Andrey Medvedev was running towards the remote Russia-Norway border when he heard attack dogs snarling behind him.
Their arrival meant that the men on the hunt for him were closing in. But the border – and the Western world – were within striking distance.
The 26-year-old had deserted the Wagner Group of Russian mercenaries two months before. He was on his way to becoming the first of their soldiers to defect to the West.
The Wagner Group was founded in 2014 by businessman Yevgeny Proigozhin. It is thought to make up about 10% of Russia’s forces in Ukraine and has carried out operations in Syria, Libya, and Mali.
The group and its often inhumane methods are now well-known on a global scale. However, information about how it operates – and how it is funded – has been kept under wraps. With Medvedev’s escape, Western intelligence officers may be able to lift the veil.
The Wagner chief defends the video of a brutal killing.
It is unclear why he chose to defect through Norway. The frozen tundra where Russia meets NATO is one of the world’s most heavily guarded border areas.
Watchtowers, staffed with soldiers, have strong searchlights to break through the winter Arctic gloom. Regular patrols are conducted by teams from both sides.
The former Wagner commander, however, recalls sneaking past those watchtowers in a video released by the Russian human rights group Gulagu. He claims that the Russian troops hunting him were gaining ground the entire time.
Medvedev says he finally scrambled over the barbed wire guarding the Norwegian border around 2 a.m. local time on Friday, as Russian guards closed in.