Anton Yelizarov (Lotus), the Wagner military commander challenging the Kremlin’s choice
Anton Yelizarov is a senior figure in Russian PMC Wagner. He opposes the Russian Defence Minsitry but appears to lack allies in the elite.
Anton Yelizarov (Lotos/Lotus) is a senior commander in Russian private military company (PMC) the Wagner Group. He led the Wagner assault on Soledar, Ukraine in early 2023. Since then, he has acquired a public profile, particularly as a result of statements he has made since Wagner’s failed ‘coup attempt’ in June 2023. He has publicly challenged the authority of Andrey Troshev (Sedoy), the Kremlin’s choice to oversee “volunteer units” in Ukraine following the death of Wagner owner Yevgeniy Prigozhin in August 2023. However, it appears that Yelizarov would face the opposite problem to Troshev in any factional dispute within Wagner: While Troshev has strong relations with the Russian political elite but may struggle to command the loyalty of rank-and-file fighters, Yelizarov likely enjoys the support of regular Wagner fighters but appears to lack political connections.
Date profile information last updated: 13 October 2023.
Wagner leader Yelizarov’s profile, at a glance
- Yelizarov challenges Troshev’s claim to lead Wagner
- Yelizarov’s post-‘coup’ support for Prigozhin
- Yelizarov’s key relationships, inside and outside Wagner
- Yelizarov’s biography: The road to Wagner
- Controversies: Yelizarov’s legal difficulties with the Defence Ministry
- Digital Yelizarov: A Wagner leader reliant on pro-Wagner Telegram channels
- International response: Wagner leader Yelizarov and inconsistent sanctions
Yelizarov challenges Troshev’s claim to lead Wagner
Yelizarov is a member of Wagner’s Council of Commanders. He first acquired a public profile when Prigozhin identified him as the immediate military commander in charge of Wagner’s assault on Soledar in January 2023 (2). In the aftermath of the failed ‘coup attempt’ on 23-24 June – which saw Prigozhin lead Wagner fighters on a march across Russia (3) – he publicly criticised Troshev for defecting to the Russian Ministry of Defence. Yelizarov described Troshev as “an old-aged staff officer” who was “never a commander” or a member of the Council. He insisted that Troshev was the only person to leave the Wagner Group after the coup, characterising rumours that the majority of Wagner commanders had joined him as “just a dream of the Defence Ministry of the Russian Federation” (4).
Yelizarov: De facto leader of the opposition within Wagner
Yelizarov’s public comments, coupled with his seniority within Wagner, have positioned him as the de facto leader of opposition within Wagner to Troshev and his efforts to assume control of the group on behalf of the Ministry of Defence. Ekho Moskvy Chief Editor Aleksey Venediktov opines that Wagner is now divided into “loyal” and “disloyal” camps, headed respectively by Troshev and Yelizarov. Venediktov also claimed that Yelizarov currently enjoys the support of Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s son and notional heir, Pavel (5) – although there is no independent evidence to verify this claim.
The Orkestr Vagnera Telegram channel characterised Yelizarov as leading “the company’s military and training work” and “in principle, the most senior in the hierarchy at the present time.” However, it also insisted that the Council of Commanders had not made any formal statements or appointments that would make Yelizarov the new Wagner leader (6). The extent of support enjoyed by Yelizarov among other Wagner commanders is at present unknown, even if the majority of references to Yelizarov on pro-Wagner Telegram channels are positive.
Yelizarov seeks support from Rosgvardia to secure Wagner’s future
On 2 October, the Rybar Telegram channel reported that the Council of Commanders, led by Yelizarov, had reached an agreement with the leadership of Russia’s National Guard (Rosgvardia). According to Rybar’s report, Wagner fighters would sign both individual and collective agreements with Rosgvardia before 1 January 2024. The move was portrayed as an effort to ensure that Wagner could not simply be dissolved (7).
The agreement appears to be an effort to secure political patronage from one of the Defence Ministry’s institutional rivals within the Russian security establishment. Yelizarov’s ability to resist a Defence Ministry takeover of the Wagner Group may depend on such patronage. However, there is limited open-source information to suggest that Yelizarov enjoys the high-level political connections that Troshev – backed directly by Putin – can boast. At the same time, it is worth noting that the media attention afforded to Yelizarov is much more limited and recent than that given to Troshev, and much of the available information comes from pro-Wagner Telegram channels and is difficult to verify.
Yelizarov’s post-‘coup’ support for Prigozhin
In the immediate aftermath of the ‘coup attempt,’ Yelizarov gave an interview to Timofey Yermakov, a blogger who runs the Z Telegram channel. Yelizarov claimed that Prigozhin had sent Wagner fighters home to rest until the start of August, so that they would then be ready to take on the “many tasks” that lay ahead of the Wagner Group. He identified two challenges as being particularly pressing: rotating fighters on the front lines in Ukraine and embedding new recruits, and transferring Wagner operations to Belarus.
Yelizarov’s comments in the interview made it clear that he continued to support Prigozhin following the coup. Yelizarov expressed concern about the situation in Ukraine and the failure to listen to Wagner complaints about the conduct of the “special military operation.” He accused Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu and Valeriy Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, of leading a “raid” on Wagner and conducting a media campaign to sow divisions between Wagner fighters and Prigozhin. However, he insisted such a campaign would not be successful because “Wagner is not just a structure, it is an ideology” (8).
Yelizarov’s key relationships, inside and outside Wagner
The relationships explained
|Rosgvardia||The Rybar Telegram channel reported that Wagner’s Council of Commanders and Lotus had reached an agreement with Rosgvardia’s leadership, according to which Wagner fighters would sign both individual and collective agreements with Rosgvardia (9).|
|Ministry of Defence||Yelizarov opposes efforts by Ministry of Defence to assume control of the Wagner Group (10).|
|Wagner commander Andrey Troshev (Sedoy)||Yelizarov has been an outspoken critic of Troshev, although available reporting does not indicate whether the two are personally acquainted (11).|
|Pavel Prigozhin||Ekho Moskvy Chief Editor Aleksey Venediktov opined that Prigozhin’s son Pavel was currently supporting Yelizarov in his dispute with the Defence Ministry (12).|
|Wagner owner Yevgeniy Prigozhin||Yelizarov attended Wagner fighter Aleksey Nagin’s funeral in September 2022 with Yevgeniy Prigozhin and Volgograd Governor Andrey Bocharov (13). Prigozhin’s Concord Group Telegram channel also posted pictures of the two together in Ukraine (14), and the Kepka Prigozhina Telegram channel posthumously released a video of Prigozhin on a trip to Africa, where he was accompanied by Yelizarov (15).|
|Wagner commander Dmitriy Utkin (Wagner)||Novaya Gazeta described Yelizarov as Utkin’s deputy (16). Fontanka.ru made the same claim, attributing the information to Yevgeniy Prigozhin himself (17). Utkin accompanied Prigozhin on the same trip to Africa that Yelizarov featured in the video of, although the two are not seen together at any point in the video (18).|
|Wagner commander Boris Nizhevenok (Zombi)||Nizhevenok accompanied Prigozhin on the same trip to Africa that Yelizarov featured in the video of, although the two are not seen together at any point in the video (19).|
|Wagner owner Yevgeniy Prigozhin||In his capacity as Wagner executive director, Troshev acted as de facto aide to Prigozhin, and he is linked to Prigozhin through many of the other relationships detailed here.|
|Volgograd Governor Andrey Bocharov||Yelizarov attended Wagner fighter Aleksey Nagin’s funeral in September 2022 with Yevgeniy Prigozhin and Volgograd Governor Andrey Bocharov (20).|
|Wagner fighter Aleksey Nagin||Yelizarov attended Nagin’s funeral in September 2022 alongside Yevgeniy Prigozhin and Volgograd Governor Andrey Bocharov (21).|
|Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu||In an interview with Timofey Yermakov in the aftermath of the ‘coup attempt,’ Yelizarov accused Shoygu and Gerasimov of leading a ‘raid’ on Wagner (22).|
|Valeriy Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces||In an interview with Timofey Yermakov in the aftermath of the ‘coup attempt,’ Yelizarov accused Shoygu and Gerasimov of leading a ‘raid’ on Wagner (23).|
|Igor Strelkov||Yelizarov has publicly criticised Igor Strelkov as a “sofa expert” and criticised him for his ineffective operations in Ukraine in 2014 (24).|
Yelizarov is married with at least one daughter, born in 2005. Biographical and social media profiles of his wife, daughter, and wife’s relatives are available online. However, they are excluded from this profile in accordance with ethical principles for data collection: There is no open-source evidence that they have engaged in any illegal or PMC-related activities. Several personal contacts are excluded from the above network map for the same reason.
The Ukrainian open-source investigative outlet Molfar conducted an in-depth profile of Yelizarov that indicated several business interests (25):
- Between 2015 and 2018, Yelizarov may have owned a carpentry company in Krasnodar (company registration number: 315230800010188). However, the information available on the registration documentation (26) does not allow for definitive confirmation that the Anton Olegovich Yelizarov listed on the state register of companies refers to the same person.
- An Anton Olegovich Yelizarov also owns the Donjon interior design company based in Krasnodar. Donjon registered its website, http://donjon.design/, in August 2016 using a privacy protection service. The website is no longer active and was last archived by the Wayback machine on 31 July 2019 (27). The Twitter profile picture of the owner of Donjon bears a strong resemblance to a younger Yelizarov (28), and this appears to be the primary basis for concluding that the two individuals are the same – although Molfar is vague on the basis for its conclusions in this regard. If indeed it is the same person, it would mean that Yelizarov continued to engage in this business activity at the same time as his first reported involvement with Wagner (see below). This is not impossible: There is no clear indication that his business was successful.
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Yelizarov’s biography: The road to Wagner
|Full name:||Anton Olegovich Yelizarov|
|Variants and nicknames:||Lotos; Lotus; Лотос; Антон Олегович Елизаров; Anton Olegovich Elizarov; Антон Олегович Єлізаров; Лотос Медоед; Lotos Medoyed; Антон донджон|
|Date of birth:||1 May 1981 (29, 30, 31)|
|Place of birth:||Zernograd, Rostov Oblast (32, 33, 34)|
|Place of residence:||Krasnodar, Kalinina 350, building 7, apt 95 (35)|
|Citizenship:||Russian Federation (36)|
|Passport number:||6103869621 (issued 29/4/2003); Passport: 0306334226 (issued 26/10/2006); passport: 0314982735 (issued 4/9/2014); 5712906195 (issued 21/2/2020) (37)|
|Other identification numbers||Wagner number: М-0136 (38); tax ID 231515072563; social security number: 14860082666; military ID: АМ0803300 (39)|
|Awards||Hero of Russia (2022) (40); Hero of Luhansk People’s Republic; Hero Donetsk People’s Republic (41).|
Ulyanovsk Guards Suvorov Military School – graduated 1998 (42).
Ryazan Higher Airborne Command School – graduated 2003 (43). Specialisation: operation of multi-purpose tracked and wheeled vehicles (44).
Yelizarov served in the 108th regiment of the 7th Guards Airborne Division, Novorossiysk, as platoon and company commander (45). He then commanded a group within the 10th Detached Spetsnaz Brigade based at Molkino and served in the North Caucasus (46).
In 2007, it appears that he worked for the Vympel-Caucasus security company based in Novorossiysk. For an unknown period of time, he also worked as a driver and manager of fuel and lubricants (47).
Yelizarov within Wagner
Denis Korotkov, an investigative journalist and expert in Russian private military companies, argues that Yelizarov began working with Wagner no later than 2016. Yelizarov fought in Syria, where he was wounded in 2017 (48). The Wagner-affiliated Grey Zone Telegram channel specified that he had fought at Palmyra and Deir ez-Zor and received his injury “during the storming of the east bank of the Euphrates (49).
According to Korotkov, Yelizarov then served as a Wagner instructor in the Central African Republic in the period 2018-2019 (50); he also appears to have been active in the country August-September 2021 (51). Yelizarov reportedly led an assault team in Libya in 2021 as well (52).
Yevgeniy Prigozhin identified Yelizarov as the direct military commander of the assaults on Bakhmut-Artemovsk and Soledar in winter 2022-2023 (53). His role in the capture of Soledar was cited by the European Union as one of the reasons for the imposition of sanctions against him (54).
Controversies: Yelizarov’s legal difficulties with the Defence Ministry
In 2014, Yelizarov was accused of fraud over the sale of his service apartment, which prosecutors alleged involved the use of forged documents. A court sentenced him to a three-year suspended sentence and a R100,000 fine. He was evicted from the apartment in 2016 after unsuccessfully suing the Defence Ministry (55).
There is, therefore, a highly personal dimension to his current clash with the Defence Ministry. In his interview with Yermakov, he himself alluded to this, accusing the ministry of denying him his legal rights and trying to make him homeless. He asked: and after this they think that I will betray the company and its leader, that for the sake of a mythical social guarantees I will sign a contract with them? If these people think that, they are definitely out of their minds” (56).
Digital Yelizarov: A Wagner leader reliant on pro-Wagner Telegram channels
Yelizarov does not currently operate any known social media accounts; instead, his comments are publicised through a variety of pro-Wagner Telegram channels.
However, if the Anton Yelizarov who owns the Donjon interior design company and the Anton Yelizarov who is a prominent commander in the Wagner Group are indeed one and the same person, then Yelizarov has historically operated a number of social media accounts in the company’s name, in addition to the aforementioned company website. None of the accounts have been active since 2018:
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/DONJON10367268. Account created August 2016. Last post 23 August 2017.
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/don.jon.58726. Last post 20 February 2018.
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/__donjon/. Last post March 2018.
- OK: https://ok.ru/profile/579726094359. Last post March 2018
- VK: https://vk.com/id376364394 and https://vk.com/id268142351. Last post March 2018
- Pinterest: https://br.pinterest.com/donjondesign/_created.
International response: Wagner leader Yelizarov and inconsistent sanctions
Yelizarov was sanctioned by the EU on 24 February 2023 for his involvement in Ukraine, under Council Regulation (EU) No 269/2014. The EU stated that his involvement in military operations around Soledar meant that “He actively participates in the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. Therefore, he is responsible for supporting and implementing actions and policies which undermine and threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine” (57).
Ukraine sanctioned Yelizarov on 1 April 2023 (58) and Japan on 26 May 2023 (59), in both cases again for his activities in Ukraine.
However, Yelizarov has not been sanctioned by either the United States or the United Kingdom. This illustrates a general weakness in the international sanctions regime, where Ukraine’s partners are inconsistent as to which less-prominent individuals associated with Wagner are sanctioned and/or in the speed with which they impose such sanctions.
(1) Ilya Volzhskiy. Novaya Gazeta. 3 October 2023. Восточно-Украинский разлом. Accessed at https://novayagazeta.eu/articles/2023/10/03/vostochno-ukrainskii-razlom on 9 October 2023.
(2) See Threatologist. 26 July 2023. Threatologist Eurasia special: A war of illusions, or Prigozhin and the limits of OSINT. https://threatologist.com/?na=view&id=41.
(3) Fontanka.ru. 25 August 2023. Владимир Путин принес соболезнования, тела погибших на экспертизе. Всё о крушении бизнес-джета Пригожина. Accessed at https://www.fontanka.ru/2023/08/24/72630938/ on 9 October 2023.
(4) Razgruzka Vagnera. Telegram. 14 August 2023. Untitled post. Accessed at https://t.me/razgruzka_vagnera/269 on 5 October 2023.
(5) Ilya Volzhskiy. Novaya Gazeta. 3 October 2023. See note 1.
(6) Orkestr Vagnera. Telegram. 26 August 2023. Untitled. Accessed at https://t.me/orchestra_w/8621 on 11 October 2023.
(7) Rybar. Telegram. 2 October 2023. Untitled. Accessed at https://t.me/rybar/52598 on 9 October 2023.
(8) Timofey Yermakov. Telegraph. 7 July 2023. Эксклюзивное интервью с Лотосом: что ждет ЧВК “Вагнер”. Accessed at https://telegra.ph/EHksklyuzivnoe-intervyu-s-Lotosom-chto-zhdet-CHVK-Vagner-07-07 on 9 October 2023.
(9) Rybar. Telegram. 2 October 2023. See note 7.
(10) Timofey Yermakov. Telegraph. 7 July 2023. See note 8.
(11) Razgruzka Vagnera. Telegram. 14 August 2023. See note 4.
(12) Ilya Volzhskiy. Novaya Gazeta. 3 October 2023. See note 1.
(13) Ilya Volzhskiy. Novaya Gazeta. 3 October 2023. See note 1.
(14) News.ru. 26 August 2023. Герой России Антон Елизаров назван новым лидером ЧВК «Вагнер»: фото Лотоса. Accessed at https://news.ru/russia/fridman-vernulsya-v-rossiyu-i-mozhet-sest-v-tyurmu-foto-eks-milliardera/ on 11 October 2023.
(15) Kepka Prigozhina. Telegram. 1 October 2023. Untitled. Accessed at https://t.me/Prigozhin_hat/3840 on 11 October 2023.
(16) Ilya Volzhskiy. Novaya Gazeta. 3 October 2023. See note 1.
(17) Fontanka.ru. 25 August 2023. See note 3.
(18) Kepka Prigozhina. Telegram. 1 October 2023. See note 15.
(19) Kepka Prigozhina. Telegram. 1 October 2023. See note 15.
(20) Ilya Volzhskiy. Novaya Gazeta. 3 October 2023. See note 1.
(21) Ilya Volzhskiy. Novaya Gazeta. 3 October 2023. See note 1.
(22) Timofey Yermakov. Telegraph. 7 July 2023. See note 8.
(23) Timofey Yermakov. Telegraph. 7 July 2023. See note 8.
(24) Molfar. Undated. Anton Yelizarov from “Wagner”. He commanded the offensive on Soledar, killing many of Ukrainian soldiers. Accessed at https://molfar.com/en/blog/komanduvav-nastupom-na-soledar-vbiv-bagato-nashih-deanon-ielizarova-z-vagnera on 10 October 2023.
(25) Molfar. Undated. See note 24.
(26) Единый государственный реестр юридических лиц (ЕГРЮЛ). 10 October 2023. Entry for ЕЛИЗАРОВ АНТОН ОЛЕГОВИЧ. Accessed at https://egrul.nalog.ru/index.html on 10 October 2023.
(27) Wayback machine. Accessed at http://web.archive.org/web/20190801000000*/donjon.design on 10 October 2023.
(28) DONJON10367268. Twitter. Undated. Untitled. Accessed at https://twitter.com/DONJON10367268/photo on 10 October 2023.
(29) Ilya Volzhskiy. Novaya Gazeta. 3 October 2023. See note 1.
(30) European Commission. 25 February 2023. COUNCIL IMPLEMENTING REGULATION (EU) 2023/429 of 25 February 2023 implementing Regulation (EU) No 269/2014 concerning restrictive measures in respect of actions undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. Accessed at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32023R0429 on 9 October 2023.
(31) Molfar. Undated. See note 24.
(32) Ilya Volzhskiy. Novaya Gazeta. 3 October 2023. See note 1.
(33) European Commission. 25 February 2023. See note 30.
(34) Molfar. Undated. See note 24.
(35) Molfar. Undated. See note 24.
(36) European Commission. 25 February 2023. See note 30.
(37) Molfar. Undated. See note 24.
(38) Denis Korotkov. Dosye. 18 June 2023. Убийство журналистов было только началом. Accessed at https://dossier.center/wagner_car/ on 9 October 2023.
(39) Molfar. Undated. See note 24.
(40) Denis Korotkov. Dosye. 18 June 2023. See note 38.
(41) Ilya Volzhskiy. Novaya Gazeta. 3 October 2023. See note 1.
(42) Ilya Volzhskiy. Novaya Gazeta. 3 October 2023. See note 1.
(43) Ilya Volzhskiy. Novaya Gazeta. 3 October 2023. See note 1.
(44) Molfar. Undated. See note 24.
(45) Ilya Volzhskiy. Novaya Gazeta. 3 October 2023. See note 1.
(46) Ilya Volzhskiy. Novaya Gazeta. 3 October 2023. See note 1.
(47) Molfar. Undated. See note 24.
(48) Ilya Volzhskiy. Novaya Gazeta. 3 October 2023. See note 1.
(49) Grey Zone. Telegram. 12 February 2023. Untitled. Accessed at https://t.me/grey_zone/17165 on 10 October 2023.
(50) Ilya Volzhskiy. Novaya Gazeta. 3 October 2023. See note 1.
(51) Denis Korotkov. Dosye. 18 June 2023. See note 38.
(52) Ilya Volzhskiy. Novaya Gazeta. 3 October 2023. See note 1.
(53) Fontanka.ru. 25 August 2023. See note 3.
(54) European Commission. 25 February 2023. See note 30.
(55) Ilya Volzhskiy. Novaya Gazeta. 3 October 2023. See note 1.
(56) Timofey Yermakov. Telegraph. 7 July 2023. See note 8.
(57) European Commission. 25 February 2023. See note 30.
(58) President of Ukraine. 1 April 2023. Додаток 1 до рішення Ради національної безпеки і оборони України від 1 квітня 2023 року ”Про застосування та внесення змін до персональних спеціальних економічних та інших обмежувальних заходів (санкцій)”, введеного в дію Указом Президента України від 1 квітня 2023 року № 191/2023. Accessed at https://www.president.gov.ua/storage/j-files-storage/01/17/97/623846514a5770c2a3839ae27f028d5f_1680342471.pdf on 11 October 2023.
(59) Головна база даних санкцій. Undated. ЄЛІЗАРОВ Антон Олегович. Accessed at https://sanctions.nazk.gov.ua/sanction-person/25708/ on 11 October 2023.