This is a very interesting article about Russian para-military contractors in Syria.  By some accounts, these guys are the ones doing the real fighting on the ground inside Syria, with Russian Special Operations Forces only backfilling the areas that Vegner and others capture so that there are actual troops for Russia Today to interview. -Jack

On December 9, the Kremlin marked the Day of Heroes of the Fatherland with a lavish event attended by “more than 300 military personnel and civilians who have demonstrated particular courage and heroism, including Heroes of the Soviet Union, Heroes of Russia,” and other top honorees. President Vladimir Putin personally addressed the audience and thanked them for their service.

From state media coverage of the event, St. Petersburg investigative journalist Denis Korotkov identified among the guests a man who he has been writing about for several years: Dmitry Utkin, who uses the nom de guerre “Vagner” and is believed to be the head of an unregistered private military contracting agency called ChVK Vagner.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on December 15 confirmed that Utkin, 46, was at the reception, adding that he qualified because he holds the Order of Courage. Asked why Utkin had been given the honor, Peskov only said: “Usually they give it for courage.”

Read the rest here.