- By Lawrence Peter
- BBC News
The 33-year-old son of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says he served with the Wagner mercenary group in Ukraine for nearly six months.
“It was my duty… I couldn’t sit to one side watching friends and the others go off there,” Nikolai Peskov said.
Dubbed a “private military company” in Russia, Wagner now enjoys international notoriety for alleged war crimes and other abuses in Ukraine.
Thousands of convicts were recruited from prisons after suffering heavy losses.
It is rare for a member of the Russian elite to choose to join Wagner—many went abroad to avoid conscription into the regular army.
Also known as Nikolai Choles, Nikolai Peskov is fluent in English, having spent several years of his youth in London. He worked as a correspondent for the Russian state broadcaster RT.
He and his father are under US sanctions.
In an interview with the pro-Kremlin daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, he said that it was his decision to join Wagner, but that he did not know how to do it, “so I had to turn to my father … and he helped me with that”.
He said he used a fake ID so his Wagner comrades would not learn of his connections in the Kremlin. He did not reveal this pseudonym in the interview because, he said, he might need to use it again.
The BBC has not been able to verify his claims of service with Wagner, whose forces have been engaged in heavy fighting for months at Bakhmut. Ukraine says the defenders of Bakhmut killed thousands of Russian soldiers.
Nikolay Peskov’s allegation coincides with a major new army recruitment drive, with Russian state advertisements urging men to do their “patriotic duty” in the Ukraine conflict.
Tens of thousands of men fled Russia last September to avoid conscription after President Vladimir Putin declared a “partial mobilization”.
Nikolai Peskov has not disclosed exactly where he served in what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
But in statements to Russian media, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin gave more details.
After joining the group with forged documents, he said, Mr. Peskov’s son underwent a three-week training course.
Then, when he left for Luhansk, it was necessary to expand the combined artillery battalion, and he was sent to join Uragan. [multiple rocket launcher] “He showed courage and heroism, just like the others,” said Mr. Prigozhin.
According to Prigozhin, Dmitry Peskov asked him to “take [Nikolai] As a simple artilleryman.
Nikolai Peskov said he was awarded the Medal for Courage this year after “all my team accomplished a feat… We had one interesting sortie—I can’t say more.”
Last September, he was targeted with a live-streamed joke on YouTube, in which he seemed reluctant to join the army.
Journalist Dmitry Nizovtsev, an aide to imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, posed as a military recruiting officer in a phone call with Nikolai Peskov. Speaking in an aggressive tone, Nizovtsev asked him why he had not come to a call center in Moscow.
Nikolai answered nervously, reminding Nizovtsev that I was “Mr. Peskov.”
“I’m going to take this to another level,” he said. “I basically need to know what is going on and what my rights are.”
Prigozhin and some Russian military bloggers were highly critical of the Russian generals in Ukraine, accusing them of gross mistakes and of underequipping Wagner. Prigozhin also accused the military officials of not recognizing his group’s sacrifices.
But President Putin last month banned public criticism of Wagner or the regular armed forces. Penalties for “defaming” any part of the Russian military include prison terms of up to seven years.
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