In February 2014, armed men in unmarked uniforms appeared in Crimea, seizing the building of the Verkhovna Rada of Crimea, the Simferopol Airport, the Kerch Ferry Terminal, and other strategic facilities, as well as blocking the Ukrainian troops. The Russian authorities did not admit that those armed men were Russian army members.
There were rumours that the “little green men” were a private army of Putin’s empire. Soon, its name — Wagner Group private military company — appeared in the media for the first time.
The protocol video recording of Kremlin’s solemn event on the occasion of the Heroes of the Fatherland Day on 9 December 2016 dispelled the conspiracy. Dmitry Utkin, better known as “Wagner” and commander of the eponymous PMC spotted in Crimea, Donbas and Syria, was caught on camera during the event. A news report on Channel One gives us an opportunity to see a middle-aged man sitting at a table on the left. Those personally acquainted with Dmitry Utkin confirmed that was him.
The video recording does not show what award Dmytro Utkin received. It is known that when he retired from active service in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, he had neither the title of Hero of the Soviet Union or Russia, nor was a cavalier of the Order of St. George.
That was the first “public appearance” of Wagner Group PMC. Prior to the protocol event on 9 December 2016, the Kremlin did not comment on information about Wagner, the participation of his unit in hostilities and presentation of state awards to the fighters of informal PMC.
Two days later, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov answered the question, putting an end to the intrigue: “Dmitry Utkin is really a cavalier of the Order of Courage. He was from the Novgorod region.” However, Peskov “does not know” whether Utkin has “fighters in Syria” and for what feats he was awarded the Order of Courage. “For his courage,” Peskov supposed.
Who is Dmitry Utkin a.k.a. “Wagner”?
Dmitry Utkin is a retired lieutenant colonel born in 1970. He is a career officer, who served as the commander of the 700th separate special forces detachment of the 2nd separate special purpose brigade of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defence stationed in the Pskov region until 2013. He worked under contract with the Moran Security Group, defending ships from pirate attacks in dangerous areas. In September 2013, he visited Syria as part of the Slavic Corps for the first time. Back then, he was not a commander yet and was not Wagner. He took the pathetic nom de guerre after a trip to Syria. Since 2014, he has been the commander of his own unit, which took the name “Wagner Group PMC” from his call sign: Call sign “Ninth.”
Utkin is known for his affection for the aesthetics and ideology of the Third Reich, hence he took a call sign in honour of Adolf Hitler’s favourite composer-mystic. If you add up Hitler’s initials by the serial numbers of the letters (1 stands for letter “A” and 8 stands for Latin letter “H”), you will get nine in sum and this would be fully consistent with the neo-Nazi affections of Utkin. According to several eyewitnesses, Utkin is so obsessed with Adolf Hitler that he sometimes wears the WW II Nazi uniform and even has tattoos with Nazi symbols on his chest and collarbones. Utkin shocked the military personnel in Luhansk by wearing a steel helmet of the Wehrmacht instead of a usual field sun hat.
Formed on the basis of the Slavic Corps, battered in Syria in 2013, the PMC under the command of a man with a “Wagner” call sign has been operating in Crimea, and then in the Luhansk region, since the spring of 2014. In the spring of 2014, Wagner found a new job: funding, a training base and a serious cover for the informal military structure, which was named after him.
Rumours about Wagner and his team have been circulating since early 2015. He allegedly disarmed the Odesa brigade near Luhansk and detained brigade commander Foma. He allegedly appeared with armoured vehicles in the most dangerous areas of the front.
At the end of 2015, Wagner’s main forces were redeployed from Donbas to Syria. They saw battles and losses. The number of Wagner’s losses is unlikely to ever be known. More or less reliably known losses have long numbered hundreds of fighters who remained in Africa and Asia forever. And the number of people killed by Wagner’s mercenaries is unimaginable.
On 30 June 2017, a video boomed worldwide showing several fighters in informal gear who sing the words “I take a heavy machine gun off my shoulders, shoot a son, then shoot a mother” and beat a man in civilian clothes, resembling an Arab and lying on the ground, with a sledgehammer. Men speak Russian without an accent. Their faces are closed.
The scene resembles a dilapidated industrial facility in the Syrian desert. It looks like a severed human head is lying nearby. Commentators suggested that the video may feature Wagner Group fighters operating in Syria but no one was able to confirm this: no faces are visible on the recording, men wear unmarked clothes, and it is unknown where and when the video was recorded.
But in November 2019, a continuation of the story appeared on the Internet – the next three parts of the video, from which it is clear what happened to the Arab man.
The Arab press managed to establish the identity of the killed man, time and place of execution. According to Jesr Press, the man’s name was Mohammed Taha Ismail Al-Abdullah, also known as Hammadi Taha Al-Buta. He was born in 1986 in Deir ez-Zor. According to the media outlet data, he was mobilised in the reserve of Bashar Assad’s army. He then deserted, but was caught. The Jesr Press identifies the place of execution as the Shair field in the Syrian province of Homs.
The beasts that tortured and killed him were also identified. Undoubtedly, they are Wagner Group mercenaries. It turned out later that Wagner himself (PMC’s commander Dmitry Utkin) called on them to execute the man to intimidate other potential deserters from the Syrian army. He also ordered the video shoot.
This horrible case opened the people’s eyes to the “heroes of Russia” and their commander, Dmitry “Wagner” Utkin. These monsters perfectly suit the Kremlin and Putin. They are needed to implement the crazy ideas and plans of the Empire and its lifelong leader. Therefore, “Wagner” of the present day is no longer an outcast with a call sign instead of a name that works for an unknown master. Dmitry Utkin is an officially recognised Hero of the Fatherland, who is welcomed to the President’s table. And this is a figure of a completely different scale.
Yuri Fedorenko, analyst, public relations expert
The author’s opinion does not always coincide with the opinion of the editorial staff