Commanders from the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC) have spoken to the media under conditions of anonymity and provided information on the PMC’s activity in Syria.
The PMC’s Syrian campaign began in 2015. The Wagner Group carries out military assignments, and numbers roughly 2,000 mercenaries, the unnamed commanders claim. The PMC is seconded by the Karpaty detachment, which is made up of 300 cossacks with Ukrainian citizenship. One commander claimed that there may be as many as 8,000 Russians fighting alongside the Syrian government forces, Radio Liberty reports.
“The contracts with fighters consist of prospecting, work on oil fields, but with a caveat: work must be done in a combat region, and you must be ready to take up a weapon,” the sources claim.
New recruits must be at least 25 years of age, they must not have a criminal history or have worked with “competing organizations”. Chechens are reportedly “categorically not accepted”.
“The Russians fight the best of all. I have seen how the Chechens in Syria fight. If a real Dzhigit sees there is an opportunity to back out, and no one from his home village will find out, then he will do it,” one of the sources remarked.
There is also a consultation with a psychologist.
“The psychologist can ask questions – How long will you think before killing? Whether you can kill – they merely check how much of a fighter you are. Because there are some who intend to earn millions, but when they arrive, in their first combat, they say – No, I don’t need money, take me back,” one of the PMC members is cited as saying.
Wagner PMC fighters fly to the Khmeimim airbase on charter planes from Rostov on Don or Mozdok, others arrive on large landing ships.
The missions are assigned by the Syrian command, but work is coordinated with the Russian Aerospace Forces.
“In general the cooperation is clear, at times it is even pleasant, how nicely the aviation and the artillery offer support,” one of the commanders commented.
He said that offensives are begun by the aviation and artillery, which “work on” the necessary region, after which PMC fighters begin their assault. The PMC does not engage in full-fledged combat, one commander noted, but only “expands the zones of influence, takes control of territories, generally oil and gas deposits, and protects these territories”. Occasionally they need to fight militants from neighboring positions.
The sources did not state the total number of casualties. One source said that 400 Russians had been killed in Syria since 2015, but sometimes the bodies are allegedly not returned to Russia, since according to the contract the fighters can be buried at the location of their death.
“There is a rumor that Wagner is a ‘slaughterhouse’ project. Where to put the militia [from the Donbas]? The ideological first-wave idiots? They are strange people, this catalyst society, they can stir things up like yeast. But the interests of the country are also supported here, and there is less yeast left,” one of the commanders remarked.
At the start of the Syrian campaign, Wagner’s fighters had Russian T-90 and T-72 tanks, armored transports, as well as Vodnik, Vystrel, Rys and Tigr armored vehicles. However, the PMC’s supply “drastically deteriorated” in 2016, allegedly due to a dispute between Yevgeny Prigozhin and Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu.
“They took away the tanks and the other weapons. Everything they previously issued, they took away. Wagner is now fighting with Syrian weapons,” one commander said.
Wagner fighters reportedly do not take prisoners and do not let themselves be captured.
“The war there is unceremonious, everyone understands perfectly well that being captured means death by torture,” one of the sources noted.
With respect to convoy that was hit in a US air strike, they said that 200 casualties is an exaggerated figure. At most 15 were killed, others were wounded, they claim.
The Wagner PMC is a Russian private military company whose mercenaries also fought in the Donbas in support of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. In June 2017, the Wagner PMC was included on the US sanction list.