«Head of Crimea» Sergei Aksyonov told several times that voluntary battalions were successfully created on the peninsula for participation in the Russian war against Ukraine. The Center for Journalist Investigations told a story of so-called Cossack assault unit «Tavrida» and «Livadia» battalion.
Recently, there was a wave of publications about new PMC «Convoy» created and financed by Sergei Aksyonov but commanded by Yevhenii Prigozhin’s people. Let us describe in detail this unit…
What is «Convoy»?
Military unit «Convoy» appeared for the first time in the broadcast of Russian propagandist Olga Kurlyaeva at TV channel «Russia 24». She introduced the term for Crimean «volunteers» – «Aksyonov people» (like «Kadyrov people» for Chechen military units). In February 2023, Kurlyaeva made the first large video from bunkers of «Convoy». She mentioned that this assault reconnaissance unit has been part of «Livadia» battalion.
Her broadcast did not indicate where «Convoy» was fighting. But its telegram channel says that its area of responsibility is Kherson region. TV channel «Krym 24» controlled by Aksyonov also said that unit was fighting in Kherson region.
In January 2023, Russian «governor» of Zaporizhzhia region Yevhen Balytsky reported that Crimean battalion «Livadia» was located in Zaporizhzhia region.
The video, posted by «Convoy» telegram channel on February 2, 2023, demonstrated the work of so-called «Kutuz» group, part of «Convoy». We see the shelling of Dnipro right bank from the area around Gola Prystan and Kruglyk Island..
It can be suggested that so-called voluntary battalion «Livadia» can have several units. Some of them can fight in Zaporizhzhia region, other – in Kherson region. However, the Russian State Register of Legal Entities does not have any information about legal entity called voluntary battalion «Livadia».
For example, Balytsky registered his «voluntary» battalion named after Sudoplatov as «state unitary enterprise». Aksyonov’s «Cossack assault battalion «Tavrida» is registered as «Cossack unit» (Russian legislation has such a type of legal entity).
How «Livadia» battalion is legalized? With whom its soldiers sign contracts? How it has been allowed to fight?
«Convoy» telegram channel provided some answers. It posted samples of inquiries that relatives of «Livadia» mercenaries should submit to military enlistment offices, in order to receive confirmation of their participation in military operations.
Recommendations for relatives of mercenaries mention the following official name of Aksyonov’s battalion – it is the 30th unit BARS «Livadia».PDF
BARS is the Russian abbreviation for «military army reserve of the country». Governors of subjects of the Russian Federation create so-called «volunteer battalions» on the basis of BARS. As «Convoy» post indicates, BARS-30 «Livadia» is created on the basis of the 150th Idrytsko-Berlinska motorized rifle division awarded Kutuzov order. The division is located in Persianovskoe village in Rostov region.
Though «Livadia» is not an official part of the division, its documents are used to confirm participation of «Aksyonov’s people» in the Russian war against Ukraine. The volunteer of BARS is not a de jure serviceman of the Russian Armed Forces. He is considered to be «reservist»
«Reservists» sign the contract with BARS. Russian propagandists do not mention legalization of «Livadia» through BARS-30. They focus solely on «Convoy».
Saint Petersburg «Convoy» of Pikalov-«Mazai»
There are two legal entities with the name «Convoy» in the Russian State Register of Legal Entities:
- LLC «Military security company «Convoy» (taxpayer’s code 4712026246)
- Saint Petersburg Cossack association «Convoy» (taxpayer’s code 7802236677), the founder of «Military security company «Convoy»
Both organizations have been registered in Saint Petersburg on January 15, 2015. The LLC «Convoy» has large statutory capital – 100 million Russian Rubles.
Both organizations are headed by Konstantin Pikalov (individual taxpayer’s code 781491227404). Close to Prigozhin, he is member of PMC «Wagner» with call sign «Mazai». He gives interviews to Russian propagandists without hiding his face. He is called the commander of Crimean unit «Convoy».
For the first time, Pikalov-«Mazai» was highlighted in joint investigation of Bellingcat and Insider in 2020. He was described as the most important Russian figure in the Central African Republic. He was able to communicate with Prigozhin as equal.
As Russian media «Important stories» recently reported, mercenaries of «Convoy» sign two contracts: one with the Russian Ministry of Defense (it is not true) and another – with «Convoy».
To our mind, «Aksyonov’s people» sign contracts with Saint Petersburg «Convoy» (there is no such a legal entity as Crimean «Convoy»). Another contract is signed with BARS. The latter guarantees the receipt of compensation if killed or wounded and land plot in Crimea promised by Aksyonov. Contract with private military company is not enough if somebody wants to participate in the war.
Thus, we can make the following conclusion:
Saint Petersburg «Convoy» and its head Konstantin Pikalov are responsible for the recruitment, training and commanding of «Crimean «Convoy». It is financed and supported by «Head of Crimea» Sergei Aksyonov. The unit is legalized through BARS. Access to the area of military operations is secured through the 150th motorized rifle division.
How many «volunteers» are in «Livadia» and «Convoy»? Are they Crimean residents?
The video posted two months ago, demonstrated the lining up of several dozens of «Convoy» soldiers in front of Aksyonov. It is unknown whether they were all from «Convoy» or also from other units of «Livadia» and «Tavrida». In any case, their number is too small for the battalion.
Yevhen Leshan, the lieutenant of the Territorial Defense Forces of Ukraine and investigator and military observer of the Center for Journalist Investigations, analyzed all propaganda videos about «Convoy» and «Aksyonov’s people» and gave his expert evaluation of information distributed by various media.
«Battalion includes from 400 to 600 soldiers, three-five companies plus commanding units. It is difficult to estimate real number of «Convoy» by using available videos. The lining up of «Convoy» in front of Aksyonov was shot in such a way as to hide the real number of people. However, there is not less than one company on video. Video of military training shows not more than one platoon, i.e. around 30 soldiers», as concluded Leshan.
The same people are usually shown on videos posted by telegram channel «Convoy». Their faces are hidden by balaclavas but we can see their call signs – «Buddha», «Maisky», «Belgorod», «Kzbar» etc.
There are just a few Crimean residents. We were able to recognize only two people – from Simferopol and Zolotoe Pole of Kirovsk district.
Let us look at media figures of «Convoy». Vasilii Yurjevich Yaschikov (individual taxpayer’s code 070303126342, call sign is Yaschik \ Box) is the most known colleague of Pikalov. He has been among co-founders of «Saint Petersburg Cossack Association «Convoy», the founder of company «Convoy».
«There are not strangers here. Volunteers of Crimean «Livadia» conducted several special operations. Many people became brothers in arms in Donbas. 90% of personnel participated in 2014 Crimean events, in «Russian Spring», as Yaschikov says.
He is not from Crimea. He was born in Russian region of Kabardino-Balkaria, in the city of Maisky. Since 2002, he has lived in Saint Petersburg. He tried to be a businessman and sold meat through his company «Yaschik and K», now liquidated. He attempted to enter construction market but failed and became a Cossack.
The official legend around name «Convoy» is connected with Yaschikov. He pretended that his ancestor served in the convoy of the Russian Emperor in Livadia Palace and that he inherited from the ancestor the ring in his beard.
Pikalov and Yaschikov are the only media figures of «Convoy». But we succeeded in identifying several other «Convoy» people whose faces were not blurred.
Maksim Perov was born in the Russian city of Krasnoyarsk. He graduated from the Saint Petersburg Military Institute of Internal Troops of the Ministry of Interior of the Russian Federation. In 2010, he served in military unit 44892 in Krasnodar region. His 2016 photo from his social media account demonstrates Perov with Russian colonel, standing in front of landscape reminding Middle East.
It is likely that Maksim Perov participated in the war in Syria. We can assume that he is the trainer in «Convoy».
We identified Mikhail Aleksandrovich Kolesnikov on this photo. He was born in Syktyvkar, the Russian Republic of Komi. He has served in the 186th separate electronic reconnaissance center in Murmansk since 1999 until 2001. Later he worked in the security company. He has fought against Ukraine since the first days of the Russian invasion. He has been in Kharkiv region and made a photo near the entrance to Izum. It seems that he is currently in Kherson region.
To sum up, commanders of so-called «Crimean» unit «Convoy» are Russians connected with PMC «Wagner». The majority of mercenaries are also Russians. We were not able to identify Crimean residents in BARS-30 but we will keep searching.
Training and equipment
Now let us describe the training and equipment of «Convoy». As propagandist Kurlyaeva demonstrated, its headquarters support center is located 5 meters deep under three layers of land and concrete plates. The question is – is it possible at all to build such a center at the frontline, with powerful electricity supply?
«There is no noise of generators, as Russian propagandist noted. At the same time, they use powerful electricity supply – there are electric heaters almost in each room. It means that the center is connected to electric grid. However, all electric supplies are usually broken near the frontline. It is impossible to build such a deep and strong center, without attracting an attention of Ukrainian artillerists. Thus, the center is far away from the frontline», as Yevhen Leshan concludes.
Look closely at this screenshot: Yaschikov stands in would-be 5 meters deep bunker but the light freely flows through the entrance!
Then, the room, where Mazai is talking to Kurlyaeva, has the plastic window frame. What it is for? Maybe, the bunker is not so deep and located far from the frontline?
Telegram channel of «Convoy» posted three more videos with stories about mercenaries’ leisure and their new positions. It is difficult to determine their precise location. What is clear is that positions are within old pine forest. Pine forests can be found in Zaporizhzhia region.
«Aksyonov’s people freely walk around the forest. Military machines stand without any cover. It means they do not expect the fire from Ukrainian troops – neither from rifles nor from canons. It means these positions are 5-10 kilometers away from the frontline, at minimum», as Yevhen Leshan believes.
«Mercenaries of «Convoy» were proud to demonstrate their 3 days training. The location resembles training ground near Perevalne in Crimea. Since 2014, it has been used by the 126th coastal defense brigade of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
«Weapons demonstrated by «Convoy» videos are standard weapons of the light infantry. Machine guns, mortars, anti-tank armament, sniper rifles, air reconnaissance, cars… «Convoy» is called assault reconnaissance unit. It can be reconnaissance unit but they do not have necessary weapons for serious assault operations», as Leshan explains.
Russian propagandists often mentioned that «Convoy» would have its own armored group. Photos from Donetsk training ground shows «Convoy» mercenaries on various tanks.
«They run «Armata» tank, It looks more like an excursion than training of tank crew. They are proud of their «Grad» but it stands among trees from where it is impossible to shoot. Everything looks like amateurs’ training», as Leshan says.
All these propagandist video are just an attempt to make mercenaries look like heroes. However, there is no evidence that they perform real assault or reconnaissance tasks at the frontline.