A former commander in Russia’s Wagner private military company has fled to Norway and is seeking asylum after crossing that country’s arctic border, according to Norwegian police and a Russian activist.
Andrei Medvedev, in an interview with a Russian activist who helps people seek asylum abroad, said that he feared for his life after refusing to renew his service with Wagner.
Medvedev said that after completing his contract, and refusing to serve another, he was afraid of being executed in the same manner of Yevgeny Nuzhin – a defector from Wagner who was killed on camera with a sledgehammer.
“We were just thrown to fight like cannon fodder,” he told Vladimir Osechkin, head of Gulagu.net, a human rights advocacy group, in a conversation published on YouTube.
A spokesperson for Norway’s Police Security Service confirmed to CNN Monday that Medvedev was in Norway and seeking asylum.
“This is so far a local police investigation,” Eirik Veum told CNN. “But the Security Service, we are informed, and are following the investigation of course.”
The mercenary group, headed by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, has emerged as a key player in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – recently doing much of the fighting in the small eastern town of Soledar.
The group is often described as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s off-the-books troops. It has expanded its footprint globally since its creation in 2014, and has been accused of war crimes in Africa, Syria and Ukraine.
Medvedev said that he crossed the border near the Russian town of Nikel, in a phone call from Norway with Osechkin, which was published online.
The account aligns with that of the Finnmark Police District, who without naming Medvedev, said that it made an “undramatic” arrest of a man in Pasvik on the Norwegian side of the border at 1.58 a.m. on Friday, January 13.
In his own account, Medvedev said that he crossed the border and approached the first house he could find.
“I told a local woman in broken English about my situation and asked for help,” he told Osechkin in the phone call. “While I was on the road, I was approached by the border force and police. I was taken to a department, where I was questioned and charged with illegal crossing. I explained to them everything and told them why I did it.”
“It was a miracle I managed to get here,” he said.
Medvedev had previously tried to cross into Finland twice and failed, Osechkin told CNN Monday.
The head of Wagner, Prigozhin, confirmed on Telegram Monday that Medvedev had served in his company, and said that he “should have been prosecuted for attempting to mistreat prisoners.”
‘Afraid for my life’
In a December conversation with Osechkin, which was published on YouTube, Medvedev denied that he had committed any crimes in Ukraine.
“I signed a contract with the group on the 6th of July 2022. I had been appointed commander of the first squad of the 4th platoon of the 7th assault detachment,” he recalled. “When the prisoners started arriving, the situation in Wagner really changed. They stopped treating us like humans. We were just thrown to fight like cannon fodder.”
“Every week they sent more prisoners to us. We lost a lot of men. Casualties were high. We would lose 15 to 20 men just in our platoon. As far as I know, a majority of them were buried in LPR [Luhansk People’s Republic] and declared missing. If you are declared missing, there is no insurance pay-out to the relatives.”
He claimed that prisoners were “shot dead for refusing to fight, or betrayal.”
“I am afraid for my life,” he said in December. “I did not commit any crime. I have refused to participate in maneuvers of Yevgeny Prigozhin.”
Osechkin told CNN Monday that he began helping Medvedev after being approached by a friend at the end of November.
Prigozhin, he explained, had ordered all contracts to be automatically renewed starting in November. When Medvedev refused to renew, he was beaten, Osechkin claimed.
“Andrei decided to leave Wagner,” Osechkin told CNN. “Once this happened, he became wanted by security services of Wagner and Russian special services. There was a threat to his life.”
“He was afraid he will be executed in the same manner as Yevgeny Nuzhin – with a sledgehammer. We, as human-rights defenders, decided to help him and protect his life.”
Osechkin said that he helped Medvedev with groceries, clothes, and a telephone.
“We are not trying to justify his actions in relation to his participation in Wagner Group. But it should be understood that he decided to flee Wagner Group, a terrorist organization which kills both Russians and Ukrainians.”
Stephanie Halasz and Li-Lian Ahlskog Hou contributed to this story