December 9, 2016, was Day of the Heroes of the Fatherland in Russia. To honor it, a special ceremony was held at the Kremlin, where many heroes of Russia and USSR gathered for dinner with Putin. President held an emotional speech and made a toast. Prominent decorated officers and veterans form the Russian army, intelligence and security ranks filled the St. George’s Hall behind the Kremlin walls. Amongst them was Dimitry Utkin aka Evegny Vagner. Also known as Wagner, apparently a callsign he bagged while serving with the Russian military intelligence.
Dimitry Utkin is somewhat of a mysterious figure. He is 46-years old former Lieutenant colonel in the 2nd Spetsnaz Brigade of the GRU based in the Russian city of Pskov. Upon his discharge in 2013, he joined the Moran Security Group – a Russian private security company that specialises in the maritime security in the pirate infested waters. An independent Russian news website – Fontanka – alleges that his mercenaries made an appearance during the war in Donbass between 2014-15.
Utkivn is alleged to have been involved in a rather disastrous Syrian war adventure as part of the Slavonic Corps – a Hong Kong registered subsidiary of the Moran Security Group. His alleged deputy, Andrey Troshev (ex OMON and SOBR officer) was also present during the Kremlin ceremony on 9 December 2016. Both man have been linked by Fontanka to the Russian catering billionaire – the Kremlin chef – Evgeny Prigozhyn, in particular, to the internal security and VIP protection department of his Concord Catering company. Perhaps, Prigozhyn’s entrepreneurial nose and his close links to the Kremlin might have helped him sniff a juicy investment opportunity for the future?
Since the Kremlin ceremony on 9 December, Putin’s spokesperson Dimitry Peskov has been questioned by the Russian media whether Utkin was indeed present on the day. On 15 December, Tass quoted Peskov as saying that one Dimitry Utivn was indeed present since he was the holder of the Order of Courage of the Russian Federation, but that he did not know what his nickname was – in response to media’s Wagner reference.
Private security companies offer an aspect of plausible deniability for the Kremlin.
To what extent will they be allowed to grow and develop, what powers will they acquire in the coming years and will they one day resemble the behemoth akin to the American Constellis, remains to be seen.
Image: Still taken from Channel One Russia