Marat Gabidullin was a mercenary in the notorious Wagner unit. This ruthless private army, controlled by the Kremlin, is blamed for war crimes and is now also fighting in Ukraine. In his book Wagner. Putin’s secret army” he describes, among other things, why he left the mercenary squad. FOCUS Online publishes an excerpt from the book.
For years, Russian mercenary Marat Gabidullin fought in the service of the notorious Wagner Group in war zones in Syria and Ukraine. But the bloody combat missions commissioned by Russia’s powerful for the private military and security company Wagner have given him food for thought. As the first fighter in Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin’s shadow army, he reports in the book Wagner. Putin’s Secret Army” (Econ Verlag) from inside the troupe.
Read an excerpt from the foreword to the book here. In this, the journalists Ksenia Bolchakova and Alexandra Jousset, who made a documentary about Wagner, report on their research and the conversations with Marat Gabidullin.
Nevertheless, he (Marat Gabidullin, editor’s note) is neither naive nor blind. His relationship with the “company” (meaning the Wagner group, editor’s note.) has changed over the years. He managed to gain distance. Above all, he recognizes that the Wagner organization is, beyond its political function, an instrument for raising money for its top officials. Paramilitaries only work for money. In Syria, where Marat was fighting, they were responsible for regaining control of and ensuring the protection of oil and gas facilities that had fallen into the hands of the Free Syrian Army or the Islamic State.
In return, the organization received a fee of 25 percent of the revenue from the black gold or gas. This was according to an agreement signed in Moscow in December 2016 (according to journalists from the Russian online news site Fontanka) by Evro Polis and the Syrian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources. Evro Polis is a company controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin. “Putin’s Cook” thus puts Wagner at the service of the Kremlin’s geopolitical ambitions and cemented his status and influence within the Russian microcosm.
At the same time, he increases his personal fortune through highly lucrative contracts. In the Central African Republic, the mining sector (gold and diamonds) is now said to be under his control. Wagner also controls the local customs and siphons off part of their income. Soon, a well-informed source tells us, Prigozhin’s men will rule the entire tax system in order to benefit from those revenues as well. In Mali, where the troops are currently deployed, the pattern is the same.
Wagner – Putin’s Secret Army: An Insider’s Account
Wagner’s security services are said to be paid for by mining revenue. The ruling junta in Bamako pays them $10 million a month, according to US General Stephen Townsend, commander-in-chief of AFRICOM, the US Africa Command. In this context, the life of a mercenary and shadow soldier weighs far less than the enormous economic interests of his employer. Lacking first-rate equipment and armament, and often fighting in the front lines, the Wagner group has suffered repeated severe setbacks and numerous casualties.
This devaluation to “cannon fodder” displeases Marat very much. She even makes him angry, since he lost dozens of comrades in combat and was himself seriously wounded in two missions on the Syrian front. Still, he had no doubt that this mission was a noble cause. His body is still riddled with shrapnel wounds, his resentment unabated. One event is engraved in his memory forever: the night of February 7-8, 2018. A convoy of Russian mercenaries is deployed south of Deir ez-Zor on the Euphrates River to destroy the Al-Tabyah Refinery, also known as “Conoco” factory, recapture.
The Wagner mercenaries meet the occupying Kurdish troops, who were supported by the Americans. A hail of bombs falls on them. “All of a sudden all hell broke loose,” the author recalls. “Several rockets exploded right next to me. I had burns all over my face. It’s terrible, you lie frozen on the ground and can only wait and do nothing for the end. They really screwed us up.” Before the bombing, the US General Staff had contacted the Russian command in Syria to see if these men were among them. On the other end of the line, a Russian general said no. He would have been embarrassed to admit the presence of mercenaries.
Eventually, the matter will be published in the media. The whole world learns of the existence of the Wagner Group, while Russian officials from Moscow continue to deny any use of mercenaries. A few days later, Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said there were no Russians in the area. “An unforgivable lie,” said Marat. “I was disgusted. To see this woman’s face lying shamelessly was unbearable for me. I despised her, she disgusted me. In my opinion, no government strategy can justify such behavior. You just don’t distance yourself from your own people, that’s that!”
Between 200 and 300 Wagner soldiers are said to have perished in the hail of bombs that night. Moscow eventually acknowledged five soldiers killed but stubbornly claimed they had nothing to do with Russian forces. A hypocrisy he could bear no longer. Marat left Wagner in 2019, the system of duplicity robbed him of all illusions. “I am proud to have been part of this unit and to have contributed to historic operations. However, I’m glad I’m no longer a part of it. I no longer agree with their policy of absolute secrecy. It’s just not okay to say people don’t exist when they do exist.”
While Wagner is currently expanding his network all over the world, Marat is calling for the legalization of mercenaryism in Russia. So that these fighters no longer have to hide. So that his country realizes its geopolitical ambitions and no longer acts from the comfort of the gray areas. However, it is hard to imagine the Kremlin and the Russian Defense Ministry venturing out from cover.
Marat demands honesty where honesty cannot be. And he is aware of that. Marat, too, carries within himself the Russian dichotomy, in which superiority and inferiority in the minds of the people engage in a merciless struggle. It would have been too easy for him to criticize everything in general and defect to the West. That’s what they called it in the days of the USSR. This is out of the question for him. If he could legally practice his work as a mercenary, he would not hesitate for a second to be recruited into the service of Russia again. Why not? After all, he is still a soldier of his country.