From Pagans to Templars: the everyday religious life in the Wagner PMC – English versionDenis Brilyov
Today, the so-called "Private Military Company Wagner" or "Wagner Group" gets increasingly mentioned when discussing the warfare in Ukraine. It is actively involved in the Russian invasion of Ukraine along with the regular units of the Russian army. This PMC became known several years ago primarily due to its participation in combat operations on the side of Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria, as well as in the conflict in the east of Ukraine. The emergence of the PMC Wagner is associated with the St. Petersburg businessman, often called "Putin's chef," Yevgeny Prigozhin. For a long time, he denied his involvement in creating this private military company. However, after the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war in 2022, he confirmed his ties to the PMC Wagner. As he stated through his press service on September 26, 2022,
In 2014, when ... Russia managed to block the Ukrainian army from coming to Crimea at the eleventh hour, I ... went to the ranges where the 'cossacks' were gathering and tried ... to recruit a group that would go and protect the Russians. But very quickly I realized that half of these "cossacks" and other paramilitary comrades were crooks. The other half took the money, hired volunteers, and sent them barefoot and bare to the real death. So I flew to one of the ranges and started working on it on my own. I cleaned the old weapons, sorted out the body armor, and found experts who could help me do it. From that moment, on May 1, 2014, a group of patriots was born, later getting the name of the BTGBattalion tactical group, a combined-arms manoeuvre unit deployed by the Russian Army Wagner#770 Request from the "Bloknot" media and the answer. Concord Press Service. September 26, 2022. https://vk.com/concordgroup_official?w=wall-177427428_1194.
The "PMC Wagner" comes from the call sign of the group's commander, retired Lieutenant Colonel Dmitry Utkin, who previously served in the Pskov GRU brigade. In 2013, Utkin was among the fighters of another PMC, "Slavyanksiy Korpus" (the Slavic Corps). This group was to protect an oil pipeline and a warehouse in Deir ez-Zor, a city in eastern Syria. Instead, the "Slavic Corps" fighters were ordered to support the rebels near As-Sukhnah settlement in the province of Homs, where the "Islamic State" fighters ambushed them. They barely escaped from the encirclement, having lost documents confirming their affiliation with Russia. Afterward, the "Corps" fighters left Syria and partially became the basis for the new PMCRozhdestvensky I., Bayev A., and Rusyaeva P.. Ghosts of War: How Russia's Private Army Appeared in Syria. RBC. August 25, 2016. https://www.rbc.ru/magazine/2016/09/57bac4309a79476d978e850d.
Pan-Slavic neo-paganism and Nazi symbolism
A little-known but important aspect of the PMC Wagner is its religious background, its ideology that is at the core of this private military company. After the company became known through its presence in Syria and east of Ukraine, it turned out that an essential part of its leadership ideology is rooted in Slavic neo-paganism, or Rodnovery, closely associated with the nationalist sentiment among the Russian military, especially the special and security forces.
In today's Russia, Rodnovery (from rodnaya vera, meaning ‘native faith’) is a usual umbrella term for modern Russian Neopaganism. As Shnirelman puts it, "One can distinguish between a right-wing (national democratic) and a left-wing (national socialist) among the Russian Neopagans. The former stands for capitalism and private property, and the latter aims for communism, although they do not justify its historical excesses.Shnirelman, V. 2013. “Russian Neo-paganism: from ethnic religion to racial violence.” In Modern Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Central and Eastern Europe, edited by S. Simpson and K. … Continue reading" Meanwhile, national democrats require not so much religion but a persuasive and mobilizing myth about glorious ancestors, and religion is determined by social-ethnic identity. Unlike the national democrats, the national socialists considered Orthodoxy as the ideological basis, seeing a "sacral realization of our ethnic potential" in it. Nevertheless, their understanding of Orthodoxy differed from traditional Orthodoxy, and they saw it as the religion of the chosen ones, "ascetics and heroes."
Two leading neo-pagan writers, Yuri Sergeev (1948-2021) and Sergei Alekseev (b. 1952), contributed to the spread of neo-pagan ideas and their militarization. Yuri Sergeev was the editor-in-chief of the military-oriented newspaper "Istoki" (Origins), which actively promoted the so-called "Book of Veles", a falsified text ascribed to the 9th century, which plays a vital role in many branches of Slavic Neopaganism and has a pronounced anti-Christian character. Sergei Alekseev authored the popular novel series "The Treasures of the Valkyries". The latter promotes the idea of the "divine chosenness" of the Russians and the long history of "Northern Aryans'" opposition to the plans of the New International, which seeks to finally destroy the "Northern Civilization" to subordinate all peoples to the "New World Order". Interestingly, Alekseev displays the secret service staff as the main saviors of the Slavs/Russians from the plans of the New International. One of the main enemies of the New International is Joseph Stalin, to whom the author shows his great respectShnirelman V. The Aryan myth in the modern world. Vol.1 Moscow: Novoye Literaturnoye Obozreniye, 245-248..
Both writers promoted the image of the "Russian warrior", the defender of the "Russian" ("Aryan") civilization from external and internal enemies (which were the Freemasons and Jews), who professed the "native Russian religion" (equating paganism with Old Believers). Both writers promoted the idea of an "Aryan," "Arctic" origin of the Slavs, and declared Christianity a "slave religion" that killed "the true beliefs of free-loving Rus people." In the 1990s, both were activists of the Russian National Council Ibid, 243..
Nationalist sentiments among Neopagans, as well as the popularity of martial arts clubs among them (especially its pagan variety, Slavic Gorits Fighting) and a willingness to use violence, have resulted in groups of Russian Neopagans taking an active part in the conflict in the east of Ukraine (on the side of the self-proclaimed republics) and in Syria. For example, as stated by a Russian Neopagan with the pseudonym Cheslav Osmomysl, who fought on the side of the "DPR",
...back in the Sloviansk period of the war (the initial period of the armed conflict, when pro-Russian militants seized the city of Sloviansk in the Donetsk region – DB.) I realized that some volunteers were also native believers. I met one coreligionist from the DRG (sabotage and reconnaissance group – DB.), which included three other coreligionists. I saw people from different companies (military units) with our symbols. There are surely two more pagans in my companyDonets, S., and V. Zaitsev. 2015. “Boyeviki-rodnovery na Donbasse: neoyazychniki veryat v sobstvennykh bogov i risuyut na rukakh svastiku.” [“Paramilitaries rodnovery on Donbas: neopagans … Continue reading.
Perhaps, the "Rusich" Sabotage Assault Reconnaissance Group (DShRG) is the most famous of these groups, formed from Neopagans who joined the PMC WagnerKorotkov D. Russkie nacionalisty na sirijskom kontrakte [Russian nationalists on the Syrian contract]. Fontanka. 19 October 2017. https://www.fontanka.ru/2017/10/19/101/ in the fall of 2017. The chevrons of its fighters depicted a kolovrat (literally: spinning wheel), the eight-beam swastika, one of the most popular symbols among the Neopagans. A Rusich commander Alexei Milchakov (call sign "Serb"), who had served in the Russian paratroopers, stated in an interview that the unit consists of "nationalist Rodnovers ... volunteers from Russia and Europe" and acts as a "closed collective" among other militantsKuznetsov P. Alexei Milchakov: "Debalcevskij kotel" protyanet eshhe nedelyu. ["The Debaltsevo pocket" will last another week.] Bloknot. 18 February 2015. … Continue reading.
The deputy commander of Rusich, also a St. Petersburg native, Ian Petrovsky (call sign "Slavyan"), lived in Norway for a long time and cooperated with local right-wing radical movements. Yet, he was deported at the request of the local security service. According to him, "Rusich is a pan-Slavic, pan-Scandinavian group. We call ourselves Russian nationalists, but in fact, we are Slavic nationalists, Slavic patriots.Runy, pravoslav'ya ta heorhiivskі strіchki. Shho vіdomo pro neonacistіv u rosіyskіy armii. [Runes, Orthodoxy, and St. George's ribbons. What is known about neo-Nazis in the Russian army]. BBC … Continue reading" Explaining the reasons for his participation in the war, Petrovsky said that the real separatists are Ukrainians because they "want to cut themselves off Great Russia, the united Russian, Slavic people. And our ideology unites. We fight for the reunification of the Slavs, the reunification of Northern EuropeIbid.."
In 2019, Petrovsky published his photo in front of PalmyraAndriukaitis L. Signs of Neo-Nazi Ideology Amongst Russian Mercenaries. Res Publica. Mar 26, 2021. https://en.respublica.lt/signs-of-neo-nazi-ideology-amongst-russian-mercenaries with a "from a heart to the sun" greeting gesture, common among Neopagans, reminiscent of the Nazi salute, with a signature of Neopagan content:
The Sun provided light, warmth, and crops depended on it. The annual cycle of the Sun was associated with birth and death. The symbol of the Sun was Solntsevorot [another name for the sign of kolovrat, literally: solstice – DB]... Going out into the field before the first rays of the Sun, the Slav welcomed him as his Benefactor and Helper. […] As it is known, before 988 [the date of the baptism of ancient Rus by Prince Volodymyr the Great – DB], our ancestors professed Orthodox Rodnovery. It included a large pantheon of Gods and cults. But the Sun cult was most revered, practiced by many Slavs, regardless of their occupation. The Sun cult was especially close to the agrarian cult. For a Warrior Slav, a lot depended on the SunRondeaux C., Dalton B., and J. Deer. Wagner Group Contingent Rusich on the Move Again. New America. 26 January 2022. … Continue reading.
Petrovsky also extensively uses the pagan runic symbols of Tiwaz and ValknutAndriukaitis, op. cit.. The Tiwaz (Týr) rune is an ancient pagan runic sign symbolizing military leadership. It was also widely used by the Nazi regime and became popular among supporters of white supremacy, especially among militaristic groups. Another rune, the Valknut or "knot of the fallen," representing three intertwined triangles, is popular among Neopagans and symbolizes the afterlife. It is often tattooed on the warriors' bodies, preparing them for the afterlife.
"Wagnerians" also use other runes, particularly the Othala rune, which symbolizes the "legacy; heritage, inherited property" and is popular among supporters of white supremacy. For example, in Libya, the mercenaries of the PMC Wagner put this rune on military equipment.
In the Central African Republic, "Wagnerians" used the "STD" runic inscription, consisting of Sigrún, Tiwaz, and Thurisaz runes, on their chevrons. In Slavic Neopaganism, this inscription is interpreted as "Warriors bring good and peace by their force" or "Bringing light with their forceNacizm ili yazychestvo: chto oznachayut simvoly STD na ekipirovke boycov ChVK Vagnera? [Nazism or paganism: what do the STD symbols on the equipment of the Wagner PMC fighters mean?] Men's territory. … Continue reading".
Dmitry Utkin (call sign "Wagner"), the commander of the PMC Wagner, is also known for his Neopagan leanings. According to the "Wagnerians," Utkin is a Rodnover, and other Rodnovers also serve in the PMC:
Wagner, in general, is a tough man, not a pussy," says one of the PMC commanders. "He came to the positions near Palmyra, undressed. He had a German swastika on his arm [shoulder], a tattoo. He has a helmet with horns. He is a Rodnover [...] To become a company commander [...] it is desirable to be a RodnoverKhazov-Kassia S. Proekt "Myasorubka". Rasskazyvayut tri komandira "ChVK Vagnera" [The Meatgrinder Project. Narrated by the three commanders of the PMC Wagner]. Radio Liberty. March 7, 2018. … Continue reading.
"I am a warrior. My god is Perun"
As mentioned above, the propensity of the PMC Wagner militants to Neopaganism is part of a broader trend in the Russian security services, which are increasingly leaning towards Neopaganism in recent years. For example, as Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who was in charge of relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and Neopagans puts it, in 2016, a representative of one of the Russian power structures complained in a conversation with him that there were units in this power structure where Neopagans could comprise half the personnel. He said this spirit dominates in such units, and living with a fellow Christian is not easy. According to Chaplin, it goes about the elite and special units, which are associated with special military and security training, with a secluded lifestyle, which suggests a sense of their own elitism and the emergence of some kind of ideology as a consequenceMaltsev V. Specnaz v kolovratah: neoyazychniki pronikli v elitnye voennye chasti Rossii. [Spetsnaz in kolovrats: Neopagans infiltrated the elite military units of Russia]. Tsargrad. July 26, 2018. … Continue reading.
Neopaganism is also widespread in martial arts clubs, often recruiting fighters for special units. In general, the radicalization of Neopaganism and its spread into the Russian provinces is often associated with the development and spread of the so-called "Ratoborstvo" (an old Russian word meaning 'fighting'), Slavic martial arts. The key figure in the militarization of Neopaganism was Alexander Belov (Selidor), who developed a complex of so-called Slavic Gorrits fighting. Such martial arts clubs followed mainly the cult of Perun, a Slavic god-thunderer, the patron of princes and warriors, and the highest deity in the pagan pantheon of Ancient Rus (Kyiv Rus). It was Belov's inner circle that began to form the first Neopagan Slavic communities in the Russian provinces. As a result, the spread of "Slavic martial arts" clubs was accompanied by the actual spread of Neopaganism as well. The formation of warrior cults in the Neopagan environment pushed many right-wing radical circles to join the Pagan movement, bringing a neo-Nazi component to Russian Neopaganism. According to researchers, they were attracted by the cult of strength and masculinity typical to Neopaganism, the possibility of a religious justification for racism, and a new understanding of the slogan "Russia for Russians.Kavykin O. «Rodnovery». Samoidentifikaciya neoyazychnikov v sovremennoj Rossii. [Rodnovery. Self-identification of neo-pagans in modern Russia]. Moscow: Institute of Africa, Russian Academy of … Continue reading" The hero worship, the cult of strength and courage, typical of Neopaganism, contributed to the synthesis of Neopaganism and neo-Nazism. In addition, the ultra-rightists who joined Neopaganism brought something new. While the existing forms of Paganism are characterized by a desire for autonomy and horizontal ties, communities with elements of ultra-right ideology tend toward a rigid vertical of power and the leader cult.
Often the organizers of such martial arts clubs (especially the so-called "Slavic fighting styles") are themselves veterans of state security or other law enforcement agencies (i.e., "siloviki"). For example, the club of mixed martial arts "Р.O.Д.Ъ"In Slavic Neopagan mythology, Rod is the god-great-grandfather, the original creative force. (ROD, roughly translated as clan/family, using a hard sign at the end, typical for Old Slavonic and pre-revolution Russian) is widely known. On its website, the club says: "The name of our "Р.O.Д.Ъ" symbolizes - Motherland [Rodina], Parents [Roditeli], Relatives [Rodstvenniki], People [Narod], Type of troops [rod voisk] and nature [priroda] - all these words [in Russian – DB] have the root "RODThe official website of the mixed martial arts club "Р.O.Д.Ъ". https://www.rodmma.ru." The club's founder is Ivan Ivanov, a former paratrooper, police lieutenant colonel in reserve, a combat veteran, and executive director of the Association of Sports, Patriotic, and Veteran Organizations "Shchit i mech" (Shield and Sword). Another club leader, Yan Kochetov, is a retired border guard and lieutenant colonel of the Federal Security Service of the Russian FederationVoinstvo Peruna. Pochemu siloviki i sportsmeny stanovyatsya yazychnikami? [Perun's Warriors. Why do strongmen and athletes become pagans?] Life.ru. June 17, 2018. https://life.ru/p/1125091. Club members regularly participate in Neopagan meetings held at the pagan temples of Russian Neopagans.
This and other similar clubs, whose founders are veterans of special units and state security, are united in a network financed by the "Vozrozhdenie" (Renaissance) Foundation, created by the multiple WBA world boxing champion Alexander Povetkin, known for his Neopagan views:
For me, both in conscience and in spirit, what was before Christianity is closer. [That] what was in Kyiv Rus. That's why I am a Pagan... I am a person who loves his homeland and his people. So, consider me a nationalist. What's wrong with that? A Russian man is a warrior. A warrior who is obligated to stand up for his homeland, mother, and woman... I am a warrior. My god is PerunDud Y. Aleksandr Povetkin: «Ya yazychnik. Po duhu i sovesti mne blizhe to, chto bylo do hristianstva». [Alexander Povetkin: "I am a pagan. I feel closer to what was before Christianity in the … Continue reading.
In the case of the PMC Wagner and similar militaristic groups, Rodnovery often turns out to be a religious component of the phenomenon, called "Russian militarism" or "militaristic Russian nationalism" by Nikolai Mitrokhin, which is the nationalism of the Russian military. According to him,
...this nationalism is rooted in the ideology peculiar to special-purpose units in the Soviet army (Spetsnaz/special forces, marines, border guards, etc.). It explains why these guys, mostly coming from the provinces and having big fists, who were not involved in fist fighting or wrestling sports sections instead of gangs and then sent to these special units, must work harder than ordinary soldiers, be ready to die for the state at any momentMedvedev S. Nikolaj Mitrohin: "Eto nacionalizm rossijskih voennyh" [Nikolai Mitrokhin: "This is the nationalism of the Russian military"]. Radio Liberty. March 26, 2023. … Continue reading.
Orthodoxy vs. Paganism
The spread of Neopaganism among athletes and fighters of various kinds of special units, whose alumni joined all kinds of security firms, including the PMC Wagner, provoked a harsh reaction from the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill. Speaking in the summer of 2018 at a meeting of the Patriarchal Commission on Physical Culture and Sports, he said:
The promotion of healthy lifestyles and physical activity often leads to a revival of Pagan attitudes toward the human body. When we started receiving information that Pagan attitudes were getting popular among athletes, we initially treated it as an oddity, an exception to the rule. But after we got a lot of information, we realized that both in sports and in the military, especially among those involved in special operations with life-threatening risks, ideas stemming from Pagan attitudes toward human beings were becoming popularAddress by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill at the first meeting of the Patriarchal Commission on Physical Culture and Sports. Official website of the Moscow Patriarchate. June 6, 2018. … Continue reading.
Patriarch Kirill returned to the idea of the growing popularity of paganism in the summer of 2022, during his sermon on the feast of the Ascension of the Lord:
The world of today is experiencing a challenging condition. Primarily, it is at the level of thought, the level of knowledge about humans, and even at the level of philosophy of life. We know how the element of Pagan passions has really conquered both consciousness and feelings; and this storm leads people, often even Orthodox Christians, awayA sermon by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill on Ascension Day after the Liturgy at Moscow's Great Ascension Church at the Nikitsky Gate. Official website of the Moscow Patriarchate. June 2, 2022. … Continue reading.
The reason for this concern is that Neopaganism is a natural enemy of Orthodoxy, calling it a "Judaizing religion" [the original Russian word stems from a pejorative word for Jews – DB]. The Russian Orthodox Church is well aware of this, seeing a threat for itself in the spread of Neopaganism primarily among ethnic Slavs and especially in the already established closed groups that tend to legitimize violence (Cossacks, martial arts athletes, paramilitary associations, etc.). As Vakhtang Kipshidze, deputy chairman of the Synodal Department for Relations with Society and the Media of the Moscow Patriarchate for Analytical Work and Media Relations, noted,
The target audience for Neopagan movements are those who ethnically associate themselves with Slavs. And the majority of Slavs living in Russia are Orthodox Christians. Therefore, Neopagans do not address the people professing Buddhism and do not offer them to accept Slavic Paganism. It simply will not work. That is why their mission, if I may say so, is directed to the flock of our church. We cannot but see this. Neopaganism is a parasite related to associations existing apart from Paganism. For example, the Cossacks. Or a sports community. De-facto pagan rituals, beliefs, and customs (questionable from the standpoint of Orthodoxy) arise to legalize associations emerging on this basis. Neopaganism spreads in such closed groupsMalafeeva M. Neoyazychestvo — ugroza ili spasenie. Chast 1: Tradicionnye religii Rossii. [Neopaganism – threat or salvation. Part 1: Traditional Religions of Russia]. Center for Prevention. … Continue reading.
The Black Temple of the Wagner PMC
Perhaps it was after Patriarch Kirill's outrage about the abundance of pagans in the law enforcement agencies, whose natives are the core of the PMC Wagner, Neopaganism among the Wagnerians became almost non-public in recent years. Moreover, Prigozhin attempted to highlight the "Christian" side of his PMC, inviting RIA Novosti journalists to the PMC Wagner chapelPrigozhin pokazal, kak vagnerovcy chtyat pamyat svoih bojcov. [Prigozhin showed how the Wagnerians honor the memory of their fighters.] RIA Novosti. January 2, 2023. … Continue reading. Chapel of St. George the Victory-bearer in Goryachiy Klyuch was founded in 2018 to memorialize the events in Syria, where the mercenaries from the PMC Wagner took part in hostilities, and began to operate in 2019. The location was not chosen by chance. The PMC Wagner was founded here, at the nearby Molkino military training ground. A memorial in honor of the fallen fighters of the PMC is nearby, made in the form of columbarium-resembling walls with anonymous plates with personal numbers and copies of awards of the deceased Wagnerians. Several bronze monuments are on the site, too. They are dedicated to the mercenaries killed in Syria and other hot spots, as well as a monument to the unknown Wagnerian, presumably the founder of the PMC Dmitry "Wagner" Utkin.
The dark gray chapel (also often called the "Black Temple" because of its color), bears the red-highlighted words from Matthew's Gospel with which Jerusalem inhabitants welcomed Jesus Christ into the city: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!" (Mat. 21:9). The chapel is a large three-story building. An automated bell tower is at its very top, turned on by a single button push. Inside, opposite the entrance to the chapel, is a huge, three-story-high reproduction of an icon of George the Victory-bearer, the patron saint of soldiers in the Russian Orthodox tradition. On either side of the reproduction are icons depicting the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. On the first floor of the high-tech chapel is a spacious hall with rectangular altar tables. On the second and third floors, there are paintings of biblical scenes, as well as pictures of the architecture of Syria and quotations from famous Russian (Soviet) generals.
A special feature of this chapel is that there is no priest here. Moreover, even clergymen are not allowed into the chapelMalshakova K. Mesto sily detisha Evgeniya Prigozhina: v Rossii pokazali iznutri chasovnyu ChVK «Vagner» v Krasnodarskom krae. [The place of power of Yevgeny Prigozhin's brainchild: Russia showed … Continue reading. They have repeatedly tried to pray for the deceased yet without success. According to the chapel keeper, this is a place where people of different religions pray, both monotheistic (Orthodoxy, Islam), Buddhists, and Pagans:
All Russian volunteers who come here – before and after their missions – are Muslims, Buddhists, Rodnovers, Orthodox Christians [...] We have a reliquary with relics of Jacob of Hamatura, brought from Al-Suqaylabiyah in Syria [...] which soldiers venerate when they leave for their mission and when they come back. Mothers, wives, and children also come. The guys who come before the battle, volunteers — we also pray with them that their shield is with them and the sword of God is in their hands, not the enemy's. There are guys like that. They know, they come, and do so before every mission. After the mission, they also come, and bow down to Jacob of Hamatura because they ask him directly for support before leaving, putting candles [...] That's how we liveRatnaya Radonica: reportazh FAN iz chasovni i memoriala russkih dobrovolcev. [Ratnaya Radonitsa: FAN report from the chapel and memorial of Russian volunteers]. May 3, 2022. … Continue reading.
According to the chapel keeper, he is often approached by mercenaries with requests to have them baptized, but he refuses to perform this rite because he is not a priest. Instead, the chapel can offer "bell therapy":
Thank God we have a chapel like this, where guys gather directly after the battles, come, remember their comrades, remember the fallen as if they were alive. And some who are ready to purify themselves go through bell therapy. Today, bells calm more harmoniously, and the vibrations soothe the soul, the spirit, and the bodyIbid..
An ornament on the ceiling adds eclecticism to the "Black Temple" of the PMC Wagner. It is made in the style of the Order of the Knights of the Temple (Templars) with its typical symbol of "croix pattée". According to journalists, the Wagnerians associate themselves with "poor warriors of Christ and warriors of the Temple of SolomonMalshakova, op.cit." – that is how the Templars called themselves.
We should also mention separately the Wagnerians' attitude to Islam, given the large-scale involvement of the PMC Wagner in the Middle Eastern conflicts – Syria and Libya. It is known that Muslims serve in the company itself. As mentioned above, the caretaker of the PMC Wagner chapel mentioned that Muslims also come to pray. Russian Muslim Alexander Kovtun, one of the leaders of the "Primorsky Partisans"The Primorsky Partisans were a group of six young men who waged a guerrilla war against the Russian police, who have long been accused of corruption and brutality., fought and died in the PMC. He converted to Islam, while already in prison, where he was enlisted in the PMC Wagner. Another Russian Muslim, who converted to Islam in prison and was recruited there by the PMC Wagner recruiters, is also knownAleksandr Kovtun segodnya pohoronen na musulmanskom kladbishe v Primore, rodstvennikam peredany dve medali. [Alexander Kovtun is buried today in a Muslim cemetery in Primorye, and two medals were … Continue reading. It is Maxim Podshivalov, who also died in UkrainePrinyal islam pered otpravkoj na SVO. Detdomovec iz HMAO pogib pod Artyomovskom. [He converted to Islam before he was sent to the Special Military Operation. An orphan from the Khanty-Mansi … Continue reading. Information about Tajik prisoners, including converts to Islam, recruited in Russian prisons by Wagner recruiters and killed in Ukraine, regularly gets publicPrinyal islam i smenil svoe imya na Salman… Eshe dvoe zaklyuchennyh-tadzhikistancev pogibli v Ukraine. [He converted to Islam and changed his name to Salman... Two more Tajik prisoners died in … Continue reading.
At the same time, we can point to Islamophobic incidents involving the Wagnerians. The desecration of the Niffati Mosque in Ein Zara, a neighborhood in southern Tripoli, Libya, with Neopagan/neo-Nazi symbols, has been widely reported. According to The Libya Observer, it was the Wagnerians who left swastika signs, runes, and other symbols on the walls of the mosque and the inscription: "I see mosques on Russian soil, and I would rather see them in hellfire! 14/88".The Libya Observer. 7 Jun 2020 https://twitter.com/Lyobserver/status/1269602120208179200 "14/88" is the most common combination of the numbers "14" ("14 words") and "88" ("Heil Hitler") popular with supporters of white supremacy. "14 words" is the most popular slogan in this community: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children. "88" is a white supremacist numerical code for "Heil Hitler" because the "H" is the eighth letter of the alphabet, thus, HH = 88.
Because of the persecution of religious minorities in the Central African Republic, the PMC Wagner PMC was assigned the "Particular Concern" status by the U.S. State Department. According to an unnamed State Department official, "Wagner disproportionately targeted members of religious minority groups during operations against rebel groups, in some cases killing Muslim civilians based on perceived and unverified affiliations with armed groups… In many instances, Wagner did not discriminate between armed elements and ordinary civilians of religious minority communities…[and] also engaged in mass killings targeting Fulani communities.Atwood K. and J. Hansler. State Department adds Russian mercenary firm Wagner Group to entities of concern under International Religious Freedom Act. CNN Politics. 2 December 2022. … Continue reading"
Also, Jacob of Hamatur, whose relics the Wagnerians brought from Syria, and who is regarded by many of them as their "heavenly patron", is known precisely in the context of opposition to the Mamluks-Muslims, and is revered for his martyrdom brought by Muslims. On the other hand, one should consider that this may be situational Islamophobia associated with the fact that the Wagnerians often fight against various Islamist groups, including jihadist groups such as ISIS or al-Qaeda in the Maghreb.
In general, talking about the religious background of the PMC Wagner, we can see a clear influence of neo-Islamic, Rodnovery ideas, closely connected with ethnic nationalism, the idea of a "special mission", the "chosenness" of the Russian (Slavs) mixed with a kind of religious syncretism, associated primarily with military cults. At the same time, given the influx of Muslim converts from among the prisoners into the PMC Wagner PMC, in the future, Neopaganism of the Wagnerians may be combined with radical forms of Islamism (common among the so-called "prison jamaats"). However, the study of this side of the PMC Wagner is extremely difficult because of the closed nature of this community, especially in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian war, as well as the widespread fakes in the framework of psyops conducted by the Ukrainian and Russian sides.
|↑1||Battalion tactical group, a combined-arms manoeuvre unit deployed by the Russian Army|
|↑2||#770 Request from the "Bloknot" media and the answer. Concord Press Service. September 26, 2022. https://vk.com/concordgroup_official?w=wall-177427428_1194|
|↑3||Rozhdestvensky I., Bayev A., and Rusyaeva P.. Ghosts of War: How Russia's Private Army Appeared in Syria. RBC. August 25, 2016. https://www.rbc.ru/magazine/2016/09/57bac4309a79476d978e850d|
|↑4||Shnirelman, V. 2013. “Russian Neo-paganism: from ethnic religion to racial violence.” In Modern Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Central and Eastern Europe, edited by S. Simpson and K. Aitamurto. Durham: Acumen, 65.|
|↑5||Shnirelman V. The Aryan myth in the modern world. Vol.1 Moscow: Novoye Literaturnoye Obozreniye, 245-248.|
|↑7||Donets, S., and V. Zaitsev. 2015. “Boyeviki-rodnovery na Donbasse: neoyazychniki veryat v sobstvennykh bogov i risuyut na rukakh svastiku.” [“Paramilitaries rodnovery on Donbas: neopagans believe in their own gods and draw swastika on their hands.”] Segodnya, Marth 20. https://www.segodnya.ua/regions/donetsk/boeviki-rodnovery-na-donbasse-neoyazychniki-veryat-v-sobstvennyh-bogov-i-risuyut-na-rukah-svastiku-600955.html|
|↑8||Korotkov D. Russkie nacionalisty na sirijskom kontrakte [Russian nationalists on the Syrian contract]. Fontanka. 19 October 2017. https://www.fontanka.ru/2017/10/19/101/|
|↑9||Kuznetsov P. Alexei Milchakov: "Debalcevskij kotel" protyanet eshhe nedelyu. ["The Debaltsevo pocket" will last another week.] Bloknot. 18 February 2015. https://bloknot.ru/v-mire/aleksej-mil-chakov-svoi-poteri-ya-ne-ozvuchivayu-170243.html|
|↑10||Runy, pravoslav'ya ta heorhiivskі strіchki. Shho vіdomo pro neonacistіv u rosіyskіy armii. [Runes, Orthodoxy, and St. George's ribbons. What is known about neo-Nazis in the Russian army]. BBC News-Ukraine. June 5, 2022. https://www.bbc.com/ukrainian/features-61668126|
|↑12||Andriukaitis L. Signs of Neo-Nazi Ideology Amongst Russian Mercenaries. Res Publica. Mar 26, 2021. https://en.respublica.lt/signs-of-neo-nazi-ideology-amongst-russian-mercenaries|
|↑13||Rondeaux C., Dalton B., and J. Deer. Wagner Group Contingent Rusich on the Move Again. New America. 26 January 2022. https://www.newamerica.org/future-frontlines/blogs/wagner-group-contingent-rusich-on-the-move-again/|
|↑14||Andriukaitis, op. cit.|
|↑15||Nacizm ili yazychestvo: chto oznachayut simvoly STD na ekipirovke boycov ChVK Vagnera? [Nazism or paganism: what do the STD symbols on the equipment of the Wagner PMC fighters mean?] Men's territory. January 9, 2022. https://dzen.ru/a/YbO2scoOJVfuF7Yr|
|↑16||Khazov-Kassia S. Proekt "Myasorubka". Rasskazyvayut tri komandira "ChVK Vagnera" [The Meatgrinder Project. Narrated by the three commanders of the PMC Wagner]. Radio Liberty. March 7, 2018. https://www.svoboda.org/a/29084090.html|
|↑17||Maltsev V. Specnaz v kolovratah: neoyazychniki pronikli v elitnye voennye chasti Rossii. [Spetsnaz in kolovrats: Neopagans infiltrated the elite military units of Russia]. Tsargrad. July 26, 2018. https://tsargrad.tv/articles/specnaz-v-kolovratah-neojazychniki-pronikli-v-jelitnye-voennye-chasti-rossii_148917|
|↑18||Kavykin O. «Rodnovery». Samoidentifikaciya neoyazychnikov v sovremennoj Rossii. [Rodnovery. Self-identification of neo-pagans in modern Russia]. Moscow: Institute of Africa, Russian Academy of Sciences, 2007: 55.|
|↑19||In Slavic Neopagan mythology, Rod is the god-great-grandfather, the original creative force.|
|↑20||The official website of the mixed martial arts club "Р.O.Д.Ъ". https://www.rodmma.ru|
|↑21||Voinstvo Peruna. Pochemu siloviki i sportsmeny stanovyatsya yazychnikami? [Perun's Warriors. Why do strongmen and athletes become pagans?] Life.ru. June 17, 2018. https://life.ru/p/1125091|
|↑22||Dud Y. Aleksandr Povetkin: «Ya yazychnik. Po duhu i sovesti mne blizhe to, chto bylo do hristianstva». [Alexander Povetkin: "I am a pagan. I feel closer to what was before Christianity in the spirit and conscience".] Sports.ru. January 29, 2014. https://www.sports.ru/tribuna/blogs/dud/564404.html|
|↑23||Medvedev S. Nikolaj Mitrohin: "Eto nacionalizm rossijskih voennyh" [Nikolai Mitrokhin: "This is the nationalism of the Russian military"]. Radio Liberty. March 26, 2023. https://www.svoboda.org/a/nikolay-mitrohin-eto-natsionalizm-rossiyskih-voennyh-/32331596.html|
|↑24||Address by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill at the first meeting of the Patriarchal Commission on Physical Culture and Sports. Official website of the Moscow Patriarchate. June 6, 2018. http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5215803.html|
|↑25||A sermon by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill on Ascension Day after the Liturgy at Moscow's Great Ascension Church at the Nikitsky Gate. Official website of the Moscow Patriarchate. June 2, 2022. http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/5932954.html|
|↑26||Malafeeva M. Neoyazychestvo — ugroza ili spasenie. Chast 1: Tradicionnye religii Rossii. [Neopaganism – threat or salvation. Part 1: Traditional Religions of Russia]. Center for Prevention. https://центрпрофилактики.рф/expert-materials/neojazichestvo_1/|
|↑27||Prigozhin pokazal, kak vagnerovcy chtyat pamyat svoih bojcov. [Prigozhin showed how the Wagnerians honor the memory of their fighters.] RIA Novosti. January 2, 2023. https://ria.ru/20230102/vagnerovtsy-1842874199.html|
|↑28||Malshakova K. Mesto sily detisha Evgeniya Prigozhina: v Rossii pokazali iznutri chasovnyu ChVK «Vagner» v Krasnodarskom krae. [The place of power of Yevgeny Prigozhin's brainchild: Russia showed the inside of the chapel of the "Wagner" PMC in the Krasnodar region]. Bloknot. February 14, 2023. https://bloknot-krasnodar.ru/news/mesto-sily-detishcha-evgeniya-prigozhina-v-rossii|
|↑29||Ratnaya Radonica: reportazh FAN iz chasovni i memoriala russkih dobrovolcev. [Ratnaya Radonitsa: FAN report from the chapel and memorial of Russian volunteers]. May 3, 2022. https://riafan.ru/23162907-ratnaya_radonitsa_reportazh_fan_iz_chasovni_i_memoriala_russkih_dobrovol_tsev|
|↑32||The Primorsky Partisans were a group of six young men who waged a guerrilla war against the Russian police, who have long been accused of corruption and brutality.|
|↑33||Aleksandr Kovtun segodnya pohoronen na musulmanskom kladbishe v Primore, rodstvennikam peredany dve medali. [Alexander Kovtun is buried today in a Muslim cemetery in Primorye, and two medals were given to his relatives]. Zolotoy Most. February 19, 2023. https://goldenmost.ru/aleksandr-kovtun-segodnya-pohoronen-na-musulmanskom-kladbishhe-v-primore-rodstvennikam-peredany-dve-medali/|
|↑34||Prinyal islam pered otpravkoj na SVO. Detdomovec iz HMAO pogib pod Artyomovskom. [He converted to Islam before he was sent to the Special Military Operation. An orphan from the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug died near Artemovsk]. Muksun.fm. February 1, 2023. https://muksun.fm/news/2023-02-01/prinyal-islam-pered-otpravkoy-na-svo-detdomovets-iz-hmao-pogib-pod-artyomovskom-2651284|
|↑35||Prinyal islam i smenil svoe imya na Salman… Eshe dvoe zaklyuchennyh-tadzhikistancev pogibli v Ukraine. [He converted to Islam and changed his name to Salman... Two more Tajik prisoners died in Ukraine]. Bomdod. March 14, 2023. https://bomdodrus.com/2023/03/14/prinjal-islam-i-smenil-svoe-imja-na-sulejman-eshhe-dvoe-zakljuchennyh-tadzhikistancev-pogibli-v-ukraine-4-foto-video/|
|↑36||The Libya Observer. 7 Jun 2020 https://twitter.com/Lyobserver/status/1269602120208179200|
|↑37||Atwood K. and J. Hansler. State Department adds Russian mercenary firm Wagner Group to entities of concern under International Religious Freedom Act. CNN Politics. 2 December 2022. https://edition.cnn.com/2022/12/02/politics/us-russia-wagner-group-religious-freedom-act/index.html|
Denis Brilyov, "From Pagans to Templars: the everyday religious life in the Wagner PMC – English version". Bulletin de l'Observatoire international du religieux N°42 [en ligne], mai 2023. https://obsreligion.cnrs.fr/bulletin/from-pagans-to-templars-the-everyday-religious-life-in-the-wagner-pmc/
Denis Brilyov, European Center for Strategic Analytics and Senior Researcher of the A. Krymskiy Institute of Oriental Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine