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A Russian Wagner Group mercenary defected to a founding member of NATO

wagner group

Andrey Medvedev, a 26-year-old former commander for the Russian paramilitary company the Wagner Group illegally crossed into Norway sometime in January 2023. He had been hiding out in Russia for two months before making the crossing. He was arrested by Norwegian officials but requested asylum shortly after his arrest. 

The Wagner Group has been a central force during some of the most pivotal battles in Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. Medvedev allegedly claims to have been a witness to the Wagner Group’s forces illegally executing Ukrainian prisoners captured by Russian forces in the country. 

Medvedev crossed into Norway along the country’s shared border with Russia, near the Pasvikdalen Valley in the northernmost area of the country. He crossed shortly before 2 a.m. local time, was arrested and detained by Norwegian border guards. He then asked for asylum. Border guards would not confirm why or even that the man they captured was Medvedev, only that a man had been detained. 

Medvedev’s Norwegian lawyer Brynjulf Risnes, told the BBC that he is being held in Oslo on charges of illegally entering the country and that he deserted after witnessing war crimes in Ukraine. Russian human rights group, who helped Medvedev escape from Russia, confirmed his identity. 

He has been moved out of police custody and into a secret safe house. If he is granted asylum by the Norwegian government, the charges against him will be dropped. It is the first known case of a Wagner Group mercenary defecting to the West. 

“He has declared that he is willing to speak about his experiences in the Wagner Group to people who are investigating war crimes,” Risnes said.

Medvedev told police he was a former commander in charge of 30-40 Wagner Group soldiers in Ukraine. He is a veteran of the Russian military who later served time in prison between 2017 and 2018. He first joined the Wagner Group in 2022 on a four-month contract but deserted in July 2022  after witnessing a number of human rights abuses and war crimes during his time in the Ukraine conflict.

In November 2022, Medvedev was informed by the group that his contract was being extended indefinitely. He fled to Russia, where he evaded authorities for two months before making his way north to the Norwegian border. Russian border guards noticed his tracks in the snow and informed their Norwegian counterparts that someone might be trying to cross illegally. 

wagner group founding member crossed into norway
Treriksrøysa marks the intersection of the Norway–Russia border, the Finland–Norway border and the Finland–Russia border.

After successfully making his way into the NATO-allied country, Medvedev sought out local settlements for help. When the border guards arrived to arrest him, he went willingly. 

Before making his escape from Russia, he filmed videos with, stating he was ready to reveal everything he knew about the Wagner Group and its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

He also claimed Russian and Wagner Group losses were high in the fighting against Ukraine, especially after Russian prisoners were sent to the front lines to fight the war. He alleged that Wagner Group troops mistreated the Russian prisoners and even shot them illegally. Prigozhin told the BBC that Medvedev was an employee, but did not address the criminal allegations. No media outlet has been able to independently verify Medvedev’s allegations.