Marat Gabidullin, former mercenary of the Wagner Group, in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris. Photo: REUTERS
Marat Gabidullin, former warrior of Wagner’s grouppublish “Moi, Marat, ex-commander of the Wagner army” (I, Marat, former commander of Wagner’s army, edited in France by Michel Lafon). Recruited by Wagner’s military company in 2015, he slammed the door, disgustedin 2019, and decided to tell his story to be published in 2022 in Russia.
This is a unique testimony. Marat Gabidullin was the first to say the battles waged by the Wagner group in the Donbas./strong>, in Ukraine, as well as in Syria and Africa. Its existence private military company this continues to be denied by the Russian authorities, who officially ban mercenaries.
Are you afraid for your safety?
-My answer to this question is always very simple: you have always had to be afraid. I have now crossed the Rubicon. I want as many people as possible to know how this military company works from the inside. The world must know the truth, see Wagner’s true face. I know this face is sometimes unattractive, with nothing easy. But Wagner’s image is often demonized in the press. And for good reason.
-What does this mean?
-A few years ago, everyone was talking about a video about the execution of two Syrian militiamen. Those responsible for this enforcement were identified as Wagner’s mercenaries. And I think they are.
-Do you know them? Are you with them in Syria?
-Don’t. I don’t know them personally. All the evidence shows that these mercenaries were part of battalions formed in 2017 on the march, before a major military operation in Akerbat. Of these new recruits, few have military experience.
-Have you confirmed that members of the Wagner company committed war crimes in Syria?
-I, or my comrades, or the soldiers under my leadership did nothing. We have no civilian blood on our hands. But you have to understand something. Who is a Wagner soldier? He was an irresponsible man. It has no legal existence, no clear status. He acts with impunity. He will not be held accountable for his actions, for his crimes in court. So it all depends on your personality. But I want to emphasize here that these are often men with military experience and no psychological problems. They have the ability to make good decisions during the war.
-But those who joined Wagner’s army, those with no military experience, where did they come from?
-Hard to say. Especially now during the war in Ukraine. I think they are not classified, with no strict criteria to go to the front.
-I mean, at the moment, Wagner is still taking men to send to Ukraine?
-Yes, the troops are trained in fighting in the Donbas.
-Your testimony is very delicate. Three Russian journalists were killed in Central African Republic when trying to investigate Wagner. And you tell us secrets with your face. Why did Wagner let him speak?
I did not ask permission from anyone. I just think it’s important to talk about it, because the issue of private military companies is very important for Russia.
-Did you receive any threats after your testimony?
-Right now I feel no danger because I am far from Russia. But the knives there will probably assess me.
The relationship with the Kremlin
-What relationship does the Wagner company have with the Kremlin and the Russian army?
-Russian law prohibits not only the work of mercenaries, but also the possession of automatic weapons by an individual. But those companies do exist. This means that these companies are protected by the state.
The powerful Russian businessman Evgenii Prigozhin, called “Putin’s cook”. Photo: AP
-Who created the Wagner company? Was it an initiative of the powerful Evgenii Prigozhin, who was called “Putin’s cook” and who he knew personally?
-I don’t want to mention names here, I don’t see the point. But the procedure was simple: there was someone willing to act, with an entrepreneurial spirit, very close to the Tsar with a commercial project abroad. He proposed this project to the tsar and asked him for money and means. The tsar agreed and gave him what he needed, but asked him to advance his country’s political interests beyond its borders.
-In your opinion, is the role of Wagner’s army in Syria enough?
-We must not forget that in Syria we are fighting the organization of the Islamic State, the plague of the 21st century. But I understand that by fighting one beast, we allow another beast, Bashar al-Assad, to stay in power. He was a less violent and less dangerous beast, but he was still a beast who caused so much suffering to his people. While his army is weak and ineffective.
-In your book, you explain that you and your colleagues are on the front line. More than Russian army soldiers.
-Mercenaries won the war in Syria. All major military interventions were carried out by us, not by the regular army. Catching Palmyra, of Akerbat, that’s us! Very revealing what happened in Akerbat. We did all the work and then we were ordered to leave the city. It was then that the Russian army entered the city with the journalists. Soldiers, followed by cameras, liberated a city that had already been liberated.
-And when you went to Ukraine in 2015, it was not to fight the Islamic State group. What is your mission and why did you accept it?
-I was a victim of Russian propaganda, I shared their ideas. We are told that the Nazis who seized power in kyiv threatened the Donbas. that we need to save “the world of Russia”. I thought it was necessary.
“Who do you think commands Wagner’s army?” Russian generals, officers?
-Of course, and that is normal. They cooperated with the command center of the Russian army. Otherwise, it will not be possible on the ground, the troops will never make decisions for themselves.
-You left the Wagner company in 2019. Were you offered to participate in the current war in Ukraine?
-They won’t let me go back to Wagner, I’m persona non grata for them. But in September, another private military company contacted me. Once I realized I was going to fight Ukraine, I told them I couldn’t. This is against my belief, I honestly told you.
-But in 2015, when you went to Ukraine, didn’t it bother you?
-Yes, but my mission in Lugansk had a huge impact on me. The two months I spent in Ukraine showed me that in Russia they lied to us a lot, that the propaganda did not correspond to reality. And I even wanted to leave Wagner after 2015. But they offered me to go to Syria, a distant Arab country I didn’t know. Fighting Ukrainians, my countrymen, is not the same as fighting people I don’t know. So I kept going, even making money.
-How much did they pay you?
-At that time, the price was 80,000 rubles (about 1,200 euros) during training. During the war, 180,000 rubles per month (2,600 euros), and if you participate in the battle is 240,000 rubles (3,700 euros).
-What is your status here in France as a veteran of Wagner, an organization often considered illegal by the European Union?
-Right now I don’t have a residence permit, I’m just a tourist. But if I feel there is danger for me in Russia, I can stay. I am not ashamed. I have not committed any act for which I am criminally responsible.
By Denis Strelkov, RFI