Norwegian police have detained a former commander of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group who recently fled to Norway, but his lawyer dismissed 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 in Ukraine.
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.
There was no immediate comment from Norwegian authorities on the matter, but Medvedev’s Norwegian lawyer, Brynjulf Risnes, told Reuters: “The risk of him being deported? It is zero.”
Police had detained Medvedev as there was “disagreement” between them about the measures taken to ensure his safety, Risnes said.
“He is under very strict security measures and we disagree about the way they are applied. These have caused frictions,” he said.
Fears for his life
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.
‘Wants to live and testify’
The rights group 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 co-operate with the world, with the international investigation and with the authorities of Norway. He wants to live and testify” against Prigozhin.
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 border into Norway from Russia in the Arctic Circle after climbing through barbed-wire fences and evading a border patrol with dogs.