of databases, contracts for the supply of food in the unit are not posted on the public procurement portal – this information falls under military secrecy, since it allows you to determine the number of fighters. On the website of the Avito.ru in July, an announcement appeared about the hiring of workers in the military canteen in Molkino. The employer is the company “Restaurantservice Plus”. A similar vacancy in May was posted on one of the Krasnodar portals. On the phone number indicated in one of the ads, the RBC correspondent was answered by someone named Alexei, who confirmed that Restaurantservice Plus was looking for workers in the canteen of the military unit. The phone number of this company coincides with the numbers of two firms associated with Prigozhin – “Megaline” and “Concord Management and Consulting”.

Whether the Krasnodar PMC camp is provided from the same state orders as the GRU camp at the same base is not clear. The interlocutor of RBC, familiar with the structure of the unit, claims that the camps are similar in number and size, so the average cost of maintenance is applicable to the base of the Wagner group. Most of all, at the auctions in which the military unit in Molkino is mentioned, firms related to Prigozhin could earn money – Megaline and Teplosintez: these companies in 2015-2016 concluded state contracts for 1.9 billion rubles, follows from the procurement documentation.

Asked if the restaurateur’s companies were involved in funding the Wagner Group, a senior federal official just smiled and replied: “You have to understand, Prigozhin feeds very tasty.” The companies “Restaurantservice Plus”, “Ecobalt”, “Megaline”, “Teplosintez”, “Agat” and “Concord Management” did not respond to the request of RBC.

Price question

If the contracts for the maintenance of the base pass through electronic platforms, then the salary costs of PMC fighters are almost impossible to track: the salary is issued mainly in cash, according to fighters from the Wagner group. Part of the money is transferred to instant issuance cards, on which the name of the owner is not indicated, and they themselves are issued to unauthorized individuals, one fighter specifies and is confirmed by an officer of the Ministry of Defense. Cards without a name are issued by a number of Russian banks, including Sberbank and Raiffeisenbank, indicated on their official websites.

Talking about salaries, the interlocutors of RBC give similar figures. According to a driver working at a base in the Krasnodar Territory, civilians receive about 60 thousand rubles. per month. An RBC source familiar with the details of the military operation indicates that a PMC fighter can count on 80 thousand rubles. monthly, being at the base in Russia, and up to 500 thousand rubles. plus a premium in the combat zone in Syria. The salary of an employee of a PMC in Syria rarely exceeded 250-300 thousand rubles. per month, the officer of the Ministry of Defense clarifies in a conversation with RBC. He agrees with the minimum threshold of 80 thousand rubles, and estimates the average salary for a private at 150 thousand rubles. plus combat and compensation. With the maximum number of the Wagner Group of 2.5 thousand people, their salary from August 2015 to August 2016 could range from 2.4 billion (with 80 thousand rubles per month) to 7.5 billion rubles. (with monthly payments of 250 thousand rubles).

The cost of equipment for each fighter can reach up to $ 1 thousand, moving and living will cost the same amount per month, according to Chikin from MSG. Thus, the cost of the presence of 2.5 thousand people in Syria, excluding salaries, can reach $ 2.5 million per month, or about 170 million rubles. (with an average annual dollar exchange rate of 67.89 rubles, according to the Central Bank).

The maximum expenditure on food during the Syrian campaign could be 800 rubles. per person per day, estimated Alexander Tsyganok, head of the Center for Military Forecasting of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis. From this estimate, it follows that food for 2.5 thousand fighters could cost up to 2 million rubles.

The main losses from the Russian side in Syria are borne by PMCs, say the interlocutors of RBC, familiar with the details of the operation. Their data on the number of deaths vary. An employee of the Ministry of Defense insists that a total of 27 “privateers” died in the Middle East, one of the former PMC officers says at least a hundred deaths. “From there, every third is ‘two hundredth’, every second is ‘three hundredth,'” says an employee of the base in Molkino (“gruz-200” and “gruz-300” are symbols when transporting the body of a dead and wounded soldier, respectively).

RBC contacted the family of one of the dead PMC fighters, but relatives refused to communicate. Later, several recordings appeared on the social networks of his relatives and friends, in which the actions of RBC correspondents were called a “provocation” and an attempt to tarnish the memory of the murdered. An officer from the Wagner group claims that non-disclosure of working conditions in PMCs is a condition that families receive compensation.

The standard compensation to the relatives of the deceased soldier is up to 5 million rubles, says a source familiar with the structure of the PMC (the same amount is received by relatives of servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces who died during hostilities). But it is not always easy to get them, insists a friend of the “privateer” who died in Syria: often families have to literally knock out funds. An officer of the Ministry of Defense clarifies that for the deceased relative of the family receive 1 million rubles, for wounds the soldiers are paid up to 500 thousand rubles.

Taking into account salaries, supply of the base, accommodation and food, the annual maintenance of the Wagner Group can cost from 5.1 billion to 10.3 billion rubles. one-time spending on equipment – 170 million rubles, compensation to the families of the victims with a minimum assessment of losses – from 27 million rubles.

Foreign PMCs and security companies do not disclose the structure of expenses – from their reporting it is impossible to “pull out” neither the amount of training costs, nor the salary of the fighter, nor the cost of maintaining the group. In the mid-2000s in Iraq, employees of one of the most famous military companies Academi (formerly called Blackwater) received from $ 600 to 1,075 thousand per day, the Washington Post wrote. According to the calculations of the publication, the general of the US Army at the same time received a little less than $ 500 per day. Veterans of the US Marine Corps, engaged in training soldiers in Iraq, could earn up to $ 1 thousand, wrote the Associated Press. CNN estimated the salary of mercenaries a little more modestly – at $ 750: so much was due to fighters at the beginning of the war in Iraq.

Later, the monthly salary of “private entrepreneurs” working in the Middle East could grow to about £ 10 thousand (about $ 16 thousand at the average annual rate), the Guardian pointed out. “In 2009, there was a period of about three months when we lost people every two to three days,” the publication quotes the words of a veteran of the British army, who served at that time under contract in Afghanistan. The total losses of PMCs operating in the Middle East were estimated at dozens of killed and hundreds and thousands of wounded: for example, in 2011, 39 fighters were killed, and 5206 people were injured.

«Syrian Express»

The fighters get to Syria on their own, there is no centralized dispatch, explains one of the mercenaries. But the cargo for the Wagner group is delivered by sea, on the ships of the “Syrian Express”. This name first appeared in the media in 2012: this is the name of the ships supplying the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including military goods.

The composition of the “express” can be divided into three parts: Navy vessels, ships that previously performed civilian flights and then became part of the navy, and chartered bulk carriers belonging to various kinds of companies around the world, says Mikhail Voitenko, creator of the Maritime Bulletin website. It monitors the movement of ships using an automatic information system (AIS), which allows you to identify ships and determine traffic parameters, including the course.

“The supply of military bases takes place with the help of an auxiliary fleet. If there are not enough ships, then the Ministry of Defense hires ordinary commercial ships, but they cannot carry military cargo, “explains an interlocutor familiar with the organization of sea freight. Among the ships that have joined the ranks of the Navy since the spring of 2015, there is a bulk carrier Kazan-60, which, as Reuters wrote, is part of the “express”. Recently, it has changed owners many times: for example, at the end of 2014, under the name “Georgy Agafonov”, the ship was sold by the Ukrainian Danube Shipping Company to the Turkish company 2E Denizcilik SAN. VE TIC.A.S.

The Turks resold it to the British firm Cubbert Business L.P., then, as stated in the letter of 2E Denizcilik to the Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine (a copy is at the disposal of RBC), the owner became the “Russia-based” company ASP. Among the firms associated with Yevgeny Prigozhin, there is a legal entity of the same name, the winner of several auctions for cleaning the facilities of the Ministry of Defense and a participant in one of the tenders for servicing the base in Molkino. In October 2015, the ship became part of the Black Sea Fleet (BSF) of the Russian Navy under the name “Kazan-60”. The command of the Black Sea Fleet did not answer the question of RBC, how the fleet received the vessel.

In total, at least 15 civilian ships were involved in the “Syrian Express”: all of them in the autumn of 2015 followed the route Novorossiysk – Tartus, Voitenko notes, citing AIS data. Basically, the vessels are registered to firms located in Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Greece and Ukraine. Several companies are located in Russia, follows from these services Marinetraffic.com and Fleetphoto.ru.

Voitenko estimates the freight of one civilian ship at $ 4,000 per day, of which $ 2,000 is its maintenance, and $ 1.5 thousand is the cost of fuel and fees. Based on this estimate, the lease of only civilian ships from the “express” for 305 days (September 30 – July 31) could amount to $ 18.3 million, or slightly more than 1.2 billion rubles.

Sensitive interests

In early March 2016, with the support of Russian aviation, Assad’s army launched an operation to liberate Palmyra: the city was recaptured after 20 days of fighting. “All the scattered ISIS gangs that broke out of the encirclement were destroyed by Russian aviation, which did not allow them to leave in the direction of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor,” said Lieutenant General Sergei Rudskoy, head of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff.

PMC fighters played a big role in the liberation of the areas of the historical part of Palmyra, says a former officer of the group. “First, Wagner’s guys work, then Russian ground units come in, then Arabs and cameras,” he says. According to him, Wagner’s detachment is used mainly for offensive in difficult areas. This allows to reduce losses among regular forces in Syria, says the interlocutor in one of the PMCs.

On March 6, 2016, with the support of Russian aviation, bashar al-Assad's army launched an operation to liberate Palmyra, which had been in the hands of Islamic State militants since May 2015. The city was recaptured after almost 20 days.
On March 6, 2016, with the support of Russian aviation, bashar al-Assad’s army launched an operation to liberate Palmyra, which had been in the hands of Islamic State militants since May 2015. The city was recaptured almost 20 days later (Photo: Reuters/Pixstream)

It is not quite correct to call the Wagner Group a private military company, another representative of this market is sure. “The squad does not set itself the task of earning, this is not a business,” he specifies. In the case of the Wagner group, the interests of the state, which needed forces to solve delicate tasks in Syria, coincided, the desire of a group of former servicemen to earn money by performing tasks in the interests of the country, explains the interlocutor of RBC, close to the leadership of the FSB.

“The benefit of PMCs is the opportunity to use them abroad, when the use of regular armed forces is not very appropriate,” said Alexander Khramchikhin, deputy director of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis. He actually repeats the statement of Vladimir Putin. “This (PMC. — RBC) is really a tool for the implementation of national interests without the direct participation of the state, “said Putin, who at that time held the post of head of government, in the spring of 2012.

In the autumn of 2012, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, responsible for the military-industrial complex, spoke out: “We are thinking about whether our money will flow to finance other people’s private military security companies or we will consider the feasibility of creating such companies inside Russia itself and take a step in this direction.”

PMCs are also an opportunity for large businesses to use armed security that will ensure the security of facilities abroad, such as oil pipelines or refineries, said Grinyaev from the Center for Strategic Assessments and Forecasts. To protect its facilities, including in Iraq, LUKOIL in 2004, for example, created the LUKOIL-A agency, and the security of Rosneft’s facilities is provided by a subsidiary of RN-Okhrana.

“For the state, the use of private military companies can be financially profitable only for solving specific problems, but cannot replace the army,” said Vladimir Neelov, an expert at the Center for Strategic Conjuncture. Among the risks of legalizing PMCs, he calls the possible outflow of personnel from among the active military – not only for financial reasons, but also for the sake of career growth.

As for the Wagner PMC, due to the appearance in the media of information about its connection with the base in Molkino, the Ministry of Defense is discussing the option of transferring “privateers”, says an FSB officer. According to him, among the possible options are Tajikistan, Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia. This is confirmed by the interlocutor in the Ministry of Defense. At the same time, he is sure: PMCs will not be disbanded – the unit has proven its effectiveness.

With the participation of Elizaveta SurnachevaThe
authors: Ilya Rozhdestvensky, Anton Baev, Polina Rusyaeva.
Tags: investigation, Syria, mercenaries, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner group

Journal 09, September 2016 Politics, 25 Aug 2016, 09:34

PMCs around the world are a huge business: “privateers” often replace the armed forces. In Russia, they are outlawed. But in Syria, a prototype of Russian PMCs was tested – the Wagner Group, and the authorities are again thinking about legalization.

Read more on RBC:
https://www.rbc.ru/magazine/2016/09/57bac4309a79476d978e850d

(Photo: Yuri Smityuk/TASS)

The military unit on the Molkino farm of the Krasnodar Territory is a regime facility. The 10th Separate Special Forces Brigade of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) of the Ministry of Defense is stationed here, Gazeta. Ru». A few dozen meters from the federal highway “Don” is the first checkpoint on the way to the base. Then the road branches off: to the left – a town belonging to part of the town, to the right – a landfill, explains to the journalist of RBC postovoy at the checkpoint. Behind the range is another checkpoint with guards armed with AK-74s. Behind this checkpoint is the camp of a private military company (PMC), says one of the employees of the military unit.

Archival satellite images from Google Earth show that there was no camp in August 2014. It began to function around the middle of 2015, say two interlocutors of RBC, who worked in this camp and are familiar with its device. These are two dozen tents under the flag of the USSR, surrounded by a small fence with barbed wire, one of them describes the base. On the territory there are several residential barracks, a checkpoint, a canine station, a training complex and a parking lot for vehicles, an employee of a private military company who was there describes the base.

This structure has no official name, the name of its head and revenue are not disclosed, and the very existence of the company, possibly the largest on the market, is not advertised: formally, the activities of PMCs in our country are illegal. RBC magazine figured out what the so-called Wagner PMC is, from what sources and how it is financed and why the business of private military companies may appear in Russia.

Mercenaries and “privateers”

According to Russian laws, a military man can only work for the state. Mercenarism is prohibited: for participation in armed conflicts in the territory of another country, the Criminal Code provides for up to seven years of imprisonment (Article 359), for recruitment, training, financing of a mercenary, “as well as his use in an armed conflict or hostilities” – up to 15 years. There are no other laws regulating the sphere of PMCs in Russia.

In the world, the situation is different: the principles of work of private military and security companies are fixed in the “Montreux Document” adopted in the autumn of 2008. It was signed by 17 countries, including the United States, Great Britain, China, France and Germany (Russia is not one of them). The document allows people who are not in the civil service to provide services for the armed protection of facilities, maintenance of combat complexes, training of military personnel, and so on.

In a 2011 UN report, the annual volume of the private military services market was estimated by the organization’s analysts at $ 20 billion to $ 100 billion, the non-profit organization War on Want in 2016 – at $ 100-400 billion. In 2011, she noted that at the end of the fiscal year, the costs of contracts with private military companies only in Iraq and Afghanistan will exceed $ 206 billion The revenue of the largest PMC in the world – G4S Plc in 2015 amounted to $ 10.5 billion: in Russia this is comparable only to the same indicator of Bashneft and a third more than that of Norilsk Nickel.

Employees of the world's largest private military company G4S in 2010 helped clear mines near Kandahar in Afghanistan
Employees of the world’s largest private military company G4S in 2010 helped clear mines near Kandahar in Afghanistan (Photo: Reuters/Pixstream)

The use of “privateers” is typical for Western countries, where the rejection of large losses is more high, explains Sergey Grinyaev, general director of the Center for Strategic Assessments and Forecasts. Large casualties among the personnel of the armed forces can affect the decision to stop the operation and withdraw troops, as was the case with the special forces involved in the UN peacekeeping operation in Somalia, the expert says. In 1993, during a city battle in Mogadishu, the Americans lost 18 people, about 80 soldiers were wounded, one was captured. This accelerated the withdrawal of the US contingent from the country. Such situations can be avoided if we are not talking about the regular army, but about private military companies, Grinyaev is sure.

Reducing losses through the use of PMC fighters is a common practice used, for example, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2008, the number of employees of private companies in these countries exceeds the number of US military personnel, and since at least 2010, “privateers” account for the main percentage of dead and wounded, according to the Private Security Monitor project of the University of Denver (USA).

Difficulties of legalization

The last attempt to legalize PMCs in Russia was made in March 2016, when deputies from the “Fair Russia” Gennady Nosovko and Oleg Mikheev submitted to the State Duma a draft law on private military security organizations. The document called the goals of such activities “participation in ensuring national security through the performance and provision of military security works and services”, the protection of Russia’s interests outside the country, the promotion of Russian PMCs to world markets, etc. At the same time, according to the bill, such companies were supposed to be prohibited from “directly participating in armed conflicts <…> on the territory of any state.”</…> Licensing of PMCs was to be handled by the Ministry of Defense, to monitor the implementation of the law – the FSB and the Prosecutor General’s Office.

The government opposed the adoption of the law, noting in the review that the bill contradicts Part 5 of Article 13 Constitution: “The establishment and activities of public associations whose goals or actions are aimed at <…> undermining the security of the state, the creation of armed groups are prohibited.”</…> The deputies were not supported by colleagues in the relevant committee, who pointed out that the duties of such companies are not demarcated from the functions of private security companies (CHOPS), departmental security and National Guard troops.

The final decision on the document was not made – its consideration was postponed to the autumn, but the authors of the bill themselves decided to withdraw it. The spring document is Nosovko’s third attempt to legalize PMCs in Russia, while the biography of the deputy himself is in no way connected with the Armed Forces: except that in 2014 he was awarded the medal of the Ministry of Defense “For strengthening the combat commonwealth”. The deputy hopes that he will be able to finalize and re-introduce the document in the autumn. In a conversation with RBC magazine, he said that when discussing the bill at round tables with the participation of relevant departments, the security forces generally supported the initiative, but asked to correct various kinds of shortcomings. “There is no sharp denial, but, for example, representatives of the GRU and the FSB say that now it is not necessary to heat up the situation and open a Pandora’s box,” Nosovko said.

The authorities do not intend to abandon the idea of legalizing PMCs, says an FSB officer familiar with the situation, and confirms the interlocutor in the Ministry of Defense: the issue is being worked out, they say. Despite the absence of a law, there are private military companies in Russia. They do the same work as their counterparts abroad, from escorting ships across the Gulf of Aden near the coast of Somalia, where pirates operate, to guarding sites in Africa and Southeast Asia.

The Russian PMC market is extremely small in volume, explains Boris Chikin, co-owner of the private military company Moran Security Group (MSG). There are no real military companies in Russia, insists Oleg Krinitsyn, the owner of another large PMC, RSB-Group. The main activities of domestic firms are conducted abroad. For example, employees of another large PMC – “Antiterror Center” in the 2000s carried out orders in Iraq, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and other countries.

To facilitate work abroad, Russian PMCs register subsidiaries in offshore companies. In particular, the main founder of MSG with a share of 50% is Neova Holdings Ltd (British Virgin Islands). The owners of Russian PMCs do not disclose the financial side of their business, there are no reports of firms in the SPARK-Interfax database and foreign registers.

“Special tasks”

Russian troops did not participate in a full-scale ground operation in Syria, but in March 2016, the commander of the Russian group in the country, General Alexander Dvornikov, said that certain tasks are carried out by fighters on the ground. “I will not hide the fact that units of our special operations forces (highly mobile troops of the Ministry of Defense) are also operating in Syria. — RBC),” he said in an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta. According to him, the military performed additional reconnaissance of objects for air strikes, was engaged in guiding aircraft to targets in remote areas and solved “other special tasks”

“Special tasks” in Syria were performed by Sergei Chupov, who died there in February 2016, his friend told RBC. According to him, Chupov served in the internal troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but resigned in the early 2000s. This information was confirmed to RBC by another acquaintance of Chupov. The representative of the Ministry of Defense did not comment on the information about the deceased. The Military Prosecutor’s Office of the Southern District, in response to a request from RBC, reported that Chupov was not on the lists of the Russian group in Syria. The interlocutor of RBC, who knew the soldier closely, claims that the veteran of the internal troops, who went through both Chechen campaigns, was in Syria as an employee of a private military company known as the Wagner Group.

Wagner is the call sign of the head of the squad, in fact his name is Dmitry Utkin and he used to serve in the Pskov brigade of the GRU, say four interlocutors of RBC, personally familiar with Wagner. In 2013, Utkin, who had left the ranks of the Armed Forces by that time, left for the Middle East as part of a group of fighters recruited by the Slavic Corps company. This is a subsidiary of Slavonic Corps Limited, registered in Hong Kong, Kommersant wrote. The company was included in the register of legal entities in 2012, its director is listed as a citizen of Russia Anton Andreev.

The heads of the Slavic Corps, Yevgeny Sidorov and Vadim Gusev, former managers of Moran Security Group, promised employees when hiring them that they would guard the oil pipeline and the warehouse in Deir ez-Zor, a city in eastern Syria, Kommersant noted and a source told RBC in MSG. Instead of ensuring the security of energy facilities, 267 “corps” fighters were ordered to support the rebels near the village of as-Sukhna in the province of Homs, the RBC interlocutor notes. Without the necessary equipment and with outdated weapons, they were ambushed by militants of the “Islamic state” (the organization is banned in Russia). In October 2013, the fighters of the “Slavic Corps” left Syria.

In January 2015, Sidorov and Gusev were convicted in Russia under the very article 359 of the Criminal Code and received three years in prison each. The rest of the participants in the events were not brought to justice.

Wagner Group

For the first time, Fontanka wrote about the Wagner group and its participation in the Syrian war in October 2015: with reference to anonymous sources, the publication claimed that former employees of the Slavic Corps were later seen among the “polite people” in the Crimea during the events of February-March 2014, and a little more than a year later – in the south-east of Ukraine, already as an independent detachment. The Participation of the Wagner Group in the battles on the side of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, also citing anonymous sources, was written by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) at the end of 2015. In the same article, WSJ journalists told about the death in the Middle East of nine people from the Wagner group. The Ministry of Defense of Russia called this information “stuffing”.

The base in Molkino was equipped shortly after the completion of the active phase of the Luhansk operation – in mid-2015, recalls one of the officers who worked in the Wagner group. In this camp, fighters are trained before going to Syria, an FSB officer and one of the fighters who served under Wagner explain to RBC.

The issue of creating full-fledged PMCs in Russia has been discussed many times, but a breakthrough in this sense occurred after the Crimean events of 2014, in which the GRU units proved themselves well, said the interlocutor of RBC, close to this organization. It is the GRU that secretly supervises the Wagner group, an officer of the Ministry of Defense and an FSB officer confirmed to RBC, adding that this detachment arose after “the situation in the world escalated.”

In the Middle East, the Wagner group appeared shortly before Russia began to officially deploy its bases in the fall of 2015, says a Defense Ministry officer and confirms a source familiar with the course of the operation. In total, almost 2.5 thousand people were located near Latakia and Aleppo, the operation was led by employees not only of the GRU, but also of the FSB, he adds.

The war in Syria began in the spring of 2011. During the conflict, more than 5 million people became refugees. The fiercest fighting unfolded around Aleppo
The war in Syria began in the spring of 2011. During the conflict, more than 5 million people became refugees. The fiercest fighting unfolded around Aleppo (Photo: Reuters/Pixstream)

Officially, no one announced the recruitment to the Wagner detachment, but the rumor quickly spread to groups on social networks, whose users were actively interested in “how to get into the Wagner PMC.” There was no shortage of applicants: in 2016, from 1,000 to 1,600 PMC employees were in Syria at the same time, depending on the intensity of the situation, says a source familiar with the operation. The Ministry of Defense did not respond to the request of RBC, whether “citizens who are not in the service of the Armed Forces of Russia” are really fighting in Syria, and whether it is true that these fighters are trained at the base in the Krasnodar Territory.

Money to the soldiers of the Wagner group was paid in cash, they were not officially formalized anywhere, and the purchase of weapons and equipment is classified, an officer of the Ministry of Defense explains to RBC and confirms two interlocutors familiar with the course of the operation. According to them, the expenses were taken over by the state and “high-ranking businessmen.” Rbc’s interlocutors refuse to call their names even in an informal conversation with the voice recorders turned off.

“Fontanka” in the summer of 2016 wrote about the connection of one of the entrepreneurs with the Wagner group: the publication claimed that for the past two years Wagner moved around Russia accompanied by people working for the St. Petersburg restaurateur Yevgeny Prigozhin. In the entourage of the commander of the PMC “Fontanka” found the head of the security service of one of prigozhin’s companies Yevgeny Gulyaev and his subordinates.

Prigozhin’s Concord M is one of the main food suppliers for managing the affairs of the President of Russia, and the Concord Food Plant serves Moscow schools. Prigozhin’s firms are practically monopolists in the school feeding market of the capital, as well as one of the largest providers of services for the Ministry of Defense: companies deliver food and are engaged in cleaning in military units.

For private investors, the financing of PMCs is a way to prove their loyalty, explains the interlocutor in the Ministry of Defense, for example, for closer cooperation with the military department. RBC magazine found no evidence that Prigozhin’s firms provided financial support to PMCs. At the same time, if in 2014 the volume of services provided by companies related to the businessman to the Ministry of Defense and its structures amounted to 575 million rubles, then in 2015 the volume of such contracts reached 68.6 billion rubles, follows from the data of SPARK-Marketing.

These contracts make up the lion’s share of all state contracts that 14 companies received (the connection of most of these firms with Prigozhin can be traced to SPARK-Interfax; the rest of the structures are managed by those who worked with the restaurateur at different times, Fontanka wrote). In 2015, the total volume of tenders won by them amounted to 72.2 billion rubles.

Hybrid finance

The cost of maintaining a PMC numbering several thousand people is quite difficult to calculate. The Wagner Group does not pay for the rent of buildings and the site, say two interlocutors of RBC, familiar with the structure of the camp. The state and private units of the camp in the Krasnodar Territory are located, according to Rosreestr, on a single plot of about 250 square kilometers. km There is no information about who is the owner of the land in the database, but several neighboring plots are registered to the territorial forestry department of the Ministry of Defense.

The military department is engaged in the equipment of the training ground. As follows from the documents on the public procurement portal, in the spring of 2015, the Ministry of Defense held a corresponding auction in the amount of 294 million rubles, its winner was JSC “Garrison”, a subsidiary of the Ministry of Defense. The base in Molkino was also re-equipped: 41.7 million rubles were spent on the test site.

The maintenance of the base itself, as well as other military units, is also on the balance sheet of sergei Shoigu’s ministry. Tenders for garbage collection and linen transportation services, sanitary services, cleaning of territories, heat supply are carried out in packages for several dozen or hundreds of military units, grouped by territorial basis. On average, in 2015-2016, the military department spent 14.7 million rubles on one military unit. without taking into account classified contracts, follows from the procurement documentation of six auctions, which mentions the base in the Krasnodar Territory.

In 2015-2016, the Ministry of Defense allocated an average of about 410 thousand rubles for the removal of waste from one part of the Southern Military District: Megaline became the winner of the tender. The co-owners of the company until the end of 2015 were Concord Management and Consulting and Lakhta, which owned 50% each. Until mid-2011, yevgeny Prigozhin was the owner of a 14 percent stake in the first company, and until September 2013 he controlled 80% of Lakhta.

Sanitary maintenance of one military unit of the district in 2015-2016 cost an average of 1.9 million rubles, technical operation of heat supply facilities – 1.6 million rubles. The most expensive item of expenditure for the maintenance of the camp is cleaning. In 2015, the Ministry of Defense allocated an average of 10.8 million rubles for cleaning one part of the Southern District. contracts for cleaning in Molkino were concluded with the Agat company (the company is registered in Lyubertsy, the connection with Prigozhin and his entourage could not be traced).

Unlike the maintenance of databases, contracts for the supply of food in the unit are not posted on the public procurement portal – this information falls under military secrecy, since it allows you to determine the number of fighters. On the website of the Avito.ru in July, an announcement appeared about the hiring of workers in the military canteen in Molkino. The employer is the company “Restaurantservice Plus”. A similar vacancy in May was posted on one of the Krasnodar portals. On the phone number indicated in one of the ads, the RBC correspondent was answered by someone named Alexei, who confirmed that Restaurantservice Plus was looking for workers in the canteen of the military unit. The phone number of this company coincides with the numbers of two firms associated with Prigozhin – “Megaline” and “Concord Management and Consulting”.

Whether the Krasnodar PMC camp is provided from the same state orders as the GRU camp at the same base is not clear. The interlocutor of RBC, familiar with the structure of the unit, claims that the camps are similar in number and size, so the average cost of maintenance is applicable to the base of the Wagner group. Most of all, at the auctions in which the military unit in Molkino is mentioned, firms related to Prigozhin could earn money – Megaline and Teplosintez: these companies in 2015-2016 concluded state contracts for 1.9 billion rubles, follows from the procurement documentation.

Asked if the restaurateur’s companies were involved in funding the Wagner Group, a senior federal official just smiled and replied: “You have to understand, Prigozhin feeds very tasty.” The companies “Restaurantservice Plus”, “Ecobalt”, “Megaline”, “Teplosintez”, “Agat” and “Concord Management” did not respond to the request of RBC.

Price question

If the contracts for the maintenance of the base pass through electronic platforms, then the salary costs of PMC fighters are almost impossible to track: the salary is issued mainly in cash, according to fighters from the Wagner group. Part of the money is transferred to instant issuance cards, on which the name of the owner is not indicated, and they themselves are issued to unauthorized individuals, one fighter specifies and is confirmed by an officer of the Ministry of Defense. Cards without a name are issued by a number of Russian banks, including Sberbank and Raiffeisenbank, indicated on their official websites.

Talking about salaries, the interlocutors of RBC give similar figures. According to a driver working at a base in the Krasnodar Territory, civilians receive about 60 thousand rubles. per month. An RBC source familiar with the details of the military operation indicates that a PMC fighter can count on 80 thousand rubles. monthly, being at the base in Russia, and up to 500 thousand rubles. plus a premium in the combat zone in Syria. The salary of an employee of a PMC in Syria rarely exceeded 250-300 thousand rubles. per month, the officer of the Ministry of Defense clarifies in a conversation with RBC. He agrees with the minimum threshold of 80 thousand rubles, and estimates the average salary for a private at 150 thousand rubles. plus combat and compensation. With the maximum number of the Wagner Group of 2.5 thousand people, their salary from August 2015 to August 2016 could range from 2.4 billion (with 80 thousand rubles per month) to 7.5 billion rubles. (with monthly payments of 250 thousand rubles).

The cost of equipment for each fighter can reach up to $ 1 thousand, moving and living will cost the same amount per month, according to Chikin from MSG. Thus, the cost of the presence of 2.5 thousand people in Syria, excluding salaries, can reach $ 2.5 million per month, or about 170 million rubles. (with an average annual dollar exchange rate of 67.89 rubles, according to the Central Bank).

The maximum expenditure on food during the Syrian campaign could be 800 rubles. per person per day, estimated Alexander Tsyganok, head of the Center for Military Forecasting of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis. From this estimate, it follows that food for 2.5 thousand fighters could cost up to 2 million rubles.

The main losses from the Russian side in Syria are borne by PMCs, say the interlocutors of RBC, familiar with the details of the operation. Their data on the number of deaths vary. An employee of the Ministry of Defense insists that a total of 27 “privateers” died in the Middle East, one of the former PMC officers says at least a hundred deaths. “From there, every third is ‘two hundredth’, every second is ‘three hundredth,'” says an employee of the base in Molkino (“gruz-200” and “gruz-300” are symbols when transporting the body of a dead and wounded soldier, respectively).

RBC contacted the family of one of the dead PMC fighters, but relatives refused to communicate. Later, several recordings appeared on the social networks of his relatives and friends, in which the actions of RBC correspondents were called a “provocation” and an attempt to tarnish the memory of the murdered. An officer from the Wagner group claims that non-disclosure of working conditions in PMCs is a condition that families receive compensation.

The standard compensation to the relatives of the deceased soldier is up to 5 million rubles, says a source familiar with the structure of the PMC (the same amount is received by relatives of servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces who died during hostilities). But it is not always easy to get them, insists a friend of the “privateer” who died in Syria: often families have to literally knock out funds. An officer of the Ministry of Defense clarifies that for the deceased relative of the family receive 1 million rubles, for wounds the soldiers are paid up to 500 thousand rubles.

Taking into account salaries, supply of the base, accommodation and food, the annual maintenance of the Wagner Group can cost from 5.1 billion to 10.3 billion rubles. one-time spending on equipment – 170 million rubles, compensation to the families of the victims with a minimum assessment of losses – from 27 million rubles.

Foreign PMCs and security companies do not disclose the structure of expenses – from their reporting it is impossible to “pull out” neither the amount of training costs, nor the salary of the fighter, nor the cost of maintaining the group. In the mid-2000s in Iraq, employees of one of the most famous military companies Academi (formerly called Blackwater) received from $ 600 to 1,075 thousand per day, the Washington Post wrote. According to the calculations of the publication, the general of the US Army at the same time received a little less than $ 500 per day. Veterans of the US Marine Corps, engaged in training soldiers in Iraq, could earn up to $ 1 thousand, wrote the Associated Press. CNN estimated the salary of mercenaries a little more modestly – at $ 750: so much was due to fighters at the beginning of the war in Iraq.

Later, the monthly salary of “private entrepreneurs” working in the Middle East could grow to about £ 10 thousand (about $ 16 thousand at the average annual rate), the Guardian pointed out. “In 2009, there was a period of about three months when we lost people every two to three days,” the publication quotes the words of a veteran of the British army, who served at that time under contract in Afghanistan. The total losses of PMCs operating in the Middle East were estimated at dozens of killed and hundreds and thousands of wounded: for example, in 2011, 39 fighters were killed, and 5206 people were injured.

«Syrian Express»

The fighters get to Syria on their own, there is no centralized dispatch, explains one of the mercenaries. But the cargo for the Wagner group is delivered by sea, on the ships of the “Syrian Express”. This name first appeared in the media in 2012: this is the name of the ships supplying the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including military goods.

The composition of the “express” can be divided into three parts: Navy vessels, ships that previously performed civilian flights and then became part of the navy, and chartered bulk carriers belonging to various kinds of companies around the world, says Mikhail Voitenko, creator of the Maritime Bulletin website. It monitors the movement of ships using an automatic information system (AIS), which allows you to identify ships and determine traffic parameters, including the course.

“The supply of military bases takes place with the help of an auxiliary fleet. If there are not enough ships, then the Ministry of Defense hires ordinary commercial ships, but they cannot carry military cargo, “explains an interlocutor familiar with the organization of sea freight. Among the ships that have joined the ranks of the Navy since the spring of 2015, there is a bulk carrier Kazan-60, which, as Reuters wrote, is part of the “express”. Recently, it has changed owners many times: for example, at the end of 2014, under the name “Georgy Agafonov”, the ship was sold by the Ukrainian Danube Shipping Company to the Turkish company 2E Denizcilik SAN. VE TIC.A.S.

The Turks resold it to the British firm Cubbert Business L.P., then, as stated in the letter of 2E Denizcilik to the Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine (a copy is at the disposal of RBC), the owner became the “Russia-based” company ASP. Among the firms associated with Yevgeny Prigozhin, there is a legal entity of the same name, the winner of several auctions for cleaning the facilities of the Ministry of Defense and a participant in one of the tenders for servicing the base in Molkino. In October 2015, the ship became part of the Black Sea Fleet (BSF) of the Russian Navy under the name “Kazan-60”. The command of the Black Sea Fleet did not answer the question of RBC, how the fleet received the vessel.

In total, at least 15 civilian ships were involved in the “Syrian Express”: all of them in the autumn of 2015 followed the route Novorossiysk – Tartus, Voitenko notes, citing AIS data. Basically, the vessels are registered to firms located in Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Greece and Ukraine. Several companies are located in Russia, follows from these services Marinetraffic.com and Fleetphoto.ru.

Voitenko estimates the freight of one civilian ship at $ 4,000 per day, of which $ 2,000 is its maintenance, and $ 1.5 thousand is the cost of fuel and fees. Based on this estimate, the lease of only civilian ships from the “express” for 305 days (September 30 – July 31) could amount to $ 18.3 million, or slightly more than 1.2 billion rubles.

Sensitive interests

In early March 2016, with the support of Russian aviation, Assad’s army launched an operation to liberate Palmyra: the city was recaptured after 20 days of fighting. “All the scattered ISIS gangs that broke out of the encirclement were destroyed by Russian aviation, which did not allow them to leave in the direction of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor,” said Lieutenant General Sergei Rudskoy, head of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff.

PMC fighters played a big role in the liberation of the areas of the historical part of Palmyra, says a former officer of the group. “First, Wagner’s guys work, then Russian ground units come in, then Arabs and cameras,” he says. According to him, Wagner’s detachment is used mainly for offensive in difficult areas. This allows to reduce losses among regular forces in Syria, says the interlocutor in one of the PMCs.

On March 6, 2016, with the support of Russian aviation, bashar al-Assad's army launched an operation to liberate Palmyra, which had been in the hands of Islamic State militants since May 2015. The city was recaptured after almost 20 days.
On March 6, 2016, with the support of Russian aviation, bashar al-Assad’s army launched an operation to liberate Palmyra, which had been in the hands of Islamic State militants since May 2015. The city was recaptured almost 20 days later (Photo: Reuters/Pixstream)

It is not quite correct to call the Wagner Group a private military company, another representative of this market is sure. “The squad does not set itself the task of earning, this is not a business,” he specifies. In the case of the Wagner group, the interests of the state, which needed forces to solve delicate tasks in Syria, coincided, the desire of a group of former servicemen to earn money by performing tasks in the interests of the country, explains the interlocutor of RBC, close to the leadership of the FSB.

“The benefit of PMCs is the opportunity to use them abroad, when the use of regular armed forces is not very appropriate,” said Alexander Khramchikhin, deputy director of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis. He actually repeats the statement of Vladimir Putin. “This (PMC. — RBC) is really a tool for the implementation of national interests without the direct participation of the state, “said Putin, who at that time held the post of head of government, in the spring of 2012.

In the autumn of 2012, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, responsible for the military-industrial complex, spoke out: “We are thinking about whether our money will flow to finance other people’s private military security companies or we will consider the feasibility of creating such companies inside Russia itself and take a step in this direction.”

PMCs are also an opportunity for large businesses to use armed security that will ensure the security of facilities abroad, such as oil pipelines or refineries, said Grinyaev from the Center for Strategic Assessments and Forecasts. To protect its facilities, including in Iraq, LUKOIL in 2004, for example, created the LUKOIL-A agency, and the security of Rosneft’s facilities is provided by a subsidiary of RN-Okhrana.

“For the state, the use of private military companies can be financially profitable only for solving specific problems, but cannot replace the army,” said Vladimir Neelov, an expert at the Center for Strategic Conjuncture. Among the risks of legalizing PMCs, he calls the possible outflow of personnel from among the active military – not only for financial reasons, but also for the sake of career growth.

As for the Wagner PMC, due to the appearance in the media of information about its connection with the base in Molkino, the Ministry of Defense is discussing the option of transferring “privateers”, says an FSB officer. According to him, among the possible options are Tajikistan, Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia. This is confirmed by the interlocutor in the Ministry of Defense. At the same time, he is sure: PMCs will not be disbanded – the unit has proven its effectiveness.

With the participation of Elizaveta SurnachevaThe
authors: Ilya Rozhdestvensky, Anton Baev, Polina Rusyaeva.
Tags: investigation, Syria, mercenaries, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner group

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