Russia is secretly using mercenaries to combat rebels and U.S. forces on the ground in Syria on behalf of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Sky News reveals, citing young Russians who claim they were hired to fight in the Middle Eastern country by a private military company ran by a Nazi aficionado.
The United States is backing some Syrian rebels who have been previously targeted by Russia.
Two young Russians, identified by the noms de guerre of Alexander and Dmitry, related their mercenary experience in Syria to Sky News.
“It’s 50-50,” declared Alexander, noting that he was lucky to be alive. “Most people who go there for the money end up dead. Those who fight for ideals, to fight against the Americans, American special-forces, some ideology — they have a better chance of survival.”
“Approximately 500 to 600 people [mercenaries] have died there,” added Dmitry. “No one will ever find out about them… that’s the scariest thing. No one will ever know.”
Although the Russian constitution reportedly prohibits the use of private military companies, at least one identified as Wagner is operating in Syria and elsewhere, according to an analyst.
Wagner is reportedly run by a Nazi fanatic.
“The company has recruited hundreds of men online, by posting temporary advertisements in military-themed chat rooms on one popular Russian website,” notes Sky News.
Recruits are reportedly paid nearly $3,900 per month to fight Syrian rebels, including Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) jihadists, in support of Russia’s ally Assad.
Sky News reports:
Other than a limited number of ‘instructors and military advisers’, Russian officials have repeatedly stated that they do not need to put ‘boots on the ground‘.
The Russian narrative of low-cost conflict has been seriously challenged however by a group of young Russian men who claim that their country’s involvement in Syria is far more extensive — and more costly — than anyone in President Putin’s administration is prepared to admit.
These individuals told Sky News that they were recruited by a highly secretive private military company called ‘Wagner’ and flown to Syria aboard Russian military transport planes.
Alexander described the training as “intense,” adding:
During the storming of Palmyra [in Syria], we were used as cannon fodder. You could say that. Reconnaissance went forward first so they could observe and report. I knew three in that group — two died before they got to the city. From my assault company, 18 died. After us, those chickens from Assad’s army followed and finished the job but we did most of the work.
Wagner is reportedly run by a former Russian special forces soldier known to his subordinates as Nikolai Utkin.
Citing the St Petersburg-based newspaper Fontanka, Sky News points out that Utkin is “an aficionado of the aesthetics and ideology of the Nazi German Third Reich.”
“His nom-de-guerre – Wagner – is thought to be a tribute to Hitler’s favorite composer,” adds the news outlet.
Russia has repeatedly described its intervention in Syria as an aerial operation.
In fact, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned foreign countries in February that the deployment of ground troops to Syria could fuel a “world war.”
Sky News adds:
He [Medvedev] seems to have excluded the use of Russian mercenaries from that calculation, however — although analysts are not surprised.
The deployment of military contractors is consistent with the Russian take on ‘hybrid-war,’ according to military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer.
The analyst said:
Obviously (Wagner) does exist. These kind of ‘volunteers’ do appear in different war zones, where the Russian government wants them to appear. So first in Crimea, then in Donbass, now in Syria. But they have not been legalized up till now.
Alexander and Dmitry said there were joined by more than 1,400 men.