In Donbass, Ukraine, and then in Syria, Aleksandre Slodiev worked for several years in the Wagner Group. The Russian paramilitary agency, created in 2014 to house ex-mercenaries seeking political asylum in France, has been sought out and equipped by Russian authorities since its inception. “I was there when this system was created”Alexander Zlodeev, 53, says AFP met him on Monday at a reception center for political asylum seekers on the site of Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport.
After arriving in France on October 12, this thin man with flashing eyes and short gray hair, who was authorized to enter the territory on Thursday, remembers joining Wagner’s group between 2014 and 2015, when the conflict erupted, the Donbass against Ukrainian loyalist troops. Russian support for separatist forces.
At the time, he was one of the organizers of the Russian March, an annual gathering of, according to him, far-right or monarchist groups. AFP could not verify the veracity of his statements.
“In the Donbass, in the Lugansk region, we received information that Russians were being killed for speaking Russian. So we went to protect the Russians. We proposed to integrate Wagner”.
He assures him, however, that he does not fight: “I worked at headquarters, in front of the computer, in the office responsible for troop management”He says.
Wagner, who has been documented in recent years in Syria, Libya, Ukraine, the Central African Republic and Mali, is seen by his critics as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s shadow army, advancing Moscow’s interests by supplying fighters but also military instructors and advisers. .
The group has been accused of numerous abuses – particularly against civilians – by the UN, Western countries and NGOs.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman close to the Kremlin, admitted in late September that he founded the paramilitary group in 2014. “Pillar” Defending Russian interests, Moscow has always denied links to paramilitary groups.
“This organization was created by the Ministry of Defense. (…) The GRU (Russian military intelligence, editor’s note) handed over Wagner to Prigozhin”Mr. explained it. Slodiev insists bluntly“There is no organization outside the borders of Russia that solves certain problems through the military”.
In Wagner’s early days, “There were trained people who knew what they were doing. Professional soldiers, some who had fought in Chechnya, former officers of the Ministry of Defense.”Mr. Slodiev recalled.
“We got all the military uniforms directly from the warehouses of the special services of the GRU. We got good uniforms.”As well as salaries, in cash, will be paid by the GRU, he assures.
A few months later, he was sent to Syria, where Wagner, in close cooperation with Russian forces, took part in heavy fighting, this time against the Islamic State group, where he suffered heavy losses.
Assigned to Wagner’s staff, he claims to be in regular contact with Prigogine. “In Syria, when Palmyra was first captured, I spoke to him on the phone. The losses were high. He called. At headquarters, this kind of information needs to be known minute by minute, second by second.”He says.
It is worth noting that tensions arose at this time against the backdrop of a struggle for influence between Prigogine and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu: “When Wagner first liberated Palmyra, Putin praised Wagner, Shoigu did not, and then the conflicts began”Slodiev says, adding that “Distribution became very poor and weapons became very scarce”.
But the Wagner adventure was Mr. “I often repeat that the most losses (…) happened to the high command at headquarters, and I was dismissed”He says.
According to his French lawyer, contacted by AFP, the former mercenary left the company in 2017 and became close to rival Alexei Navalny, a leading figure against President Putin and a staunch activist in the fight against corruption, now imprisoned. He was granted political asylum in France in 2003 before returning to Russia in 2010.
His candid take on Ukraine war: Putin unlikely to win…
Today’s speaker “Against War” In Ukraine he says he campaigned on social media against the Russian invasion, but to little effect: “I can’t fight inside Russia, that’s why I decided to leave”.
to France Inter, Mr. Zlodeev also commented on the war in Ukraine from a military perspective. According to him, Putin is unlikely to win the fight. “No: there’s no way the Russians could win this battle today! Even with Wagner’s men. To win, Wagner would have to multiply the number of fighters by the hundreds.”He explains.
If the ex-mercenary Wagner recognized the team’s performance, “War Dogs” WHO “Knows how to fight”, he assures that the group is now weakened. Some units of the group, according to him, would have been lost “80% of their men” And “Russian troops are currently suffering very heavy losses.” Instead of dead fighters, Mr. Wagner’s group is now hiring people who don’t have much military experience. Slodiev says.