Ex-Wagner commander arrested in Norway for attempting return to Russia

  • World
  • Saturday, 23 Sep 2023

Former Wagner commander Andrei Medvedev is pictured in court with his lawyer Brynjulf Risnes (not pictured), in Oslo, Norway April 25, 2023. REUTERS/Gwladys Fouche/File Photo

OSLO (Reuters) - Norwegian police have arrested a former commander of the Wagner mercenary group on suspicion that he tried to illegally cross the border back into Russia after seeking asylum in Norway earlier this year, the man's lawyer said on Saturday.

Andrei Medvedev, who escaped Russia in January via its Arctic border with Norway, has described running as Russian guards fired shots at him. He has spoken about his time fighting in Ukraine as part of the Wagner group.

Police said in a statement late on Friday that a man in his 20s had been taken into custody for attempting to illegally cross the Russian border, but did not name him. An officer with the Finnmark local police declined to give the arrested man's identity.

Crossing the border to Russia is only allowed at designated points.

But Medvedev's arrest was due to a misunderstanding, his Norwegian lawyer Brynjulf Risnes told Reuters.

"He was up there to see if he could find the place where he crossed (into Norway in January). He was stopped when he was in a taxi. He was never near the border ... It was never his intention to cross the border (into Russia)," Risnes said.

At the time of his arrival in Norway, Medvedev said he was seeking asylum because he feared for his life after witnessing the killing and mistreatment of Russian prisoners brought to the frontline in Ukraine.

His escape in January made headlines around the world as a rare example at the time of someone defecting to a Western country while claiming to have fought for Russia as a mercenary in the Ukraine war.

But in May, he said in a video posted on YouTube he wanted to return to Russia even though he believed this could pose a risk to his life, describing himself as "some kind of a boy in a big game" that he no longer wanted to be part of.

Risnes said Medvedev had the right to return to Russia if he wanted to, but that "a lot of changes need to happen" in order to make a safe return.

In April, Medvedev was convicted in Norway of involvement in a bar fight and of carrying an air gun but was acquitted of committing violence against police. He said then he was looking to the future and hoped for asylum.

Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed on Aug. 23 when a private jet he used crashed in unexplained circumstances, just two months after he briefly sent his mercenaries advancing on Moscow in a direct challenge to the Russian establishment.

(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche and Nerijus Adomaitis, editing by Terje Solsvik and Clelia Oziel)

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