It may not be “justice,” but a notorious Russian mercenary from the nefarious Wagner Group was killed last week by a Ukrainian sniper. Dubbed “The Executioner,” the 44-year-old Vladimir Andonov had reportedly played a crucial role in the mass shooting of Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) and even took part in the execution of civilians in the Donbas region in 2015.
As a member of the Wagner Group (also known as PMC Wagner), the private military company and network of mercenaries that has earned a reputation of being a de facto private army of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Andonov was also a sabotage and reconnaissance specialist. Known to the Russians as “Vakha,” or “the volunteer from Buryatia” (the region he was from), the mercenary leader had played an instrumental role in Russia’s invasion of the Donbas in 2014.
He had apparently bragged about his efforts to “liberate” the Donbas town of Logvinovo, where the bodies of Ukrainian soldiers were found buried in shallow graves after being executed. Andonov had told Russian media how he had been instructed to “destroy all the forces of the enemy,” and later added, “there were no survivors.” The mercenary further earned the insidious moniker “The Executioner” due to the brutal tactics he was said to have employed in missions in Syria and Libya. Andonov had been awarded at least two medals for valor while fighting as part of Putin’s shadow force.
Though the Kremlin has not officially acknowledged Andonov’s death, Russian-language channels on the social media platform Telegram announced the news of his death earlier this week.
“He was killed overnight during a reconnaissance of the area, along with a comrade, presumably at the hands of a sniper,” military officials on Telegram channel Peleng 03 reported on Sunday.
An Army That Doesn’t Exist
Despite a multitude of evidence of the exploits of the Wagner Group, including its role in Syria, Sudan and more recently the Central African Republic, the mercenary unit has no registered office and does not officially exist.
Moreover, while it operates on paramilitary organizations and private military contractors (PMCs) units such as the American-based Blackwater, or the South African-based Executive Outcomes, the Wagner Group has been seen to use far more brutal tactics. Some would even be considered war crimes, and the group has been accused of committing multiple atrocities.
The Wagner Group first went into action during Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, explained Tracey German, professor of conflict and security at King’s College London, in an interview with the BBC.
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“Its mercenaries are thought to be some of the ‘little green men’ who occupied the (Crimean) region,” said German. “About 1,000 of its mercenaries then supported the pro-Russian militias fighting for control of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.”
The group of soldiers of fortune is reportedly run by two of Putin’s closest allies, including oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin and his partner Dmitry Utkin. According to some reports, Utkin has been known to wear “Nazi-style” uniforms.
A High Profile Loss
The death of the bloodthirsty Andonov on Sunday came just days after Ukrainian forces had successfully killed Russian Maj. Gen. Roman Kutuzov and Lt. Gen. Roman Brednikov in the Donbas region.
As many as a dozen Russian general officers may have been killed in the fighting in Ukraine, yet the death of Andonov will come as well news to the families of his many victims.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.