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Suspected ex-Wagner Group commander seeks asylum in Norway | Russia

A suspected former commander of the Russian mercenary group Wagner has sought asylum in Norway, authorities say, after deserting the organization that has played a central role in some of the country’s major battles. Ukraine conflict.

Andrey Medvedev, 26, is said to have crossed the border to Norway near Pasvikdalen Valley shortly before 2 a.m. last Friday, where he was arrested and detained by border guards.

The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) confirmed to The Associated Press that Andrey Medvedev had sought refuge in the country but “for security and confidentiality reasons…cannot comment further on this matter.”

Police, who did not confirm his identity, said in a statement to Agence France-Presse that a man was “arrested by Norwegian border guards and Norwegian police at 00:58 (00:58 GMT)” on Friday morning.

“He has applied for asylum in Norway,” said Tarjei Sirma-Tellefsen, chief of police staff in Finnmark, northern Norway.

Medvedev’s Norwegian lawyer, Brynjulf ​​Risnes, told the BBC that Medvedev was detained in Oslo where he faces charges of illegal entry into the country and that he deserted after witnessing war crimes in Ukraine.

Risnes said his client was no longer in custody, but in a “safe place” while his case was being analyzed. “If he gets asylum in Norway, this charge [of illegal entry] will be deleted automatically,” Risnes said.

“He said he was willing to talk about his experiences with the Wagner group to people who investigate war crimes,” the lawyer said, adding that Medvedev claimed he served as a commander. of unit in charge of five to 10 soldiers.

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Norwegian police said they were tipped off on Thursday evening by Russian border guards who found tracks in the snow that could indicate someone had crossed the border illegally. The man was arrested by border guards and the arrest was not dramatic, police said.

Medvedev’s lawyer told AFP on Monday that after crossing the border, his client looked for locals and asked them to call the police.

Medvedev has been on the run since leaving the Wagner Group on July 6, according to the Norwegian Press Agency ENB.

He reportedly told a Russian human rights group that he was ready to tell everything he knew about the Wagner Group, its activities and its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a millionaire linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin .

The rights group Gulagu.net, which defends prisoners in Russian detention, has published interviews with Medvedev, including a after crossing to Norway, where he detailed his dramatic escape.

“When I was on the ice [at the border], I heard dogs barking, I turned around, I saw people with torches, about 150 meters (500 feet), running in my direction,” Medvedev recounts in a video. “I heard two shots, the bullets whistled.”

According to Gulagu.net, Medvedev originally signed a four-month contract with Wagner in early July 2022 and claims to have witnessed executions and reprisals against those who refused to fight and wanted to leave.

According to Risnes, Medvedev said “he experienced something completely different from what he expected” after joining the private mercenary group, which has been at the forefront of key battles in Ukraine.

Wanting to leave and after claiming to have witnessed war crimes in Ukraine, Medvedev said his contract was extended without his consent. “He understood that there was no easy way out, that’s when he decided to just run,” Risnes said.

Medvedev then reportedly spent two months underground in Russia, before crossing the Norwegian border last week.

The Guardian was unable to independently verify Medvedev’s account.

The Wagner group includes a large number of convicts recruited from Russian prisons who carried out attacks in Ukraine. The group has grown increasingly influential in Africa, where it has pushed Russian disinformation, forged alliances with regimes and gained access to oil, gas, gold, diamonds and precious minerals.

The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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