Private military company «Wagner» plays significant role in the Russian war against Ukraine but there is a little information about commanders of this quasi-army. Nameless «Wagner» members attack Bahmut endlessly; thousands of them die in forests around the city whereas Yevgeniy Prigozhin, its owner and «Putin’s cook», regularly makes public speeches in Russian propaganda media. Earlier he has been persona incognita. The situation has drastically changed during last year.
Prigozhin regularly visits Russian prisons and speaks in front of prisoners. He openly conflicts with Russian generals and governors including «heroes of Novorussia». He owns media empire which actively promotes him and his business by distributing his scandalous comments and declarations. Prigozhin does not hide his political ambition to become «the savior of motherland».
It is clear that person with such bustling media activity is not able to command directly his «army» and its operations. He is its owner, promoter and top recruiter but there are other people who are real military commanders of «Wagner». Their names and call signs are not disclosed.
We were able to find out information about several of them. It leaked mostly before 2022 when «Wagner» operated in Africa or Syria.
The first «Wagner»
Dmitrii Utkin is the most known figure among «Wagner» commanders. The Prigozhin’s mercenary group has been named after Utkin’s call sign – «Wagner». He was born in Russian city of Asbest in Sverdlovsk region. He was raised in Ukrainian village Smoline near Kirovograd, the Ukrainian regional center.
He participated in Russian-Chechen wars and served as the commander of the 700th separate special purpose unit of the 2nd separate brigade of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. He retired as the lieutenant colonel and then started career of mercenary. He worked in Moran Security Group, later – in private military company «Slavic corps». In 2013, he fought in Syria as company’s member.
Having studied an experience of «Slavic corps», the Russian Federation initiated creation of paramilitary forces, not allowed by the Russian legislation, for the war against Ukraine in 2014. Mercenary forces were financed through commercial companies of Yevgeniy Prigozhin. Utkin headed one of those paramilitary units located in Krasnodar region. It has been sent to Ukrainian Donbas and called «Wagner», after the call sign of Utkin.
In 2015, when active military operations in Donbas were frozen, Utkin’s units were used to disarm local paramilitary forces, not controlled by so-called «LNR» (Luhansk People’s Republic, created by the Russian Federation).
As the State Security Service of Ukraine reported «Wagner» mercenaries killed local field commanders Oleksandr Bednov («Batman»), Oleksii Fominov («Foma»), Sergii Kosogorov («Kosogora») etc. Some Wagner units were transferred to Syria where they controlled oil and gas deposits.
President Putin awarded Utkin four Russian orders of courage. In 2016, Utkin was invited to attend celebration of «the Day of Heroes of Motherland» in Kremlin. Photo of Putin with four «Wagner» mercenaries leaked to the social media.
Another photo of Utkin is shocking – he demonstrates his Nazi tattoo.
For unknown reasons, Prigozhin used sudden media popularity of Utkin in a strange way. He forced Aleksei Karnaukhov (Russian taxpayer’s code 470314967570), General director of his managing company «Konkord Management Consulting», to change his full name into… Dmitrii Valeriyevich Utkin (Russian taxpayer’s code 262404751144) for three months.
Activity of «Wagner» PMC has gradually covered Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Madagascar. Utkin has become subject of international sanctions and Ukrainian sanctions (the latter – in December 2021).
During Russian full scale invasion into Ukraine, Utkin has regularly attended temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, in order «to examine effectiveness of PMC’ work and quality of its performance», as LIGA.net reported in August 2022, referring to its sources in the Ukrainian intelligence.
Thus, we can assume that Utkin continues to play one of key roles in PMC «Wagner».
«Sedoy», «Brodyaga» and Ratibor
The photo with Putin demonstrates Utkin as well as his business partners – Andrei Troshev, another commander of PMC «Wagner», Andrei Bogatov and Aleksandr Kuznetsov, heads of mercenaries’ assault companies.
Colonel-artillerist Andrei Troshev (call sign is «Sedoy» \ «Grey») participated in the Soviet invasion into Afghanistan and the Second Russian-Chechen war. He served in special purpose units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation. He was dismissed for alcoholism. Then, he appeared as the head of logistics service of PMC «Wagner» in Syria. Later he managed security service at «Wagner» training ground in Molkino village near Krasnodar.
In 2016, Putin awarded him the order «Hero of Russia». He also received orders of hero from so-called «DNR» and «LNR». It is evidence that he participated in the Russian aggression in Ukraine.
The «Official Journal of the European Union» calls Troshev «founding member and executive director (Chief of Staff) of the Wagner Group».
Today Troshev heads Russian interregional non-governmental organization «League for protection of interests of veterans of local wars and military conflicts». The League is within the sphere of influence of Yevgeniy Prigozhin. It is remarkable that dismissal of prisoners recruited by «Wagner» is registered on blanks of this League.
The «Grey» name was mentioned in the recent public quarrel between owner of «Wagner» PMC Prigozhin and Russian terrorist, former minister of defense of DNR Igor Girkin \ Strelkov. Bandits discussed possible involvement of Girkin into military operations of «Wagner» in Ukraine. Girkin called Andrei Troshev «alcoholic» and lover of cleansing, hinting at Grey’s participation in the Second Russian-Chechen war.
Another «Wagner» member Andrei Bogatov (call sign is «Brodyaga», «Tramp») was also involved into the quarrel between Prigozhin and Girkin. He advised «Strelkov» to comment actions of «Wagner» PMC from frontline and not from Moscow apartment. We can assume that Bogatov has been in Donbas in August 2022.
Bogatov participated in the Soviet invasion into Afghanistan and war in Yugoslavia. In Syria, he commanded the unit with 350 mercenaries. He lost his left hand near Palmira in spring 2016. After that, he was transferred to command security unit guarding Syrian gas company,
In September 2016, Putin awarded Bogatov the medal of «Hero of Russia». Bogatov tried to make political career. He has been included into the federal list of political party «Rodina» \ «Motherland» during the elections to the State Duma of the Russian Federation. He failed to become the Russian parliamentarian.
Aleksandr Kuznetsov (call sign «Ratibor») is another «Wagner» member standing close to Putin. He is professional military. He commanded special purpose company in Solnechnogorsk. In 2008, he was arrested for abduction and burglary. In 2010, he got guilty verdict. He was released from prison in 2013 and joined «Wagner» PMC in 2014.
«Ratibor» commanded an assault unit in Libya («Wagner» was fighting on the side of local pro-Russian general). He was seriously wounded. The President of the Russian Federation granted him a title of «Hero of Russia». Kuznetsov oversaw the loading of gold from African Sudan in recent years, in accordance to CNN reports.
In December 2022, Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov made an interview with «Ratibor» near Soledar.
On January 11, 2023, Prigozhin media RIA «FAN» reported that legendary commander of «Wagner» PMC and «Hero of Russia» lost foot and hand near Soledar. Prigozhin personally accompanied him in the military evacuation plane flying to Moscow.
The only person meeting this description is Aleksandr «Ratibor» Kuznetsov, in accordance with the data of investigators from evocation.info.
The African continent is the target of the Russian neo-colonial expansion. Putin hides its nature by anti-colonial messages. The expansion is exercised by «Wagner» PMC. The name of supervisor of Prigozhin’s African project was unveiled by joint investigation of The Insider, Bellingcat and Der Spiegel.
It is Colonel Konstantin Pikalov (call sign «Mazai»). In Russia, he has headed LLC «Military Security Company «Convoy» and Sankt Petersburg Cossack Association with the same title since 2015.
International investigators stated that Pikalov flew to the Ukrainian border in 2014 and 2017, sometimes together with «Wagner» mercenaries. They quoted participants of Prigozhin’s African project who said that «Mazai» participated in military operations in Ukraine and Syria.
«Head of Crimea» Aksyonov has promoted his Crimean private military company under the brand of «Convoy» during last months. «Convoy» is an assault and reconnaissance unit of the battalion «Livadya». Its commander – Konstanitn «Mazai» Pikalov.
As Russian propagandists stated in their videos, «Convoy» members fought in Kherson oblast. The unit is financed from extra-budgetary resources provided by Aksyonov. All commanders of new PMC are former «Wagner» members, as former members of «Convoy» report.
It should be noted that Utkin, Troshev, Kuznetsov and Bogatov were covered by media and put into sanction lists before the Russian full scale invasion in Ukraine. Anton Elizarov (call sign «Lotos») should be added to this list. According to Z-propagandists, he commanded the attack and destruction of Soledar.
He fought as mercenary in Syria – under Palmira and other cities. He was wounded during the assault on the eastern bank of Euphrates. Like Troshev, he has orders of «Hero or Russia», «DNR» and «LNR». «Lotos» publicly appeared with Prigozhin during solemn funerals of Oleksii Nagin, «Wagner» officer killed in Ukraine on September 20, 2022.
Now «Lotos» gives comments to Prigozhin’s propagandists about situation near Soledar. Sometimes he does not hide his face under balaclava. He has been the author of fantastic announcement that losses of Ukrainian defendants of Soledar exceeded by six times losses of «Wagner» mercenaries.
Major Sergey Kononov (call sign «Rus») has been another prominent «Wagner» member. As the member of «Wagner» PMC, he fought in Donbas, Syria and Libya. After the 24th of February, 2022, he participated in Russian attacks on Kyiv and Kharkiv.
However, he switched from PMC to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. In July 2022, his rank of Major was renewed and he was appointed to command battalion created on the basis of company for special operations. Later he was killed – either by self-explosion of mortar or by kamikadze drone.
We hope that the Ukrainian intelligence possesses more information about commanders of «Wagner» PMC and that they will be detained and brought to responsibility or will be killed in Ukraine.