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Russia Never Prosecutes Mercenaries who Fight for Moscow-Backed Causes, Only Those who Fight for Others

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 8 – Engaging in mercenary activity is illegal under Russian law, and Moscow routinely claims that any Russian who fights as a mercenary is doing so entirely independently. But that claim, already problematic given Vladimir Putin’s association with the Vagner Group and its financier, no longer deserves any respect.

            That is because there has not been a single case in which Russian prosecutors have brought charges against someone who fought as a mercenary in Moscow-approved causes such as the anti-Kyiv Donbass operation or pro-Asad Syrian one but ever more against those who fought for Ukraine or against Asad (

                And experts on Russian mercenary activity point out that patriotism and government support of mercenary groups even more than money is the reason so many men sign up to serve in this capacity, Vladimir Vasin and Igor Chukreyev of the URA news agency say on the basis of conversations with several experts (

            The two journalists say that the experts have told them that there is “a whole range of factors” that explain why people become mercenaries. They include “patriotism, psychological complexes and manipulation by the authorities. And in this money turns out to be not the main reason” after all.

            Ivan Konovalov of the Center for Strategic Conjunctions says that “these people go in order to defend Russia. And it isn’t important to them where – in the Donbass, Syria, or the Central African Republic.” Many of them are veterans of earlier campaigns in Chechnya, Transdniestria and the former Yugoslavia.

            Vladimir Yefimov of the Sverdlovsk Veterans Foundation, however, says that there is seldom an ideological basis for the mercenaries. Those who join up want to make money, and the pay is better than such people can get anywhere else.

            But psychologist Natalya Varskaya says that many do so to solve internal personal complexes. In the 1990s, such people romanticized the bandits of the criminal world; now they romanticize and take advantage of the possibilities of acting out their fantasies as mercenaries abroad.

            The experts concur with the idea, the journalists suggest, that no one of these factors explains all the recruits, but “’a cocktail’ of these factors does completely especially when the government signals that it approves some kinds of mercenary service although not others.

            Vladimir Shcherbakov, an expert for Moscow’s Nezavimoye voyennoye obozreniye, offers the following conclusion: “this works to the government’s benefit” because those who sign up know the risks in advance, their families can be compensated if they are killed, and few will complain that they went against their will.



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