Norway detains former Wagner commander, denies any plan to deport him to Russia
OSLO (Reuters) -Norwegian police have detained a former commander of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group who recently fled to Norway, but denied suggestions that he might be deported to Russia.
A Russian prisoners’ rights group, Gulagu.net, published a recording of a phone interview on Monday with Andrei Medvedev in which he urged Norway to let him stay and testify against the private military group, which has been fighting Ukrainian forces in some of the most brutal battles of the war.
Medvedev said he had been detained and handcuffed on Sunday at a hotel where he was staying and taken to a detention centre. Gulagu.net said Medvedev had been told he faced deportation.
Asked about the claim, a Norwegian police spokesperson said: “No, this is not correct,” without elaborating.
Medvedev’s Norwegian lawyer, Brynjulf Risnes, put the risk of his being deported at “zero”, adding he had been detained due to “disagreement” about measures taken to ensure his safety.
“He is under very strict security measures and we disagree about the way they are applied. These have caused frictions,” Risnes told Reuters.
Medvedev fled by crossing the Russian-Norwegian border and has said he is in fear for his life after witnessing the killing and mistreatment of Russian prisoners brought to the front lines in Ukraine to fight for Wagner.
“My goal in coming here was firstly of course to save my life and secondly to tell the truth to the people and the world,” he said in the phone interview with Gulagu.net, recorded on Monday.
He said he also wanted to “punish” Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, for the deaths of people who died on his orders in Ukraine.
Gulagu.net said Medvedev would face “brutal murder and death” for speaking out against Wagner if he was returned to Russia.
“We do not whitewash Medvedev. He has done many bad things in his life,” the rights group said.
“But he has seen the light, he has realized this, he is ready and willing to cooperate with the world, with the international investigation and with the authorities of Norway, he wants to live and testify” against Wagner and Prigozhin, it added.
Medvedev is an orphan who joined the Russian army and served time in prison before joining Wagner last July on a four-month contract that he said the group had then repeatedly extended without his consent.
He has said he crossed the snowy Arctic Circle border into Norway, a NATO member, from Russia after climbing through barbed-wire fences and evading a border patrol with dogs.
(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche in Oslo and Mark Trevelyan in LondonEditing by Gareth Jones)