Who is Wagner commander Aleksandr Kuznetsov (Ratibor)?

Aleksandr Kuznetsov is a senior commander with Russian PMC Wagner whose activities reflects the group’s global footprint.

Aleksandr Kuznetsov photo

Aleksandr Kuznetsov (Ratibor) is a member of the Council of Commanders of Russian private military company (PMC) Wagner. He has been with the group since 2014 and is regarded as one of the group’s founders. His involvement with the group in many ways reflects Wagner’s global engagements: He has been active in Ukraine (twice), Syria, Libya, and Sudan. Given his seniority, he is likely to play an important role in shaping the future of Wagner. However, little open-source information is available on Kuznetsov’s relationships within Wagner and he has not publicly displayed any ‘political’ ambitions. Despite his extensive involvement with the group, he has not been sanctioned by key Western states, highlighting gaps in sanctions regimes.

Date profile information last updated: 10 November 2023.

Kuznetsov: Wagner’s global operative

Kuznetsov is a former military commander who fought with separatists in Donbas, Ukraine in 2014 (2). Since then, he has been involved in PMC operations in Syria (3), Libya (4), Sudan (5), and again in Ukraine (6). He is commander of Wagner’s 1st Attack and Reconnaissance Company and a member of its Council of Commanders, the body that coordinates its operations (7, 8).

Kuznetsov’s activities in many ways reflect not only Wagner’s global footprint, but also the evolution of Russian PMCs more broadly. He initially fought in Donbas with Rusich, the far-right paramilitary group that is now considered part of Wagner (9, 10). He then served in Syria in 2016 with the Moran Security Group, which provided the foundations for the emergence of Wagner (11). Kuznetsov was photographed attending an awards ceremony at the Kremlin in December 2016 alongside Dmitriy Utkin, Andrey Troshev, and Andrey Bogatov, and Novaya Gazeta has argued that these four men can be considered “the founders of PMC Wagner” (12). Most reporting simply dates Kuznetsov’s first involvement with Wagner to 2014.

Kuznetsov was seriously wounded fighting with Wagner in Libya in late 2019, receiving medical treatment in St Petersburg (13). Subsequently, CNN has claimed that Kuznetsov has overseen the gold-processing operations of the Wagner-affiliated company Meroe Gold in Sudan (14). He was appointed commander of the 1st Attack and Reconnaissance Company in December 2021 (15). Kuznetsov returned to Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in February 2022 (16) and, in December 2022, he featured in a video report from the frontline published by prominent Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyev (17).

Kuznetsov’s role in shaping Wagner’s future

Gulagu.net claimed that Kuznetsov was in command of Wagner operations in the city of Rostov during Wagner’s attempted ‘coup’ on 23-24 June 2023 (18). If true, this would indicate that he was both involved in planning events and supportive of them. However, no further information is available to corroborate these claims.

Kuznetsov’s seniority within Wagner makes it likely that he will play an important role in shaping the group’s future following the death of Wagner owner Yevgeniy Prigozhin in August 2023. However, available open-source information does not point to any political ambitions to lead the group and he has not been observed to make any statements about its future or any of the candidates to replace Prigozhin.

Open-source information about Kuznetsov’s relationships inside and outside Wagner limited

Network map of Kuznetsov's relationships
The relationships explained
ActorRelationship
Bedner, Aleksandr (Batman)Bedner, who was killed in January 2015, commanded Rusich, which Kuznetsov fought with (19).
Bogatov, AndreyWagner commanders Utkin, Troshev, Bogatev and Kuznetsov were all photographed together at a Kremlin award ceremony with Putin in December 2016 (20). Bogatov, Utkin and Kuznetsov were all reportedly evacuated from Syria as part of a group of Slavonic Corps Limited “specialists” on 19 October 2013 (21).
Putin, VladimirWagner commanders Utkin, Troshev, Bogatev and Kuznetsov were all photographed together at a Kremlin award ceremony with Putin in December 2016 (22).
Solovyev, VladimirKuznetsov appeared on Solovyev’s show in December 2022 (23).
Troshev, AntonWagner commanders Utkin, Troshev, Bogatev and Kuznetsov were all photographed together at a Kremlin award ceremony with Putin in December 2016 (24).
Utkin, DmitriyWagner commanders Utkin, Troshev, Bogatev and Kuznetsov were all photographed together at a Kremlin award ceremony with Putin in December 2016 (25). Bogatov, Utkin and Kuznetsov were all reportedly evacuated from Syria as part of a group of Slavonic Corps Limited “specialists” on 19 October 2013 (26).

Family

Kuznetsov is married with two children. Biographical details of his family are reported on the internet but excluded from this report because of a lack of evidence that they are involved in any illegal or PMC-related activity.

Business interests

None reported.

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Commander Kuznetsov’s road to Wagner

Basic details

Full name:Aleksandr Sergeyevich Kuznetsov
Variants and nicknames:Олександр Сергійович Кузнєцов; Александр Сергеевич Кузнецов; Alexander Kuznetsov; Ratibor; Ратибор; Radimir
Date of birth:10 August 1977 (27) or 8 October 1977 (28)
Place of birth:Nikolskoye, Leningrad Oblast, Russia (29)
Place of residence:Moscow Oblast, Solnechnogorsk, military unit 92154 (30)
Citizenship:Russian Federation
Passport number:0703769818 (31)
Other identification numbersTax ID: 262407088278 (32); Wagner Group ID: M-0271 (33)
Military/police rank:Major (34) or reserve lieutenant colonel (35)
Awards:Four times awarded Order of Courage (36); three times Medal of Bravery (37); Hero of Russia (38); Hero of LPR and DPR (39).

Education

Kuzentsov graduated from the Kirov Higher General Command School in St Petersburg (40).

Professional background and criminal record

Kuznetsov is a professional soldier. In a video posted to video-sharing platform RuTube, Kuznetsov claimed that he had been part of a unit operating in Georgia that had pursued Chechen rebel fighter Khamzat Gelayev, who was killed in 2004 (41). In 2008, Kuznetsov served as company commander of a Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) special forces unit stationed in Solnechnogorsk, Moscow Oblast (42, 43).

Also in 2008, Kuznetsov was arrested on suspicion of abduction and robbery. He was eventually sentenced in 2010 and served time in a colony in Nizhniy Novgorod Oblast, before a court reduced his sentence and granted him parole in April 2013 (44). As outlined above, Kuznetsov became involved in PMC activities in 2014, shortly after his release.

Digital Kuznetsov: A limited online presence

Kuznetsov appears to have a private and inactive profile on OK: https://ok.ru/profile/552694694515 and an empty profile on VK: https://m.vk.com/id722026054 (45).

There is also a VK account that uses Aleksandr Kuznetsov’s name and profile picture: https://vk.com/aleksandrkuznecov104. Recent posts relate to Wagner, but older ones are primarily concerned with various films, and there is no evidence to suggest the profile actually belongs to Wagner’s Kuznetsov. Even if it does, the posts contain nothing of evident interest and the profile was inactive for several years.

An inconsistent global response to Wagner commander Kuznetsov

UkraineUnited KingdomUnited StatesCanadaEuropean UnionOther
YesNoNoNoYesNA

Kuznetsov was sanctioned by the European Union on 13 December 2021, on the grounds that he was “responsible for the Wagner Group’s activities that threaten the peace, stability and security of Libya” (46). He was also sanctioned by Ukraine on 26 February 2023 for his activities in that country (47). As of the time of researching this profile, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada have not sanctioned Kuznetsov, despite his prominent and global role within the group. This illustrates an ongoing problem with inconsistent approaches to sanctioning among Western partners.

Sources

Show sources

(1) VK. 15 December 2022. Портфель Генштаба. Accessed at https://vk.com/wall-206639135_593540 on 9 November 2023.
(2) Candace Rondeaux, Oliver Imhof and Jack Margolin. New America. 3 November 2021. The Abu Dhabi Express: Analyzing the Wagner Group’s Libya Logistics Pipeline & Operations. Accessed at https://www.newamerica.org/future-frontlines/reports/the-abu-dhabi-express/analyzing-wagner-group-air-defense-and-ground-maneuvers/ on 9 November 2023.
(3) Sergey Sukhankin. Jamestown Foundation. 2019, 18 December. Russian PMCs in the Syrian Civil War: From Slavonic Corps to Wagner Group and Beyond. Jamestown Foundation. Accessed at https://www.jamestown.org/program/russian-pmcs-in-the-syrian-civil-war-from-slavonic-corps-to-wagner-group-and-beyond/ on 5 October 2023.
(4) Meduza. 2 October 2019. Они сами толком не знали, куда едут. Accessed at https://meduza.io/feature/2019/10/02/oni-sami-tolkom-ne-znali-kuda-edut on 8 November 2023.
(5) CNN. 29 July 2022. Russia is plundering gold in Sudan to boost Putin’s war effort in Ukraine. Accessed at https://web.archive.org/web/20230520043226/https://edition.cnn.com/2022/07/29/africa/sudan-russia-gold-investigation-cmd-intl/index.html on 9 November 2023.
(6) Roman Konev. Kartoteka. 28 August 2023. Кто из ключевых командиров ЧВК Вагнер остался в живых: поименный список. Accessed at https://kartoteka.media/news/53616-kto_iz_kljuchevyh_komandirov_chvk_vagner_octalsja_v_hivyh_poimennyj_spisok on 8 November 2023.
(7) Aleksandr Chernyy. Kuryer.Sreda. 9 September 2023. Седой, Ратибор и Бродяга: кто командует «обезглавленной» ЧВК Вагнера после смерти Уткина и Пригожина. Accessed at https://kurer-sreda.ru/2023/09/09/sedoi-ratibor-i-brodiaga-kto-komanduet-obezglavlennoi-chvk-vagnera-posle-smerti-utkina-i-prigozhina on 8 November 2023.
(8) Olga Ivshina. BBC Russian Service. 1 September 2023. Штурмы и «мясорубки»: что известно о потерях ЧВК «Вагнер» в Украине. Accessed at https://www.bbc.com/russian/features-66679184 on 8 November 2023.
(9) Warheroes.ru. Undated. Кузнецов Александр Сергеевич. Accessed at https://warheroes.ru/hero/hero.asp?Hero_id=30920 on 9 November 2023.
(10) Candace Rondeaux, Oliver Imhof and Jack Margolin. New America. See note (2).
(11) Sergey Sukhankin. Jamestown Foundation. 2019, 18 December. See note (3).
(12) Irek Murtazin. Novaya Gazeta. 29 June 2023. Задачи ставили генералы. Accessed at https://novayagazeta.ru/articles/2023/06/29/zadachi-stavili-generaly on 8 November 2023.
(13) Meduza. 2 October 2019. See note (4).
(14) CNN. 29 July 2022. See note (5).
(15) Aleksandr Chernyy. Kuryer.Sreda. 9 September 2023. See note (7).
(16) Roman Konev. Kartoteka. 28 August 2023. See note (6).
(17) VK. 15 December 2022. See note (1).
(18) Gulagu.net. 24 June 2023. Untitled. Accessed at https://gulag2022.ru/news/2023-06-24-2587.html on 11 November 2023.
(19) Biznes Online. 28 June 2023. «Стопроцентный шанс всем к утру с позором умереть предателями». Accessed at https://www.business-gazeta.ru/article/598695 on 8 November 2023.
(20) Denis Korotkov. 10 April 2023. «Хайль Петрович». Dossier Center. Accessed at https://dossier.center/utkin/ on 2 October 2023.
(21) Irek Murtazin. Novaya Gazeta. 29 June 2023. See note (12).
(22) Denis Korotkov. 10 April 2023. See note (20).
(23) Портфель Генштаба. VK. 15 December 2022. See note (1).
(24) Denis Korotkov. 10 April 2023. « See note (20)..
(25) Denis Korotkov. 10 April 2023. See note (20).
(26) Irek Murtazin. Novaya Gazeta. 29 June 2023. See note (12).
(27) President of Ukraine. 26 February 2023. Додаток 1 до рішення Ради національної безпеки і оборони України від 26 лютого 2023 року “Про застосування та внесення змін до персональних спеціальних економічних та інших обмежувальних заходів (санкцій)”, введеного в дію Указом Президента України від 26 лютого 2023 року № 116/2023. Accessed at https://www.president.gov.ua/storage/j-files-storage/01/17/61/2f895f25cbd443a027a7d4182418563b_1677442451.pdf on 5 October 2023.
(28) Official Journal of the European Union. 13 December 2021. COUNCIL IMPLEMENTING REGULATION (EU) 2021/2192 of 13 December 2021 implementing Article 21(2) of Regulation (EU) 2016/44 concerning restrictive measures in view of the situation in Libya. Accessed at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=OJ:L:2021:445I:TOC on 7 November 2023.
(29) Official Journal of the European Union. 13 December 2021. See note (28).
(30) Myrotvorets. Undated. Кузнецов Александр Сергеевич / Кузнецов Олександр Сергійович / Kuznetsov Aleksandr Sergeevich. Accessed at https://web.archive.org/web/20230717093658/https://myrotvorets.center/criminal/kuznecov-aleksandr-sergeevich-2/ on 9 November 2023.
(31) Informator. 8 October 2018. СБУ рассекретила главарей ЧВК «Вагнера», отправляющих наемников в Донбасс и Сирию. Accessed at https://informator.media/archives/266760 on 8 November 2023.
(32) President of Ukraine. 26 February 2023. See note (27).
(33) Official Journal of the European Union. 13 December 2021. See note (28).
(34) Denis Korotkov. Fontanka.ru. 21 August 2017. Бродяга, Седой, Вагнер и Ратибор окружили президента. Accessed at https://www.fontanka.ru/2017/08/18/103/ on 2 October 2023.
(35) Irek Murtazin. Novaya Gazeta. 29 June 2023. See note (12).
(36) Denis Korotkov. 10 April 2023. «Хайль Петрович». See note (20).
(37) Roman Konev. Kartoteka. 28 August 2023. See note (6).
(38) Irek Murtazin. Novaya Gazeta. 29 June 2023. See note (12).
(39) Warheroes.ru. Undated. See note (9).
(40) Denis Korotkov. Fontanka.ru. 21 August 2017. See note (34).
(41) RuTube. June 2023. Командир Первого Штурмового Отряда ЧВК «Вагнер» Александр «Ратибор» Кузнецов. Accessed at https://rutube.ru/video/55bea8b845c06ff345ddf57c88541f7f/ on 8 November 2023.
(42) Denis Korotkov. Fontanka.ru. 21 August 2017. See note (34).
(43) Irek Murtazin. Novaya Gazeta. 29 June 2023. See note (12).
(44) Denis Korotkov. Fontanka.ru. 21 August 2017. See note (34).
(45) Myrotvorets. Undated. See note (30).
(46) Official Journal of the European Union. 13 December 2021. See note (28).
(47) President of Ukraine. 26 February 2023. See note (27).