That changed when the military decided they would need a mercenary force of their own to ease reliance on Prigozhin during the invasion of Ukraine.
In the run-up to war, General Vladimir Alexeev, deputy head of the GRU, drew up a plan for Redut to play a key role in the assault, including the assassination of Volodymyr Zelensky.
He hired Anatoly Karazi, a former former head of Wagner intelligence, to poach fighters from Prigozhin’s company to bolster the ranks, the Insider, a Russian investigative outlet, reported in a joint investigation with Bellingcat and Der Spiegel in May.
The move reportedly provoked a physical confrontation between Alexeev and Prigozhin, who was forced to back down.
When the invasion went wrong and Redut took crippling casualties, the Kremlin was forced to call in Prigozhin and Wagner.
But Alexeev’s ambition never went away. Redut resumed recruiting Wagner fighters in the wake of Prigozhin’s mutiny two months ago.
There are reports that Andrei Troshev, the most prominent surviving Wagner commander after Prigozhin’s air crash, has already taken a job at the rival outfit.
Redut are not the only ambitious players on the scene.
Sometime in 2022, Sergei Aksyonov, the Kremlin-appointed governor of annexed Crimea, set up his own private military company called Convoy.
The group’s existence came to light in March, when it emerged with an aggressive social media game emphasising Cossack symbolism.
It takes its name from the Imperial Convoy, a Cossack bodyguard for the Tsars.
It has fought in Ukraine’s Kherson region and is led by Konstantin “Mazai” Pikalov, a former henchman of Prigozhin, who was deeply involved in Wagner’s operations in the Central African Republic.
It is believed to be relatively small, fielding 200-300 men, and some accounts describe it as the elite “reconnaissance company” of a larger volunteer battalion called Livadia, which Mr Aksyonov is believed to bankroll and is linked to a Russian army unit.
Although theoretically raised to defend Crimea, Convoy recently began advertising on its Telegram channel for work in Africa.
“Russia is opening a second front in order to deprive the West of resources. Unprecedented measures have been developed to liberate African countries from colonial dependence,” Pikalov told iStories, a Russian outlet, when asked about the advertisements.
“The era of bare-assed Zulus with a Kalashnikov assault rifle is over. We will give African soldiers new weapons and teach them how to use them,” he added.
On August 21, two days before Prigozhin died, it said on its Telegram channel that it was recruiting “pilot navigators” to fly drones in Africa.
Convoy’s origins make it difficult to tell whether it is a private enterprise, a GRU front, a rival to Wagner, or an offshoot of it. It is possible it is all at once.
The Dossier Centre, an investigative organisation funded by the former oligarch and political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, earlier this year traced financial donations to Convoy back to VTB bank and Arkady Rotenberg, a close associate of Vladimir Putin.
Those payments are channelled through a St Petersburg company called the Cossack Association Convoy, which was set up in 2009 and is part owned by the same Pikalov who now commands the reconnaissance company.
Pikalov himself has been linked to several apparent Russian covert operations in Bosnia, Ukraine, and Africa.
In 2018 he arrived in the Central African Republic three weeks before Russian journalists investigating Wagner’s activities there were murdered, Bellingcat established in a 2020 investigation.
“It is Aksyonov’s PMC, but all the commanders are ex-Wagner. They’ve all known each other a long time,” a former Convoy member told iStories.
Then there are the corporate battalions.
Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned hydrocarbons giant, is known to bankroll at least two battalions called Fakel (“torch”) and Potok (“stream”).
Independent Russian media reports suggest the battalions recruit existing Gazprom staff and security guards, with the promise of being able to return to their staff jobs after the war. The company also pays a bonus on top of regular army pay.
Some reports say Gazprom’s battalions, which the company does not acknowledge the existence of, have been folded into Redut as part of that company’s expansion.
The corporate units may have been part of a Kremlin strategy to shift the costs of the war onto businesses and regional governments, and to raise more manpower without formally declaring a general mobilisation.
There are even units linked to specific cities and regions.
An investigation by Meduza, the Latvia-based Russian news outlet, revealed the existence of an outfit informally known as “Sobyanin’s Regiment” after Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow.
A Meduza reporter who enquired about enlisting was told recruits received a bonus 200,000 roubles (more than £1,600) from the Moscow city budget on top of their regular army salary.
Moscow city hall has not acknowledged the existence of the regiment.
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