Russia’s use of mercenaries in hybrid warfare is well-documented. However, there has been no official Russian acknowledgement of large numbers of Russian ground troops fighting in Syria. SkyNews was able to interview two men anonymously, called Alexander and Dmitry, who described a large training program for a mercenary army trained in Russia and flown to the Syrian theater. They also described large numbers of Russian deaths.
“It’s 50-50,” said Alexander (not his real name). “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 have died there,” claimed Dmitry. “No one will ever find out about them…. that’s the scariest thing. No one will ever know.”
Sky News obtained a record of a conversation between one recruit and a Wagner agent. It read:
Recruit: I heard that Wagner is looking for guys. I was in the army in ….. division.
Wagner: What sort of physical shape are you in?
Recruit: I can run 10km. I can do 20 chin ups.
Wagner: Can you do 3km in 13 minutes?
Recruit: For sure! In the army I was doing 11km in 40 minutes.
Wagner: Do you have any problems with the law, debts?
Recruit: I have a problem with money. I want to buy an apartment.
Wagner: Do you have a valid passport for travelling?
Recruit: Yes, sure.
Wagner: Ok, come to Molkino. You have a high chance of being selected.
“If the person hasn’t been the army, he is trained from level zero. They’re taught to be infantrymen – the usual cannon fodder. If the person has served in the artillery, reconnaissance, assault brigades – his skills are polished…. they teach you how to drive and use absolutely all the equipment they have.”
“We arrived at night at the airport,” he said. “What is it called? Hmay? Hymeem? Hhmemeen? (Khmeimim). Then we were put in trucks. To be honest I was scared. I don’t have a strong build and I wasn’t very good at the drills.”
“During the storming of Palmyra, 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.”
“Who will ever tell you about this? Sometimes the bodies are cremated but the papers say ‘they’re missing’. Sometimes the documents say the soldier was killed in Donbass (eastern Ukraine). Sometimes they say ‘car accident’ and so on,” claimed Alexander.
“Sometimes they are buried, sometimes they are not,” he said. “Sometimes they just dig a hole. It depends on how the commanders feel towards the person.”