Ukrainian, Russian and international media have reported that close cooperation between Sergey Aksyonov, the “Head of Crimea” and Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner private military company (PMC) has led to the formation of Crimea’s own mercenary forces, known as “Convoy”.
Using the Wagner model, Aksyonov decided to create his own mercenary groups, and has reportedly recruited a former Wagner commander in Africa to lead his mercenary unit of around 300 fighters, which he claims has already deployed to occupied parts of the Kherson region in southern Ukraine.
The relationship between the two has developed rapidly since the autumn. Aksyonov openly sided with Prigozhin in his public quarrels with the Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, and Russian Chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov. It is also reported that Progozhin has provided vehicles to his ally.
The formation of the unit was preceded by a large-scale recruitment campaign through the Aksyonov-controlled Crimean media, which included propaganda applauding Wagner’s assaults on Bakhmut. The Russia-24 TV station made a report on the Convoy group where one of its members claimed that they were all former Wagner employees.
The commander of Convoy is Konstanitn Pikalov, (call sign “Mazai”), who is said to have commanded Prigozhin’s mercenaries in Madagascar and the Central African Republic, as revealed in investigations by the investigative sites Bellingcat and Insider.
Convoy also started its own Telegram channel last November which heavily features Russian Orthodox imagery and icons, and constantly refers to Ukrainians as “Nazis” and “Satanists”.
Members of Convoy are said to sign simultaneous contracts with both the Russian Ministry of Defense and the “Military Security Company Convoy”, which is registered in the Russian Register of Legal Entities, according to reports by Russian independent media “Important Stories”. A former Convoy mercenary provided information about pay and conditions for Convoy members; officers receive 300,000 rubles a month and ordinary soldiers 200,000. Those who serve more than a year have been promised “land in Crimea or Abkhazia”.
The Convoy training area is said to be located in the village of Perevalne, in Crimea, a former Soviet base use for training foreign army personnel. In addition, some Russian milbloggers claim that Aksyonov has allocated a separate 20 hectares of Crimean land for a training center for Prigozhin’s Wagner forces. The Office of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea talked about larger land plot (700 hectares).
Ukrainian and Russian journalists, referring to a Russian propaganda broadcast in early March say that Convoy is currently holding positions at the frontline in Kherson region, neighboring Crimea. The Russian broadcast claimed that the unit is well-equipped, with T-80 and T-90 tanks and its own electronic reconnaissance. “Food, weapons, uniform are supplied thanks to additional funds by the “Head of Crimea”.
Also in the autumn, a second group, the so-called “Cossack assault battalion - Tavrida” initiated a campaign of active recruitment of Crimean volunteers with the open support of Aksyonov. The Kyiv-based Crimean Center for Journalist Investigations (CJI) reports that the commander of the battalion is Anton Syrotkin, advisor to the “Head of Crimea” and “commander” of the “Black Sea Cossack troops”. Many Crimean based sources refer to members of “Tavrida” as “Aksyonov’s people”.
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