Norwegian authorities arrested former Wagner Group Commander Andrei Medvedev for allegedly trying to cross the Russian border on Friday, just months after he sought asylum in Norway, but his lawyer told Newsweek the arrest was a “misunderstanding.”
Medvedev served in the Wagner Group, a paramilitary organization founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin that was largely comprised of Russian convicts, as the group joined Russian forces on the frontlines of the Russia-Ukraine war. Russian President Vladimir Putin for months relied on the Wagner Group to make progress in Ukraine, as his invasion stalled in part due to issues within his own military. The group has since been banished to Belarus after it staged an attempted rebellion against Moscow’s military leadership in June over the lack of progress made in the invasion.
Medvedev is a rare instance of a Wagner Group member fleeing his unit to escape the war. He fled to Norway in January, warning that he feared for his life on the frontlines of Ukraine, but has since indicated he may return to Russia.
Authorities arrested Medvedev in the village of Grense Jakobselv, located near the Russian border on Friday, according to a report from Ukrainian news outlet Ukrainska Pravda. He is accused of attempting to cross the border to get to Russia’s Kola Peninsula, however it is illegal to cross into Russia from that area.
Medvedev allegedly voiced concerns that he believed he would be extradited to Ukraine, which has investigated alleged war crimes committed by the Wagner Group. He also told authorities he views returning to Russia as safer than being sent to Ukraine, according to Ukrainska Pravda.
Medvedev’s lawyer Brynjulf Risnes told Newsweek the arrest was a misunderstanding in a statement on Saturday morning.
“He was in the region doing research for a Swiss documentary. He was stopped while in a taxi towards the area where he crossed the border in January. He did not cross the border and had no such plans. It looks like a misunderstanding and I hope he will be released later today,” he said.
Medvedev previously said he “grew disaffected” with the Wagner Group after witnessing at least 10 killings of pro-Russia soldiers who allegedly disobeyed commands, as well as the treatment of Russian prisoners.
“The commanders took them to a shooting field and they were shot in front of everyone. Sometimes one guy was shot, sometimes they would be shot in pairs,” he told The Guardian in a January interview.
Reuters reported in May that Medvedev had said he wanted to return to Russia despite the threat to his life, as he felt like a “some kind of a boy in a big game” he does not want to be apart of.
“Recently I’ve decided that I’m ready to go back to the Russian Federation. I’ve contacted the Russian embassy in Oslo for help, to facilitate my return,” he said in a video at the time.