PMC Convoy: Aksyonov’s Imperial Convoy 


    1.0 Introduction

    PMC Convoy is a small, well-equipped, highly motivated and assault-capable semi-state security formation. Convoy is connected to the head of the annexed Crimean authorities Sergey Aksyonov and the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD).  (Source)

    Markedly, Convoy’s Cossack-inspired aesthetic and outsized media presence has made it a highly visible entity. In spite of this visibility, how it operates on the battlefield remains opaque.

    2.0 Motto, Symbols and Patches of PMC Convoy

    Distinctly, Convoy exploits various historical, ideological, Cossack and Russian military themes in its imagery. Assessing how it does this helps identify Convoys on the battlefield.

    Additionally, it also helps identify the relationship Convoy has with other Russian combat elements on an ideological and organisational level.

    2.1 Motto

    Notably, Convoy’s Motto is  “Loyal to the oath once taken” (Russian: Верны присяге однажды данной). The motto likely refers to how Cossacks in the Imperial Convoy of Imperial Russia were expected to be loyal to the oath they took to protect the Tsar. It is also an example of how Convoy exploits imagery related to Cossacks. (Source) (Source) (Source)

    2.2 Symbols

    As an organisation, Convoy utilises symbols that have an association with the Russian Imperial Convoy that existed in Tsarist Russia. Images posted by PMC Convoy on social media are frequently watermarked with a symbol that bears resemblance to a badge handed to lower-ranking Cossack officers of the Imperial Convoy in 1911 to celebrate its 100th anniversary.  (Source) (Source) (Source)

    Note the Imperial Convoy emblem on the top right of the image, used as a watermark for any images released by PMC Convoy on its social media. (Source)

    2.3 Patches

    Various patches can be found on the personnel of PMC Convoy. The most common of these patches is a distinctive dog skull patch, which can be been found on the arms and helmets of high-ranking members and lower-ranking members of PMC Convoy alike. 

    Additionally, another patch can be attributed to Convoy personnel include the Imperial Convoy emblem as well as the word ‘Convoy’ written in English or Russian (Конвой) in the colours of the Russian flag. (Source) (Source) (Source)

    Image of Dog Skull PMC Convoy patch on the arm of the commander of the formation. The colours for this patch often vary. The image was captured from a Russian State News segment on Convoy. (Source)

    Interestingly, PMC Convoy members can often be found with Wagner Group patches. This is likely down to the fact that many of PMC Convoy’s personnel are former Wagner Group contractors. 

    Not all patches worn by Convoy personnel are different to the ones worn by regular Russian units. For instance, Russian Imperial Flag or Novyarossiya patches are worn frequently by both Convoy and other Russian combatants. (Source) (Source

    3.0 Organisation

    As is the case with many Russian formations fighting in Ukraine presently, PMC Convoy is neither a completely private nor public organisation. Therefore, analysing PMC Convoy offers insights into how many Russian units are supported by private and public institutions.

    3.1 Place Within The Russian Military Nexus

    Documentation uploaded on the social media of PMC Convoy and the work of Ukrainian investigative journalists indicates that Convoy is a paid volunteer assault reconnaissance unit that constitutes a small part of a BARS unit. This unit is called the BARS-30 ‘Livadia’ Battalion. 

    Significantly, personnel in Convoy sign a contract with both Military Security Company LLC Convoy (based in St Petersburg) and the BARS-30 Livadia Battalion. BARS-30 was formed in Crimea by the head of annexed Crimea Sergey Aksyonov. (Source) (Source)  

    Convoy being part of BARS-30 is made evident by how a report on the Livadia Battalion’s operations in Kherson includes extracts from a longer report on PMC Convoy by the same news organisation. (Source) (Source)

    3.1.1 PMC Convoy’s Connections With The 150th Motorised Rifle Division

    PMC Convoy — and the Livadia Battalion more broadly — is given access to the front by the 150th Motorised Rifle Idrisko-Berlin Order of Kutuzov Division which is based in the village of  Persianovsky, Rostov Oblast. (Source)

    This Motorised Rifle Division is the same one that formed the BARS detachment that PMC Convoy is contained within, which is shown by documents uploaded by PMC Convoy on its telegram. (Source) (Source

    Unified State Register of Legal Entities / Unified State Register of Individual Entrepreneurs belonging to the Russian Federal Tax Service. It seems that Convoy ‘Military Company’ was registered on 15/01/2015 to an address. (Source)

    3.2 Financing 

    It is possible that PMC Convoy was included within a BARS unit as a means to bypass the fact that Russian PMCs have an ambiguous status of legality under Russian law. PMC Convoy’s inclusion within a BARS unit allows the annexed Crimean authorities and MoD to arm and fund Convoy without any legal issues. (Source)

    PMC Convoy personnel claim that Sergey Aksyonov pays for their military equipment and other associated operating costs, as does Aksyenov himself. It is difficult to make an exact assessment as to how much of what Akysonov provides come out of his pocket relative to the treasury of the annexed Crimean administration. (Source) (Source)

    Additionally, factoring in any equipment that Convoy personnel have procured by themselves before joining PMC Convoy relative to any provided by authorities since joining the formation compounds this challenge.

    3.3 Business Structure

    PMC Convoy is set up under the BARS-30 Livadia Battalion and the Convoy military company. Convoy Military Company was founded in 2015 by a Cossack Society also called Convoy. The Director General of Convoy military company is Konstatin Pikalov. He is also the Ataman (Cossack Leader) of the Convoy Cossack Society.

    Both the Cossack Society and the military company are located in St Petersburg. (Source) (Source)

    3.4 Key Figures

    Examining PMC Convoy’s key figures is integral for beginning to understand who leads the organisation. Identifying the skills and experience of senior leadership is integral to understanding how competent they may be and why they have been chosen to lead Convoy.

    3.4.1 Konstantin Pikalov

    Konstatin Pikalov is the highest-ranking commander within PMC Convoy. The callsign assigned to Pikalov is ‘Mazay’ within PMC Convoy, one that originates from his previous role as a high-ranking Colonel involved in past Wagner operations in Africa. (Source) (Source) Experience in Executive Protection For Political Candidates

    In the past, Pikalov was responsible for the security of key Kremlin-favoured presidential candidates in Madagascar, where Wagner was not only providing political advisory services but also actively conducting information warfare operations to influence elections. Ties to Valery Zakharov 

    Pikalov may have also been connected to one of Wagner’s highest-ranking figures in the Central African Republic, Valery Zakharov. Some sources suggest that he instructed the Russian National Security advisor to the President of CAR Valery Zakharov on military affairs. (Source) (Source) Potential Role As a Liason Figure Between The MoD and Wagner

    According to leaked emails obtained by investigative journalists, Pikalov led and instructed the ‘Project Continent’ political consultancy and information warfare unit established by Wagner to influence elections. Emails exchanged within the 15-man team of Project Continent show Pikalov was treated as a representative of the Kremlin and the Russian Ministry of Defence. (Source)

    Such information, alongside evidence of Pikalov communicating with Prigozhin “without fear and as an equal”, indicates that he was possibly a GRU or MoD liaison assigned to oversee Wagner’s operations in Africa. This would track with his military record as a former officer in the now-defunct experimental unit 99795 of the Ministry of Defense’s 12th Chief Directorate. (Source) (Source) (Source) Other Details On Pikalov’s Past Experience

    Pikalov’s military record includes involvement in operations within Yugoslavia, Georgia, Madagascar, the Central African Republic and Ukraine. It also appears he has experience in:

    1. information warfare
    2. political consultancy 
    3. information security 
    4. executive protection 
    5. Radiological warfare

    3.4.2 Vasily Yashchikov

    Vasily Yashchikov was listed as a co-founder of the Convoy Cossack Society until 12/15/2021, as was Konstantin Pikalov. He also is a co-shareholder with a senior role in the Convoy Military Company, only being subordinate to Pikalov. 

    Based on the information provided by news reports and interviews, Yashchikov is a high-ranking member within the command structure of PMC Convoy in Ukraine. (Source) Involvement In Combat Within Eastern Ukraine Post-2014

    No evidence could be found of Yashchikov’s formal military experience. However, he was likely to have actively participated as a combatant in the lower-intensity Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014. 

    In 2020, he was pictured at a gathering of various volunteer fighters preparing to create the Union of Donbas Volunteers (UDV). The UDV is a nationalist organisation which is comprised of veterans who have fought alongside so-called separatists in the Donbas region since 2014. (Source) (Source) Yashchikov’s Political Activity

    Yaschikov is also a highly politically active individual within the Cossack community and is a proactive member of the Union of Cossack Troops of Russia and Abroad. He has made Youtube content about his Cossack heritage to express his reactionary view. (Source) (Source)

    Noticeably, he has been involved in numerous incidents of organised counter-protests and violence against opposition protesters within Russia. In one incident, he and others dressed in Cossack attire and used whips and brass knuckles against pro-Navalny protestors. (Source) (Source) Yaschikov’s Connection With Pikalov Before PMC Convoy

    It is possible that in 2014, Yaschikov travelled alongside Pikalov to Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina to interfere in an election between Kremlin-backed President Dodik and opposition candidates by suppressing the anti-Dodik vote. 

    Yashchikov uploaded a picture in October 2018 of him gathered alongside other men in Cossack uniform in the country to his Vkontakte profile. As reported, immediately after President Dodik was re-elected, Yaschikov and the other Cossacks left the country.  (Source)

    3.5 Recruitment of PMC Convoy

    PMC Convoy predominantly relies on social media to recruit new personnel into its ranks. PMC Convoy is very active when it comes to posting content on Telegram and VKontakte. 

    Interestingly, key figures such as Yashchikov and Aksyonov have also focused on amplifying awareness around the existence of PMC Convoy and its openness to recruiting those with former combat experience. 

    More recently, PMC Convoy began airing adverts on Crimean TV as part of its recruitment drive (Source) (Source)

    3.5.1 Requirements And Features Of recruitment 

    Based on a poster uploaded to PMC Convoy’s Telegram and other open sources it appears the requirements for joining its ranks and the benefits attached to it are the following:

    • Being a man with Russian citizenship (Up to 50 years old)
    • Any military specialism
    • Prior military service is welcome (see as ideal)
    • Military training by experienced instructors
    • 6 and 12-month period contracts
    • Securement of the status of ‘Veteran of Combat Activities’ (a status that grants you certain benefits concerning pensions, sustainment of injuries and compensation for your family upon your death)
    • Life and health insurance
    • Monthly payment allowance (unstipulated)
    • Being in good health 
    • Being of psychologically sound mind (possibly alluding to psychological evaluations (Source)

    An article by the outlet Important Stories claims that a former PMC Convoy combatant told them that he received about 200-300,000 rubles (Roughly £1868-£2802) a month based on rank and role. Those who fought for a year were also promised land in Crimea or Abkhazia according to this source. (Source)

    3.5.3. Possible Foreign Recruitment

    PMC Convoy has alluded to the presence of Australian Cossacks within its ranks, including an individual with the callsign of ‘Sand’. An interview between ‘Sand’ and pro-Russian invasion Australian Ataman Cossack figure Semyon Boykov was conducted on TNT Radio. (Source)

    Due to the informational operation incentive that Convoy has in its recruitment reach and diversity of personnel, it is hard to determine whether any Australian recruits within Convoy exist. (Source) (Source) (Source)

    3.6 Connections to Wagner

    Many sources assess that the Wagner Group and PMC Convoy are connected. It draws on claims of Ex-Wagner personnel making up a significant contingent of Convoy and the support Aksyonov has given Prigozhin in his criticism of the Russian Ministry of Defence. (Source) (Source) (Source)

    The involvement of PMC Convoy commander Konstantin Pikalov in Wagner operations within Wagner is also used as an indication of this. There are issues in drawing such a connection, such as:  

    • The deviation in Wagner’s and Convoy’s approaches towards criticising the Russian MoD on social media, with the former taking a far more critical stance than the latter.
    • Existing analysis of Pikalov’s association with Wagner ignores the possibility that he was a liaison figure between Wagner and the Russian MoD rather than just a high-ranking member of Wagner. 
    • No clear evidence of a financial and military relationship between Wagner and Convoy. 

    3.7 FSB Involvement

    An individual with a patch worn commonly by FSB Alpha Group personnel can be identified in a news report about PMC Convoy. 

    There are a few possible explanations for this:

    • This individual is an active service FSB individual embedded into the ranks of Convoy
    • An ex-FSB Alpha individual who now works for Convoy
    • Someone wearing the patch despite having no connection to FSB Alpha at all. (Source) (Source)

    3.7.1 Reasons For Potential FSB Involvement

    As is potentially the case with PMC Redut, Convoy may have FSB individuals embedded within its ranks. This is potentially done to monitor Convoy’s activities and bolster its combat effectiveness. (Source)

    That said, Russian PMCs frequently hire ex-Russian Special Forces personnel. This makes it plausible that this individual is an example of that.

    PMC Convoy instructor with a patch in the centre of his chest that is synonymous with FSB Alpha Group.

    4.0 Equipment

    Clearly, PMC Convoy possesses a wide array of equipment at its disposal to employ on the battlefield. Convoy’s diverse capabilities are notable when analysing open-source information on how it is armed.

    4.1 Weapons 

    • AK-74Ms
    • Various Lobeav Arms Sniper Rifles. Some with NightForce optics on them.
    • PKP Pecheneg Light Machine Guns (LMGs) 
    • PKM LMGs
    • MP-446 or MP-446C Pistols
    • 9K111 Fagot Anti-Tank Guided Missile Systems (ATGMs)
    • Various makes of Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs)
    • 9P163-1 Launchers with 9M113 Konkurs anti-tank guided missiles

    4.2 Vehicles

    • Modified Dune Buggies
    • T-80 Main Battle Tanks (MBTs)
    • T-90 MBTs
    • T-72 MBTs
    • MT-LB with 23mm ZU-23-2 autocannon
    • Attack Helicopters (Unconfirmed)

    4.3 Armor And Kit

    • Ear defenders 
    • Plate carriers
    • Headsets
    • Night vision goggles. (Per the organisation’s own claims)

    4.5 Other Important Gear

    • DJI Mavic 2 Consumer Drones. Thermal cameras are likely fitted on some of them. 
    • Loitering munition drones. Possibly Lancet 3 or FPV drones. 

    Modified Dune Buggy used by PMC Convoy (Source)

    5.0 Tactical-Operational Information

    Unfortunately, limited tactical-operational information exists on PMC Convoy. That said, an assessment of openly available sources can provide details on how it operates on the battlefield.

    5.1 Operations

    Various sources of information indicate that PMC Convoy is likely operating within Russian-occupied areas of the Kherson region. (Source) (Source) (Source) These sources suggest that the role of the Convoy in this area includes:

    • The elimination of Ukrainian DRGs crossing the Dneipr River into Russian-occupied territory 
    • Artillery duels against the Ukrainian army 
    • Collection of HUMINT on Ukrainian military positions in the Kherson area
    • Consolidation of control in Russian-occupied areas of Kherson

    The head of annexed Crimea Sergey Aksynov and Russian state news have suggested that the Livadia Battalion (which PMC Convoy is formally a part of) is deployed in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast of Ukraine. Whether PMC Convoy is part of the Livadia Battalion contingent deployed in the region cannot be confirmed with existing information. (Source) (Source) (Source) (Source)

    5.2 Core Purpose

    PMC Convoy has a wide array of purposes. Like other Russian semi-state security formations, Convoy can be seen as a force multiplier. 

    In news reports, senior members of PMC Convoy have also alluded to the fact that PMC Convoy is supposed to act as a force that creates a backstop between Dniepr and Crimea. In doing so, it helps protect Crimea from any possible counter-offensive in the future. (Source)

    Moreover, it is also possible that PMC Convoy has also been formed as a highly motivated unit designed to fill gaps in Russian specialist capabilities on the battlefield. Some information indicates that PMC Convoy has electronic warfare, electronic intelligence and reconnaissance capabilities for this exact purpose. (Source)

    5.3 Tactics 

    One of the tactics that PMC Convoy has showcased in combat footage is the use of civilian-grade UAVs with thermal optics for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) designed to identify and element targets using artillery. 

    This, alongside the use of HUMINT, is likely implemented by PMC Convoy to conduct artillery duels against Ukrainian forces and assist in eliminating their DRGs. (Source) (Source)

    Additionally, footage of PMC Convoy personnel in demonstrations and recruitment videos also suggests that its personnel use modified dune buggies for a diverse set of tasks. (Source)

    When factored in with other information, it appears these tasks could include:

    • Transporting sniper teams that are engaging in reconnaissance and infiltration operations. (Source)
    • To transport mobile mortar teams. This potentially enables Convoy mortar teams to impede the ability of Ukrainian forces to conduct counter-battery fire against them. (Source)
    • The movement of regular infantry for the purposes of rapid breakthroughs during offensives, infiltration operations and reconnaissance operations. (Source

    5.3.1 Challenges In Assessing Tactics

    A lack of openly available information makes it hard to identify what tactics PMC Convoy personnel employ when using other capabilities within their inventory. 

    In large part, this is because there is limited footage of PMC Convoy personnel in combat. It is also difficult to determine whether existing demonstrative footage of how they use their equipment matches the way PMC Convoy has implemented it during combat.

    5.4 Personnel Size

    Little information exists about PMC Convoy’s present numbers. An investigative journalist familiar with the group has stated that around 300 personnel were within the ranks of Convoy in an article published in March 2023.

    Evidently, PMC Convoy has been very proactive in its recruitment drive through social media. This means its manpower has likely grown since March. However, due to a lack of available information, it is unknown how many more personnel the organisation has now. (Source)

    5.5 Operational And Informational Security

    PMC Convoy shows an ability to balance visibility to aid recruitment efforts with concealing valuable tactical-operational information. This indicates the practice of effective operational security and information security demonstrated by challenges that come with identifying the following:

    • How PMC Convoy employs armoured fight vehicles and the amount of them that it presently possesses
    • Which personnel fight within PMC Convoy other Vasily Yashchikov and Konstantin ‘Mazai’ Pikalov
    • Where PMC Convoy may be presently deployed other than Kherson
    • Whether its stated operational objectives are actually the ones which it is carrying out on the ground
    • The extent of its manpower
    • Whether it presently utilises any non-Russian or non-Ukrainian recruits
    • Whether PMC Convoy is employing any AD/AA systems 
    • How it conducts defensive and offensive operations on a tactical level.

    6.0 The Future Of PMC Convoy

    The future of PMC Convoy is dependent on occurrences within Ukraine and Russia in the near future. If a Ukrainian counter-offensive is successful enough to put Crimea under threat of recapture, Convoy may be reassigned to defend it. 

    Alternatively, If a Ukrainian counter-offensive does not succeed enough to threaten Crimea, Convoy will continue operating as it does presently.

    Convoy can also be a tool for Sergey Aksyonov and other Russian-aligned Crimean officials to protect their property and power in the event of internal instability within Russia. 

    7.0 Conclusion

    Evidently, PMC Convoy is a semi-state security formation that has a hybridised allocation of private and public institution resources. Its capable command, capabilities, media presence and identifiable brand make Convoy both an effective fighting force and unique to other ‘Russian PMCs’.

    Despite being so visible, the way Convoy operates on the battlefield is difficult to assess. This is also indicative of how effectively Convoy balances public visibility and operational security.

    Analysing Convoy as an organisation shows how the Russian state has potentially found a new model for moving resources into highly motivated volunteer formations to aid Russia’s objectives in the widened invasion of Ukraine. 

    Weapons ID support by @WarNoir

    Alec Bertina
    Alec Bertina
    Alec is a researcher on Russian non-traditional security actors, with a focus on Russian PMCs. He has also done analysis on the Russian invasion of Ukraine since 2022. Alec has a BA Politics & International Relations and an MA in International Security from the University of East Anglia.

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