There are contractors from private military companies (PMCs) in Syria, but they do not represent the Russian government, said Russian President Vladimir Putin in an episode of the TV show “Direct Line”, when asked why combat veteran status is not given to Russians who work as mercenaries abroad.
“They are really there,” Putin said, referring to the private military contractors. However, he continued, this is “not the state”, and these people are technically not combat veterans. They deal with “matters of an economic nature”, including oil production, the president remarked.
Putin even admitted that, as part of their work, the mercenaries “risk their lives” and fight against terrorism, because the resource deposits have to be taken back from militants. “But it is not the Russian army,” he emphasized.
In autumn last year, Bloomberg reported that a paramilitary organization believed to be affiliated with the St. Petersburg catering tycoon Yevgeny “Putin’s Chef” Prigozhin has been attempting to spread Russia’s influence in 10 African countries. According to its sources, the PMC is operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Libya, Madagascar, Angola, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and the Central African Republic. Prigozhin himself declined to comment.
Around the same time, news came out that a lawsuit had been filed at the International Criminal Court in the Hague against the organizers of the Russian PMCs. The suit was filed by a number of Russian military and veteran organizations, who claim that Russian citizens are being deceived and taken to “hotspots” as mercenaries, even though mercenary activity is prohibited by Russia’s Criminal Code. When the Russians are killed there, nothing can be proven, because officially they are there as “volunteers”. According to the claimants, the deaths number in the thousands.