For quite some time, there have been questions about the inner workings of the Wagner Group, the paramilitary company (PMC) that operates ostensibly as a part of the Russian government giving it built-in deniability. 

Wagner is owned by Evgeny Prigozhin, who is well known as “Putin’s chef.” Prigzhin has built a large organization that hires from the Russian military, trains, and equips its mercenaries on Russian military bases. 

Now, for the first time, some of the inner workings of Wagner, warts and all, have been revealed in a book by Marat Gabidullin entitled In the Same River Twice.

An insider and member of the company, Gabidullin was a former Russian paratrooper who joined Wagner in 2015 as the lowest ranking soldier. He steadily worked his way up until he became a reconnaissance company commander.

Gabidullin writes about Wagner and his experiences inside the company during his time in Syria.

He also sat down for an exclusive interview with Medusa, an independent Russian web publication. In the interview with Liliya Yapparova, Gabidullin pulled back the curtain. He revealed how Prigozhin was unaware of many of the things that were going on inside his own company, and how Wagner’s commander, Dmitry Utkin, ordered his men to commit one of the most heinous acts that have been filmed during the bloody Syrian civil war.

Prigozhin, who was aware of, and asked for copies of the book, told Gabidullin to put off its publication “until the time is right.” The author disagreed stating, “When will the time come? When no one’s interested anymore? When you’ve already turned everything here upside down and you’ve mixed it up so it’s difficult to tell fact from fiction?”

“[Prigozhin] helped me a lot in my life, he provided treatment after my injury — I understand this, but nevertheless, I can’t bring myself to accept what is happening. I think Prigozhin is making a big mistake,” Gabidullin said.

Prigozhin printed a few copies of the book in 2017, giving one to the author, and another to Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov. 

When asked about the gift of the book, Peskov said, “To be honest I have no idea what you’re talking about. I received a book from Prigozhin as a gift, but it wasn’t in 2017, it was much earlier — and it was about eastern cuisine.”

Gabidullin states that members of Wagner were looting from Syria and even from the historic site at Palmyra.

We weren’t crystal clear. Played around. In the headquarters at the [oil plant in] Khayane and at the Tankodrome [PMC base], for example, there were ancient stones that we had taken from Palmyra — this, however, was not massive. I once occupied a room where there was a [chipped] bas-relief on a shelf. They chopped off, I think, from the upper platform from one of the columns — and there [on the bas-relief] some signs were depicted — perhaps writing.

He stated that “The Hunters,” the anti-ISIS unit, was primarily there as a PR tool and to take the onus off of Wagner.

Yes, we are all built on this — on PR and plagiarism. In 2017, for example, how they did it: when we took Palmyra for the second time, “Hunters” suddenly came up from the rear and filmed. We were already at the airfield [of the Syrian Air Force near Palmyra] — and they only came to shoot a picture. Beautiful: I remember there were shots, how they followed our tank. Then they slowly began to participate in battles. First, they cleaned up something on Akerbat, fired somewhere under the guidance of Russian instructors. And on the Euphrates instructors and I have already achieved that they went on the attack themselves. I lost a lot of them then [on the Euphrates]. Terrible losses.

Gabidullin was wounded seriously in Palmyra in 2016.

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He didn’t spare the rod in terms of Russian Special Forces, who, while at the front and doing some fighting, were underperforming.

“But the formations of the MTR work at the front. As far as I know, in Aleppo, their sniper pairs gave a lethal result. But it was as the Special Operations Forces that they were underperforming: they did not go into raids, they did not go to the rear, they did not set up ambushes.”

Gabidullin in Palmyra in 2016

Gabidullin told Medusa that Wagner is no longer attracting professional Russian soldiers in its recruiting efforts. Instead, they’re taking recruits with little to no practical experience and commanders that aren’t up to the jobs they’re given. 

“People who got to smell gunpowder in Chechnya or during the Georgia War are no longer striving [to join the Wagner PMC]. And it turns out that more than half of the personnel are [at war] for the first time.”

“In 2015-2017, Wagner’s [Dmitry Utkin] led a squad of gladiators — now he is leading an army of slaves… Most of the commanders absolutely are not up to the level of their positions. And the veterans who still remain in this formation have made up their minds: ‘The main task is to survive. Survive, you understand? They aren’t thinking about victory anymore,” Gabidullin adds.

He said that Wagner’s commander, Dmitry Utkin, ordered the torture of the Syrian deserter that was shown all over the internet. In it, Wagner mercenaries beat the man with a sledgehammer before cutting off his head. 

Let [Prigozhin] curse me, let him trample on me — for me the main thing is that he comes to his senses, for the book to push him to reform the firm. Because you can’t get so carried away with secrecy: why torture yourself when the whole world knows? Because now, because of the four morons who beat a militia deserter with a sledgehammer and decapitated [him], everyone thinks that all of the other [Wagner group mercenaries] are the same type of bloodthirsty ghouls.”

But it was Wagner’s [commander Dmitry Utkin] himself who told them to do it! In order to intimidate [other potential deserters from the Syrian army]. And, so I was told, he also ordered them to shoot the video[…] Prigozhin mustn’t forget that it was his beloved commander who called for all of this to be done. And that it was we ourselves who created this situation with our own hands. These four sadists need to be brought to justice”

The publishers of Gabidullin’s book have now pulled it from the printing presses. They say it was at the request of the author.

When asked by Medusa what the reason was for pulling the book, the publishers gave no comment.

Many websites, including Pravda, the former official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, said that independent investigators found many “inconsistencies and falsehoods” in the book.