Joana Lapėnienė, LRT TV, LRT.lt2021.08.20 14:54

A 40-year-old Lithuanian man, Ilja, was arrested for facilitating a drug smuggling scheme. The man later admitted to having served in the infamous Russian Wagner Group in 2015.

“He explained that he was recruited in Germany, where Wagner operated quite openly. But when sanctions were imposed on Russia, Wagner operated undercover the entire time, there were subsidiaries […],” said Utena regional prosecutor Genadijus Jefimovas. “He had […] left Lithuania and worked in a construction company, where he was found.”

Wagner Group, a private military company in Russia owned by the so-called Putin’s chef, Yevgeny Prigozhin, first began operating on behalf of the Kremlin in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Since then, the group has joined other wars, including in Syria and in various African countries.

Read more: Lithuanian parliament seeks EU sanctions on ‘Putin’s chef’

Ilja was previously arrested twice. He left for Germany in 2015 and was deported back to Lithuania two years later. He is also on the radar of the Spanish law enforcement and is an alleged leader of a drug smuggling gang.

In summer 2017, the EU sanctioned the Wagner Group due to its role in the war in Ukraine.

“Wagner soldiers are most commonly sent to places that Russia wants to have influence in, but does not want to deploy its soldiers, so they are most commonly sent to do the dirty jobs,” said analyst Lukas Andriukaitis. “They are sent to some territories to intimidate, […] they go to provide training for some radical groups, they go to protect certain people […]. They are often sent to violent places and commit a lot of war crimes.”

In Syria, Wagner contractors violently murdered a man by beheading him and burning his corpse. The victim’s brother demanded prosecution of those involved in the execution.

In summer 2018, US troops killed scores of Wagner troops when they attacked an American-held oil refinery in Syria. The Russian Foreign Ministry initially denied that its citizens took part in the clash, but a representative later confirmed that five mercenaries may have died.

Investigations link Wagner Group to the Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin. The Kremlin, however, denies the existence of any private military companies.

Despite the insistence of Russian authorities, journalists identified Wagner leader Dmitry Utkin at a Kremlin reception on December 9, 2016. His presence at the reception was later confirmed by Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Wagner Group’s activities in the EU are prohibited due to sanctions. However, the International Center for Special Training Wolf, located in Russia’s Rostov-on-Don, recruits Wagner mercenaries, according to Myrotvoryets, an Ukrainian website supplying authorities with information on pro-Russian agents.

The centre has subsidiaries in Russia, Serbia, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, and Germany. Among instructors of the centre is Dmitry Dzhinikashvili, a former soldier of the Slavonic Corps and Wagner Group.

Ilja had entered into an agreement with Wagner’s subsidiary in Germany.

The Lithuanian intelligence agency has “no information on Lithuanian citizens serving in Wagner private military company,” the State Security Department (VSD) told LRT. “If given any such information, the VSD would, without a doubt, evaluate it.”

“When they return from such service, the recruits could potentially be a threat to Lithuania’s national security if they choose to use their military skills against the state and its citizens,” VSD added.

Ilja is currently imprisoned for drug smuggling and refused to speak to LRT.

Read more: Putin’s regime, kleptocracy, and drug money – interview with investigative journalist Anastasia Kirilenko

Šaltinis: LRT.LT

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