Mercenary company Wagner, which is fighting alongside the Russian army in Ukraine, still has no official legal status in Russia. However, that is proving no problem for its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, as he seeks support in Russia’s parliament. One of the most vocal (albeit not hugely influential) supporters of Wagner has turned out to be Sergei Mironov, leader of Kremlin-loyal party “A Just Russia – Patriots for Truth”. Mironov is currently urging the Duma to legalize mercenary companies.
- Mironov is quickly becoming one of Prigozhin’s political “favorites.” Back in October, the Wagner Group founder said Mironov was one of “the only ones [politicians] who play an active role in the life of our country.” A couple of months later, Mironov publicly spoke up for Prigozhin, criticizing the St. Petersburg authorities when they refused to allow a full military funeral for a Wagner Group fighter who had been serving jail term for drug dealing. As a result of Mironov’s intervention, the funeral went ahead with a full honor guard. Prigozhin later thanked Mironov for his support.
- Mironov also backs Wagner in his parliamentary speeches. In one recent parliamentary session he described Prigozhin’s mercenaries as “heroic” and called for their legalization. State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin responded by saying there is no need to distinguish between those who fight for Russia. A bill on legalizing the Wagner Group has yet to be put before deputies.
- The most recent show of affection between Mironov and Prigozhin took place in late January when the politician received a gift from Wagner — a sledgehammer decorated with engravings of skulls. This was a reference to a Wagner fighter bludgeoned to death with a sledgehammer after returning from Ukrainian captivity. Shortly after that, Mironov visited a Petersburg business center owned by Wagner where, among other things, the company stages hackathons for young students.
- Nevertheless, Mironov has little political heft compared with Wagner’s other supporters in the corridors of power. And there is no sign that Wagner is about to be legalized. For example, Volodin, who recently urged deputies to pass legislation that would punish those who “discredit” Wanger fighters, is far more influential.
Why the world should care
We can only guess why Prigozhin wants a public alliance with the leader of a party that has just 6% of the seats in parliament. In theory, Prigozhin could use “A Just Russia – Patriots for Truth” to smuggle his people into parliament at upcoming by-elections in Crimea. But this is speculation. Publicly, Prigozhin insists he has no political ambitions.