Russian Deserter in Rambo-Style Attack Is Tied to Putin’s Private Army

Mikhail Svetlov/Getty
Mikhail Svetlov/Getty

A suspected Russian deserter who brought the war against Ukraine to Russian soil on Tuesday by opening fire on cops with a machine gun was reportedly a prison inmate tossed onto the battlefield by the notorious Wagner Group.

Rostov Gov. Vasily Golubev confirmed on Telegram early Wednesday that the gunman had been apprehended, noting that he’d been found “in an empty building near Novoshakhtinsk” after sparking a panicked manhunt there.

The Russian outlet Baza, citing unnamed sources, identified the shooter as a convicted felon from a penal colony in Ufa who had been serving a prison sentence for theft and robbery when he was signed up for the war as part of Wagner’s prison-recruitment scheme.

It was not immediately clear when he joined Russia’s war against Ukraine, but Baza reports that he fled the battlefield there in late November and had apparently been on the run ever since.

Decked out in camo and a ski mask, he emerged from a wooded area about 12 miles from Russia’s border with Ukraine on Tuesday and took aim at cops who were in the area for a missing-person’s case. Both cops were wounded in the chaotic barrage of gunfire but were expected to survive.

The incident has largely been played down in Russian state media, where the gunman’s reported links to the war against Ukraine were conveniently left out. The Investigative Committee confirmed the gunman had previously been convicted of theft and robbery, however, according to RIA Novosti.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Putin-friendly businessman behind Wagner, issued a bizarre statement in which he appeared to question why an alleged crime committed by a mercenary under his command was not properly covered up by Russian law enforcement authorities.

‘Putin’s Chef’ Is Personally Touring Russian Prisons for Wagner Recruits to Fight in Ukraine, Reports Say

“If [he] was indeed a Wagner fighter and committed an offense, then it is necessary to separately investigate how this kind of incident, which should be classified as ‘top secret,’ fell into the hands of journalists, and also how this person crossed the border of the Russian Federation,” Prigozhin said in a statement released by the press service for his company Concord Management.

He did not confirm if the gunman had in fact been recruited by the mercenary group. Numerous reports on the twisted prison-recruitment scheme have noted that inmates were told—at times by Prigozhin personally—that they would be executed if they tried to retreat.

The public execution of former Wagner fighter Yevgeny Nuzhin—killed with a sledgehammer to the head in a video circulated by a Wagner-linked Telegram channel in mid-November—was widely seen as a warning to other would-be defectors that they face the same fate for any such betrayal.

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