By Gwladys Fouche and Nerijus Adomaitis
OSLO (Reuters) – Norwegian police have arrested a former commander of the Wagner mercenary group on suspicion he tried to illegally cross the border back into Russia after seeking asylum in Norway earlier this year, the man’s lawyer said on Saturday.
Andrei Medvedev, who fled Russia across the Arctic border with Norway in January, described running as Russian guards shot at him. He spoke about his time as part of the Wagner Group fighting in Ukraine.
In a statement late Friday, police said a man in his 20s had been taken into custody for attempting to cross the Russian border illegally, but did not name him. An official from the Finnmark local police refused to reveal the identity of the arrested man.
Crossing the border into Russia is only permitted at designated points.
But Medvedev’s arrest was due to a misunderstanding, his Norwegian lawyer Brynjulf Risnes told Reuters.
“He was up there to see if he could find the place where he crossed the border (into Norway in January). He was stopped while sitting in a taxi. He was never near the border… It was never his intention to cross the border (to Russia),” Risnes said.
Upon his arrival in Norway, Medvedev said he sought asylum because he feared for his life after witnessing the killing and mistreatment of Russian prisoners being taken to the front lines in Ukraine.
His escape in January made headlines around the world as a rare example of someone defecting to a Western country while claiming to have fought as a mercenary for Russia in the Ukraine war.
But in May, he said in a video posted on YouTube that he wanted to return to Russia despite believing it could pose a risk to his life, describing himself as “kind of a boy in a big game.” no longer wanted to be part of.
Risnes said Medvedev had the right to return to Russia if he wanted, but that “a lot of changes need to happen” to allow a safe return.
In April, Medvedev was convicted in Norway of participating in a bar fight and carrying an air rifle, but was acquitted of violence against police. He said at the time that he was looking to the future and hoping for asylum.
Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin died on August 23 when a private jet he was riding crashed in unclear circumstances, just two months after he briefly sent his mercenaries to Moscow to directly challenge the Russian establishment.
(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche and Nerijus Adomaitis, Editing by Terje Solsvik and Clelia Oziel)
Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.