Aged 55, this former career Russian soldier is the first member of the sulphurous paramilitary group, within which he evolved in Ukraine and Syria from 2015 to 2019, to speak openly with his face uncovered.

In a book published Thursday in France (“Me, Marat, ex-commandant of the Wagner army”, by Michel Lafon), he describes the daily life of the fighters of this very secret structure, accused of having committed abuses, particularly in Africa. , and with which the Russian authorities claim to have no connection.

Wagner, “it’s a kind of small army” whose objectives can vary depending on the situation on the ground, explains the ex-soldier, dressed in jeans, a dark polo shirt with a skull crest on the shoulder and a cap screwed on the head, during an interview Wednesday in Paris.

In its ranks, licensed mercenaries, professionals, but also romantics “wanting to rub shoulders with war” and former convicts for whom the door of the regular army is now closed and who are attracted by salaries higher than what that they could receive in Russia – between 1,500 and 2,200 euros depending on the missions.

Marat Gabidullin claims to have joined Wagner in 2015 on the advice of an acquaintance after ten years in the ranks of the Russian army and a three-year prison sentence for having killed the leader of a gang in the framework of “a settling of accounts with the underworld”.

Between two cigarettes, he says he carried out his first mission alongside pro-Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine in the summer of 2015 and then continued with several missions in Syria, in support of the forces of Bashar al Assad’s regime. , until 2019. A journey that AFP could not confirm independently.

If he does not indulge in any mea culpa and claims to have done his job, he nevertheless confides that he left “frustrated and disappointed” his first mission in Ukraine in Luhansk, faced with the “deception of the noble cause which spoke of defending the interests of Russia”.

As for Syria, where he will be seriously injured by a grenade in Palmyra, “the intervention” of Russia “did not help” a Syrian people tried by hunger and cold, he believes.

– “Indisputable” recourse to mercenaries –

“It would have been better to focus on internal issues, but looking at internal issues is difficult,” he continues. “We should have taken care of these problems and solved them and worked so that people start to respect and admire us so that we become an example for Ukraine.”

“And then Ukraine would have come to us and not pushed us away,” he wants to believe. Suspected of abuses in Mali, Libya or even Syria, Wagner’s paramilitaries are also present in Ukraine – where the Russian army launched an offensive on February 24 – according to the British Ministry of Defence.

Moscow has always formally denied any link with this private company, suspected of acting covertly on its behalf.

Russia’s use of mercenaries, a practice officially prohibited in the country, is “proven, irrefutable”, believes Mr. Gabidullin, who highlights in particular the type of weapons used by Wagner or his official Russian decoration.

Assuring that he had not witnessed war crimes committed by his brothers in arms in the field, the former soldier declared, without further details, that the mercenaries could have been used “in certain cases” in a way “which contradicts all moral standards and values”.

And now ? If he hopes one day to have the opportunity to return to Russia, his “homeland”, the ex-soldier recognizes that a return at this stage would be premature, given a recent law punishing penalties of up to to 15 years in prison for any “false information” about Moscow’s action abroad.

“There is the risk that I will no longer be able to leave the country”, notes Mr. Gabidullin. “As for being scared, not scared…I will survive one way or another.”


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