A few weeks ago, an ad appeared on VK, the biggest Russian social networking site. "Men, you have the opportunity to work for our homeland," the first sentence reads. The salary: "50,000 rubles a month if you remain at headquarters in Russia; 80,000 rubles if you are sent abroad, plus bonuses." That's the equivalent of between 700 and 1,150 euros. The ad ends with the words: "Fight the good fight, soldiers of fortune."
The man who published the ad calls himself
Ilya Ivanov. His job is the recruiting of mercenaries. And there is much to
suggest that Ivanov is keeping himself quite busy these days building up a
private army. He is currently on the search for men who, in exchange for a
salary, are willing to head for new battlefields in 2017 to implement Russia’s
Ivanov isn’t the only person currently recruiting mercenaries, but he has significant experience in the role. Back in 2014, he sought men willing to fight in Syria. It was a time when the public didn’t yet know of the presence of Russian soldiers in Syria and his activities were illegal. Had he been prosecuted, he could have been sentenced to up to eight years in prison. But today, the situation has changed.
A Little Known Change in the Law
Two days before the new year, Vladimir Putting signed a legal amendment. The state-aligned media reported very little about the development and the foreign press hasn't covered it at all yet. But it could have far-reaching consequences. The change was made to Law No. 53, pertaining to military conscription in Russia. Following the change, the law now states that anyone who has completed basic military service or is a reservist is to be considered a member of the Russian military if that person "prevents international terrorist activities outside the territory of the Russian Federation."
Given that almost every man in Russia completes military service after finishing school, the new law pertains to almost all Russian men. If they fight against terrorists, they are now considered to be members of the military, even if they don't officially belong to a unit of the Russian military under the control of the Defense Ministry. In other words: Law No. 53 permits the deployment of Russian mercenaries around the world and allows for augmenting the Russian military with private military firms. The law went into force on Jan. 9, 2017.
Blackwater was the best-known American mercenary firm, one which took care of several tasks, some of them criminal, for the U.S. military in, for example, Iraq. When the public learned of Blackwater’s activities, it triggered a debate around the world, including in Russia. In articles and TV segments, Russian state broadcaster RT wondered: "Private military contractors: new way of waging war?" Now that the issue has hit home, however, the major media in Russia have gone silent.
How does this newly legal mercenary business work? How do recruiters like Ivanov work? ZEIT ONLINE replied to Ivanov’s ad using the assumed identity of Pavel Nikulin. Nikulin is 27 years old, works as an electrician in Volgograd and conducted his basic military service in 2010 and 2011. He also obtained training as a tank mechanic specializing in the T-72 tank.