This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Never one to mince words, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the brash founder of the notorious Russian mercenary company Wagner Group, offered the latest in a series of often profane criticism of Russian military commanders in a video published on May 9.
Prigzohin complained about supplies of ammunition to his fighters, who have played a key role in the 10-month assault on the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. And then he lit into another target, a private security company funded by the state-owned gas giant Gazprom, complaining that its fighters were refusing to take up positions in the fight near Bakhmut.
“Why are you spending public money, gathering people, and sending them to the meat grinder?” he said in the video. “Their mothers are going to come and give you a good [expletive]. Stop doing this nonsense, this is war!”
Wagner, with its yearslong rise to prominence in places like Mali, Sudan, and the Central African Republic, has become a household name for followers of Russian military tactics. But Prigozhin’s company is far from the only one of its sort.
Here’s a quick look at some of the other, lesser-known players in Russia’s growing private security complex: some have fielded soldiers to fight in Ukraine, others have gained notoriety in their own unique ways.
Soldiers from a company known as Redut were among the first to enter Ukraine, according to the news site Meduza, when Russia launched its large-scale invasion on February 24, 2022. Redut is the Russian word for “redoubt,” a defensive military fortification or stronghold.
But its origins go back several years: to Syria, according to the Russian-language newspaper Novaya gazeta, where its soldiers were reportedly involved in guarding facilities set up there by Stroitransgaz, an engineering and construction company originally established by Gazprom but later acquired by Kremlin-connected billionaire Gennady Timchenko.
According to Novaya gazeta, Redut’s headquarters are located in Kubinka, a Moscow region town that is close to the home base of the 45th Special Forces Brigade of Russia’s Airborne Forces.
The company has actively recruited soldiers on Russian social networks, stipulating that interested candidates must be at least 25 and must have some sort of military specialty or experience in law enforcement agencies.
A copy of a Redut contract recently obtained by RFE/RL’s Idel.Realities shows no mention of Ukraine or any ongoing military operations, and states that the company is a construction company registered in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, not far from the Russian-occupied parts of the Donbas in Ukraine. Russian corporate registries, however, show no details for any such corporations.
The contract also identifies itself by the abbreviation “RLSPI” or Regional Laboratory of Social and Psychological Research. The laboratory in fact is a unit of Russia’s military intelligence agency, known as the GRU, and is officially called military unit 35555.
One man who joined Redut told Idel.Realities that prior to the invasion, contractors were being sent to Ukraine — Russia has backed local forces in the Donbas since 2014 — and they were being paid in cash, in U.S. dollars. Since the invasion, however, wages have been paid in rubles.
Expectations and responsibilities for contractors include “execution of any special tasks at any time in any place at the employer’s discretion,” the contract says.
Another former contractor told Idel.Realities that the soldiers do some of their training at a military-intelligence training facility near the southwestern Russian city of Tambov.
Torch, Flow, And Flame
In addition to Wagner, which, despite its notoriety and fame, remains technically illegal under Russian law as a private military company, there are other armed security companies that are also present on the Ukraine battlefield, that are not illegal.
The existence of one or more private military companies backed by Gazprom was widely suspected prior to Prigozhin’s comments. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin earlier this year authorized the Gazprom oil subsidiary Gazpromneft to create such an entity under the classification “private security company,” which is legal under Russian law.
According to the BBC’s Russian service, Gazprom’s private entity was initially established in the Siberian city of Omsk under the title Gazpromneft Okhrana — or Gazpromneft Security — and was headed by Stanislav Bauman, the acting head of the Arkhangelsk regional Interior Ministry.
Based on Prigozhin’s remarks and other reporting, there are multiple private security entities that exist under Gazprom’s umbrella.
One, known as Potok, or “flow,” came to public attention in April, when a group of its contractors released a video complaining about battlefield supplies. They also complained that they had been told they would receive formal contracts via the Defense Ministry but instead were deployed under the authority of the Redut company.
Don And The Union Of Donbas Volunteers
The Don Brigade, which has links to Redut, is made up of volunteers, many of whom are Cossacks. The brigade is listed in the national ready-reserve system known as BARS and is formally connected with the Defense Ministry.
A top official in a Cossack social organization called the Union of Cossack Warriors of Russia and Abroad has recruited volunteers on social media. Another top official with the group is Aleksandr Borodai, a Russian who was formerly a leader of separatists in the Donbas. He is now a member of Russia’s parliament.
One Don soldier, who gave his name only as Maksim, told RFE/RL that he joined because of the age requirement imposed by Redut. But he said wages for contractors with Don and the Union of Donbas Volunteers were paid by Redut.
The soldier said that some of the contractors are sent to join Redut, where special Don units are created. But they are still formally considered members the Union of Donbas Volunteers.
And, like other fighters with Redut, Don mercenaries are not included in the formal BARS registry system.
According to the Union’s page on the social network formerly known as VKontake, the group has three battalions who train at the Kadamovsky training ground in the Rostov region.
Moran Security Group, Slavonic Corps, E.N.O.T. Corps
Other Russian military and security companies are better known for earlier endeavors, or their activities off the Ukrainian battlefields, or espousing extremist ideologies.
There are conflicting dates as to when Moran Security first emerged. Corporate documents detailed in a 2019 report by the New America Foundation say the company was incorporated in Belize in 2011, followed by Moscow that same year. Its marketing materials say its work providing security from pirates for Russian ships dates back to the 1990s. Among Moran’s biggest clients were state-owned Sovcomflot, Russia’s largest shipping company.
According to the St. Petersburg news outlet Fontanka, PMC Wagner took root from the Slavonic Corps, a private military company that recruited fighters back in 2013.
Another company, the Slavonic Corps, first appeared in corporate records in Hong Kong in 2013; its two principals were former employees of Moran, Vadim Gusev and Yevgeny Sidorov. That same year, in 2013, Slavonic Corps fighters appeared in Syria at the request of the Syrian government, which was already facing a growing threat from groups including Islamic State that had captured several oil facilities.
After a battle in which several Slavonic Corps fighters were wounded, Gusev and Sidorov returned to Russia, and they were detained by the Federal Security Service. A year later, they were found guilty of running an illegal mercenary company and sentenced to prison by a Moscow court.
One of the Wagner Group’s first heads, meanwhile, was Dmitry Utkin, a Russian military intelligence veteran who worked for Moran Security and later the Slavonic Corps.
Another private company that Ukrainian researchers have identified as taking part in Russia’s 2014 occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula was E.N.O.T. Corp, founded by a nationalist activist named Igor Mangushev.
E.N.O.T. soldiers have also been spotted in Syria, according to a 2018 report by the Polish Institute for International Affairs, as well as engaging in paramilitary operations in Tajikistan and Nagorno-Karabakh. The group also ran “patriotic” summer camps for young people, in countries including Serbia, Montenegro, Belarus, and others.
In 2018, the group was targeted by Russian law enforcement in the Krasnodar region, and several of its members, some who were federal security or intelligence officers, were accused of robbery and extortion. Last year, Roman Telenkevich, who had headed the group since 2016, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for extortion, criminal threatening, and other charges.