Illia Ponomarenko – Kyiv Post – October 7, 2017
Ukraine’s SBU security service has assembled evidence of the involvement of Russian private military company Wagner in hostilities in eastern Ukraine and will give it to prosecutors, the agency’s head, Vasyl Grytsak, claimed during a briefing on Oct. 7.
“A net of agents, as well as operation-technical activities and open sources, were used for collecting information,” the SBU chief added.
As many as 1,578 mercenaries taking part in the alleged private army have been identified, he said.
According to earlier investigations by the Wall Street Journal, the informal company was founded in 2014 by Dmitriy Utkin, a Russian national and retired lieutenant colonel of Russian special forces going by the codename “Wagner.” The mercenary team was reported to have participated in fighting against Ukrainian forces in Donbas in 2014-2015, later switching its activities to supporting Russian military intervention in Syria.
The media outlet Fontanka reported that the private military company mostly referred as Wagner group is directly sponsored by the Kremlin, and its mercenaries are trained at the 10th Spetznaz Brigade in the town of Molkino in Russia’s Krasnodar Region.
Nevertheless, Russian Ministry of Defense consistently denies sponsoring private armies, including the Wagner group. Nevertheless, Dmitriy Utkin and his alleged high-ranking subordinates were spotted by Russian media during a ceremonial meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Kremlin in December 2016.
The SBU service is ready to file the charge papers on Dmitriy Utkin to Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s office on Oct. 9, Grytsak said.
According to the SBU report, the Wagner mercenaries had been initially deployed for fighting in Eastern Ukraine on May 21, 2014, just half a month after the so-called anti-terror operation had been launched in the region amid the violent disorders.
During the next months, 72 of the identified militants participated in the battle of Luhansk airport, and 15 of them were killed, Grytsak said. In particular, the Wagner group was responsible for downing the Ukrainian Il-76 military airlift, in which 49 Ukrainian army servicemen were killed on June 14, 2014, according to the official.
Furthermore, other 205 militants participated in the battle of Debaltseve in January-February 2015, Grytsak said, adding that 51 of them were killed and that all of them were identified. Besides, another 36 militants were killed later amid further fighting against Ukrainian troops along the Donbas separation line.
The company’s military campaigns in Ukraine and Syria are funded from Russia’s unpublished state budget assets, and in 2017, its funding was increased by 185 million roubles ($3.1 million).
Some 40 Ukrainian nationals now serve at the Wagner group, however, the rest 95 percent of the personnel are Russian citizens, the official said.
Moreover, since Russia has issued on Dec. 28, 2016, a legislation amendment allowing to deploy civilians for counter-terror activities outside of Russia with a status equal to the military, Ukrainian law enforcers qualify the Wagner mercenaries as official Russian military servicemen, Grytsak claimed.