PMC Veterans (60 OMSB Veteran): Putin’s Loyalists 


    1.0 Introduction

    PMC Veterans is an elusive, well-equipped and highly combat-effective military formation. Its loyalty to the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Russian state is demonstrated through its distinct image and assault infantry role. Despite being visible to outsiders, the exact details of Veterans’ organisational ties and capabilities remain opaque.

    2.0 Mottos, Symbols and Patches

    As an organisation, Veterans utilises an array of imagery that venerates the Russian state, the Russian military and Vladimir Putin. Identifying the imagery Veterans utilises helps identify it on the battlefield and provides insights into its association with Russian organisations, and combat elements. It also shows how it wishes to present itself to outside observers

    2.1 Mottos

    PMC Veteran’s motto appears to be ‘We are Russia, Putin is power’ (Мы Россия Путин Сила in Russian). This motto plays into the broader veneration of President Putin and Russia by PMC Veteran. (Source) (Source)

    2.2 Symbols 

    Most symbols utilised by PMC Veteran are not uniquely distinctive from the ones used by traditional Russian elements. PMC Veteran’s social media accounts commonly utilise Russian Orthodox, pro-invasion, pro-Putin and military imagery. 

    Notably, unlike other volunteer units that try to establish a brand that is distinct from the Russian state and army, Veteran uses symbols to associate itself with both.

    The exception to this is the Veterans Putin patch. It is unique to PMC Veterans and is also used as a watermark in some of their pictures and videos. (Source) (Source) (Source) (Source)

    Picture of PMC Veterans personnel watermarked with a tactical variant of the semi-state security formation’s patch. (Source)

    2.3 Patches

    Examining the patches of a combat unit always provide crucial information about them. In the case of PMC Veterans, they not only help identify their personnel on the battlefield but also indicate ties they have to other organisations. They even help gain potential insights into the ideology of their combatants too.

    2.3.1 PMC Veterans Putin Patch

    PMC Veteran personnel sport an array of patches. The patches that distinguish their personnel from any other fighting on the Russian side are distinctive ‘Veterans’ Putin patches, which are also used as watermarks on images posted by their social media accounts. 

    Based on pictures of their personnel on Telegram, there are numerous tactical and non-tactical versions of this patch. All of them have an image of Putin in their centre, are shield-shaped and include the word ‘Veterans’ but differ in colour.

    They can also include additional writing, which either includes PMC Veteran’s motto or the specific units that personnel are assigned to. (Source) (Source) (Source) (Source

    2.3.2 Patches Of Other Organisations

    Veteran personnel can also be found with patches which have been obtained through past service in other military branches and PMCs. Equally, they may have never served in them and wear them for aesthetic reasons. 

    One such example is shown by a picture of a PMC Veterans fighter with the ISIS Hunters patch. ISIS Hunters is a cross-Russian-Syrian semi-state security formation trained, supervised and armed by the Wagner Group. (Source) (Source)

    2.3.3 Why Do Some Veterans Personnel Not Wear Any Patches At All?

    It is not uncommon to see PMC Veterans personnel without the unit’s patches. Various footage of captured Veterans personnel with no Veterans Putin patches on their uniform. This could be for the following reasons:

    • Only a small segment of elite elements within Veterans are given such a patch. These Veterans POWs did not make that elite segment
    • Veterans personnel may avoid wearing them on the battlefield. This is to make it harder for Veterans to be tracked on the battlefield as a unit 
    • The Veterans personnel that were captured may have been coercively mobilised individuals that are not provided such patches. (Source) (Source) (Source)

    A zoomed-in picture of various tactical and non-tactical PMC Veterans patches. The tactical patches on the 2nd row include specific unit names in white lettering,  just under ‘Veterans’ written in red. (Source)

    3.0 Organisation

    Veterans have a murky association with the MoD, a political organisation and PMC Redut. Additionally, certain details on its key figures, resources and utilisation of mobilisation personnel are hard to find. That said, existing information does enable some assessments to be made around Veterans as an organisation. 

    3.1 Place Within The Russian Military Nexus

    It is possible PMC Veterans is subordinate to the Russian MoD but is not an official unit of it. Some reporting suggests that recruits sign a contract with Veterans through a company connected to the Veterans Of Russia All-Russian Social Movement rather than the MoD.

    The website of the Veterans Of Russia All-Russian Social Movement (hereinafter referred to as Veterans of Russia Movement) includes a section on how to join the ‘Veterans Battalion’. (Source) (Source) (Source)

    3.1.1 Video Evidence Of Veterans’ Ties To MoD

    Some footage indicates that Veterans may be a fully-fledged separate airborne assault brigade of the MoD. In a Russian State TV Report, both a commander of Veterans and reporters refer to Veterans as an MoD unit. (Source).

    Additionally, a video was filmed in response to an appeal put out by the relatives of mobilised personnel in Veterans. The video features Veterans personnel stating that their unit is a ‘full-fledged brigade of the Ministry of Defence’. (Source)

    3.1.2 Possible Redut Connections

    Other information makes it conceivable that Veterans may also be managed – or even a part of – PMC Redut. Redut may be supported and commanded by key individuals within the Russian Defence Ministry. 

    Investigative journalists claim that Redut recruits personnel for Veterans. They also suggest Redut is used to pass payments from the Russian Defence Ministry to Veterans.

    A Redut detachment called Veterans that has no relation to PMC Veterans at all may also exist. (Source) (Source) (Source)

    3.1.3 Opaqueness By Design

    The difficulty in determining where PMC Veterans is positioned within the Russian military nexus could be by design. Conflicting reports and limited evidence allow Veterans to keep details about its association with the MoD opaque.

    Furthermore, it makes it Russian public inquire into its activities within Ukraine and how its personnel are treated.

    3.2 Financing

    Given the difficulty of identifying where exactly Veterans is placed within the Russian military nexus, multiple assessments about its financing can be made. 

    3.2.1 Financing If Veterans Is Connected To The MoD

    PMC Veterans’ financing would depend on the position it has within the Russian military nexus. If Veterans is subordinate to the MoD but is not an official unit of it, it could be receiving resources from both the Russian state and from commercial entities associated with the Veterans of Russia Movement. 

    Personnel signing a contract with the official unit would likely be paid through a commercial business associated with the Veterans of Russia movement and even receiving certain equipment from the inventory of the Russian MoD, just as other semi-state security formations do.

    3.2.2 Redut As A Bridge For Financing

    If PMC Veterans is related to PMC Redut, it may be financed through Russian state resources and contributions from elites involved in Redut. Since Redut is believed to be controlled by the MoD, it is plausible that under this scenario Veterans could be acquiring funding and equipment from the MoD. 

    Additionally, institutions connected to PMC Redut could be moving much of that funding from the MoD to Veterans to allow it to cover operating costs such as personnel pay. Elites who are connected to Redut could also be providing contributions in the way of paying for equipment or additional funding too.

    3.2.3 Opaque Financing By Design

    Conflicting accounts where Veterans is positioned within the Russian military nexus and the sort of organisations that money needed to sustain the formation is moved through. This makes assessing its financing difficult. This could be done by design to hide the involvement of the Russian MoD from both the Russian public and rival state actors. 

    3.3 Business Structure

    Based on conflict reports, it is probable that money and resources that sustain PMC Veterans are moved through commercial entities connected to PMC Redut, the ‘All-Russian Public Movement Veterans of Russia’ or public institutions like the Russian MoD. 

    The difficulty of finding information on Veterans’ connections to any commercial entities connected to PMC Redut, the MoD or the ‘All-Russian Public Movement Veterans of Russia’ makes it challenging to assess its business structure.

    3.4 Key Figures

    3.4.1 Dmitri Callsign ‘Mouse’ (Мышa) 

    An examination of who the key figures in PMC Veterans are provides important details on their commanders, such as their experience and skills. Additionally, their association with other Russian combat units can identify the relationship between Veterans and other organisations.

    Little details can be found about Commander Dmitri with the Callsign ‘Mouse’ (Мышa), not even his second name. Information from a documentary on ‘Stormtroopers’ released by Russian state TV outlet ‘First Channel’ (Первый Канал) indicates that Dmitri has a senior command role within Veterans. (Source)

    Given clips from this documentary and other sources showing Dmitri in combat, it appears he acts as a sort of field commander who fights alongside other Veterans personnel. (Source) Dmitri’s Experience

    How Dmitri earned his Callsign ‘Mouse’ is also explained within the documentary. Supposedly, Dmitri earned a reputation from moving in and out of positions on the battlefield like a ‘mouse’ during his involvement in combat operations within the lower-intensity invasion of the Donbas since 2014. 

    This, alongside other information provided in the documentary, could indicate that Dmitri has experience working within assault brigades or diversionary reconnaissance groups, which would explain why he leads Veterans as an assault unit on the ground. 

    3.4.2 Aleksandr Nikolayevich Callsign ‘Marine’ (Морпех)

    A post made on the news section of the All-Russian Public Movement Veterans of Russia may be the only piece of evidence that indicates Aleksandr’s full name and birthday. According to it, Aleksandr’s birthday is April 16th, though the year he was born could not be found. 

    The post could so be the only available information to indicate that ‘Marine’ might have the full name of Aleksandr Nikolayevich. A lack of supporting evidence of this makes it possible that Nikolayevich could also be his middle name or not his real surname at all. (Source) Aleksandar’s Involvement In Post-2014 Operations

    Aleksandar ‘Marine’ Nikolayevich appears to be the highest-ranking commander within Veterans that can be identified based on existing information. In an interview with Aleksandr, he claims to be one of the commanders central to the formation of units that were established to fight against Ukrainian forces within the Donbas in 2014. 

    He also claims to have worked with commanders such as the infamous Arsen ‘Motorola’ Pavlov (who died in 2016) as part of this effort post-2014. (Source) (Source) (Source) Veterans’ Ties To DNR/LNR Units

    Aleksandr was likely involved in a broader strategy by the aforementioned commanders to create formations which would participate in the widened invasion of Ukraine. Aleksandar has claimed that Veterans is the first of five companies that were formed in tandem with these commanders who led units in the Donbas since 2014, with the others being the following:

    • Spots Company (Пятнашки). This element is reportedly led by commander Akhra Avidzba. (Source) (Source)
    • Oplot ZP (Оплот ЗП). This company is led by Sergei Zavdoveev whose nom-de-guerre is ‘French’. (Source)
    • Turnova (Туранова). Turnova is supposedly named after Ataman Vladimir Turanov, who likely died during fighting in Izyum in late April 2022 against Ukrainian forces. The existence of a unit called Turnova could not be verified. (Source)
    • Mamai (Мамая). Mamai is claimed to have been named after Oleg Mamiev, who died on May 17, 2018, due to Ukrainian artillery fire when conducting combat operations within the Spots unit. The existence of this unit could also not be verified. (Source)

    3.4.3 Eduard Baitsaev Callsign ‘Count’ (Граф) (Killed In Action)

    Eduard ‘Count’ Baitsaev was likely a deputy commander within Veterans, though information about his combat experience and role within the formation is limited. Some information appears to indicate that Eduard was from North Ossetia, which is something he also claimed numerous times in a Russian state TV report. 

    Eduard was likely killed in action during May of this year whilst fighting against Ukrainian forces in Vuhledar or Avdiivka. (Source) (Source) (Source)

    3.5 Recruitment 

    PMC Veterans relies on social media and a website page for it to recruit new personnel into its ranks. Veterans use two accounts with the same name on Telegram proactively to draw attention to the unit and increase interest in prospective recruits to join. 

    Veterans has also benefited from the favourable coverage it has received from Russian state TV, which has aided in its representation of the unit as a motivated, well-equipped and assault-capable formation. (Source) (Source) (Source) (Source

    3.5.1 Requirements & Features Of Recruitment

    Based on a poster uploaded to one of Veteran’s Telegram channels and other open sources, it appears the sort of personnel that Veterans most want within their ranks are those with military experience:

    • Regular infantry
    • ‘Stormtroopers’ (Those who have experience serving in assault Infantry units)
    • Scouts (Experience conducting reconnaissance and infiltration)
    • Artillery specialists
    • Anti-tank-guided missile crew members
    • Automatic grenade launcher specialists
    • Sappers
    • Snipers
    • Mechanics
    • Mechanised Vehicle Drivers
    • Drone operators
    • Gunner Operators 
    • Paramedics
    • Orderlies 

    Whilst those with military experience are preferred by Veterans, it does not appear to be essential to have any military experience when joining as a recruit. The following are essential though:

    • Having a Russian passport and military identification
    • Being no younger than 21 years old
    • Being no older than 55 years old 
    • Being in good physical shape
    • Experience working with small arms

    3.5.3 Duration Of Service And Salary

    The terms of a contract with Veterans are also made clear. Contracts can be signed for either 6 months or 12 months of service. Payment starts from roughly 230,000 rubles a month (Roughly £2150 a month) with that going up depending on experience, combat performance and rank.

    There is no evidence to indicate whether actual pay matches this stated figure or not. 

    3.5.4 Other Benefits of Service

    Other benefits attached to a contract involve:

    • Full Material Support 
    • Free Food before and after deployment to Ukraine
    • The promise of compensation in the event of sustaining combat-related injuries
    • Long-term financial support in the event of disability caused by combat injuries
    • Compensation provided by the state to your family in the event of death during combat operations

    3.6 Training 

    Recruits in personnel are promised at least two weeks of training. More than two weeks of training is promised by Veterans to personnel who are not deemed to be combat-ready by instructors. Foundational training or additional training is promised for recruits in the following areas:

    • Air Defence
    • Engineering
    • Sapping
    • Military Communications
    • Operating Armoured Vehicles
    • Reconnaissance
    • Operating UAVs
    • Operating within a Diversionary Reconnaissance Group
    • Conducting Anti-Diversionary Reconnaissance Group work

    3.7 Coercion Of Mobilised Personnel

    PMC Veterans has possibly engaged in the coercive recruitment of Russian mobilised personnel. Some evidence points to the fact that Veterans has bought mobilised personnel from local authorities and coerced them into fighting on the frontline. 

    It is reported to have done this by taking away the documents, taking away telephones, threatening to revoke the vacation rights of personnel and forcibly transferring them to the frontline. Some individuals appear to have been bought for 25,000 rubles per head. (Source) (Source)

    3.7.1 Mobilised Personnel Used As Disposable Shock Units

    Veterans may also be using mobilised personnel as first-echelon assault troops and making them follow attacking orders through the threat of violence. It is plausible that Veterans forced mobilised personnel to conduct unsupported assaults against Ukrainian positions with the threat of knee-capping and other acts of violence. 

    Reporting has highlighted one incident in May 2023 where mobilised personnel were made to conduct an assault against Ukrainian tanks in Bakhmut without any artillery support, military communications or any other weaponry than assault rifles. (Source) (Source)

    4.0 Equipment

    The equipment utilised by Veterans personnel appears to vary depending on their experience, rank, status (mobilised or volunteer) and specialism within the formation. Whilst accounting for how Veterans may try to over-represent or under-represent how well-armed it is, some insights into the equipment their personnel utilise on the battlefield can be made using open sources. 

    4.1 Weapons 

    • AK-74 and AK-74M assault rifles. Many are customised, equipped with suppressors and EOTech pattern Red dot sight. 
    • M4 pattern-carbine assault rifle
    • 6P29M VSSM Vintorez-M sniper rifle
    • Steyr SSG 08 sniper rifle 
    • PKM machine gun
    • 9K135 Anti-Tank Guided Missile system
    • 9M113 Kornet Anti-Tank Guided Missiles with 9P163-1 launcher
    • Anti-Aircraft weapons
    • GP-25 under-barrel grenade launcher 
    • Automatic Grenade Launchers (AGS)
    • RPG-22 ‘Netto’ rocket launchers
    • 2A36 Giatsint-B field gun

    4.2 Vehicles 

    • Various Russian Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs)
    • Various Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs)
    • T-90 Main Battle Tank (MBT)
    • TOS-1A thermobaric rocket launchers
    • Civilian-grade trucks mounted equipped with 9M113 Kornet Anti-Tank Guided Missiles and a  9P163-1 launcher
    • Camouflaged Civilian Vehicles 
    • Motorbikes
    • Logistical Vehicles

    4.3 Armor and Kit 

    • Ear Defenders
    • Headsets
    • Plate carriers 
    • Helmets, many mounted with cameras
    • Balaclavas
    • Ballistic Eyewear

    4.4 Other Important Gear

    • DJI Mavic 2 and 3 Civilian UAVs. Some with thermal imaging capabilities 
    • Lancet 3 loitering munition drones. 

    PMC Veterans combatant deploying a DJI Mavic 3 civilian UAV. (Source)

    5.0 Tactical-Operational Information

    Sparse tactical-operational information about PMC Veterans and their involvement in the invasion of Ukraine exists. A comprehensive assessment of openly available information can provide some insight into how Veterans operates on the battlefield. 

    5.1 Operations

    A few of PMC Veterans’ areas of operations can be identified based on existing information. They include the following:

    • Offensive operations in Bakhmut since around May 2023 (Source) (Source)
    • Offensive operations in Vuhledar in around March 2023 (Source)
    • Offensive operations in Kramatorsk in December 2022. (Source)

    5.2 Core Purpose

    PMC Veterans has an array of purposes. Veterans generates manpower for the widened Russian invasion by coercively enlisting mobilised individuals and recruiting motivated volunteers through enticing contracts. 

    This enables the formation to balance the creation of motivated assault infantry elements with swiftly generating disposable manpower to meet Russian operational demand in its invasion of Ukraine.  

    5.2.1 Veterans’ Hunt For Specialists

    Veterans also aids the Russian state in the recruitment of military specialists who bolster Russian invasion force capabilities. Veterans’ recruitment drive for specialists through repeated calls for the enlistment of specialists and the offer of higher pay in contract to them is indicative of this. 

    By taking these steps, Veterans increases the amount of UAV operators, sappers, artillery specialists and other specialists that are at the disposal of the Russian military leadership.

    5.3 Tactics

    Veterans combatants uses various tactics, many of which are not unique to its as a combat unit when compared to other Russian units. 

    5.3.1 Use Of UAV ISTAR

    One of the tactics that PMC Veterans appears to utilise is the deployment of UAVs in an intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capacity whilst using automatic grenade launchers, mortars and artillery systems. 

    Footage shows that some of these drones are fitted with thermal optics which allow Veterans personnel to engage in stand-off strikes and the correction of those strikes against Ukrainian personnel at night (Source) (Source) (Source).

    5.3.2 Use Of Mobilised To Conduct Unsupported Assaults

    PMC Veterans may also be using coercively mobilised personnel to conduct assault operations against Ukrainian forces to soften them up before more elite Veterans personnel engage them. 

    Reporting on the use of mobilised personnel being made to conduct unsupported assaults against Ukrainian forces by Veterans personnel indicates a potential use of disposable manpower being employed to mitigate the loss of more elite detachments when they conduct attacks themselves. 

    A similar tactic has been employed by the Wagner Group in Ukraine. (Source)

    5.3.3 Combat Effectiveness Of Elite Elements

    A confidential source has provided some additional insights into Veterans’ combat effectiveness. The source described Veterans personnel as far better equipped than most Russian personnel within Ukraine,  possessing weaponry, optics and kit that stood out in their quality. 

    They also noted that their training appeared to be superior to those of regular Russian army units and that their performance on the battlefield indicated a significant combat experience. This included an ability to efficiently operate and coordinate with other Russian units.

    5.4 Personnel size

    Reliable information regarding Veterans’ personnel size is sparse. Some estimates put the size of the group at around 2000 personnel. However, it is hard to know whether this figure accounts for coercively mobilised personnel like the 501 of whom were reported to have been transferred to the so-called Lugansk People’s Republic territory in late May of this year. 

    An absence of detailed figures on Veterans’ manpower may be indicative of the effective utilisation of informational security and operational security by it. (Source)

    5.5 Operational and Informational Security

    Difficulties in obtaining detailed information on Veterans’ tactics, organisational structure, capabilities and operations despite its high social media visibility show its robust operational and informational security. This adherence to operational and informational security is shown in the following ways:

    • The inability to use existing sources to identify vital military communications systems and night vision goggles used by Veterans as a unit despite many pictures of their personnel being posted on social media accounts. 
    • An absence of available material which can be analysed to identify how Veterans utilise assets such as armoured vehicles, UAVs and AD/AA systems which claim to train their personnel to use. 
    • The challenges in obtaining information on the military experience and personal details of higher-up personnel within Veterans’ command and control structure as a unit. 
    • Difficulties in being able to identify the exact details of the relationship between the Russian Defence Ministry and Veterans in terms of the provision of resources, coordination with other Russian MoD units and access to the utilisation of mobilised personnel. 

    6.0 The Future For PMC Veterans

    PMC Veterans’ future is contingent on developments within Russia and Ukraine soon. In the event of a successful Ukrainian counter-offensive operation Veterans may experience losses that will degrade its ability to continually perform its core role as an assault unit. 

    Alteratively, If such an operation fails for Ukraine, PMC Veterans personnel may continue operating in existing areas of operations in a renewed offensive capacity. 

    Veterans may also lose military resources, financial resources and access to manpower from the Russian MoD and other critical stakeholders if instability within Russia reaches significant levels.

    7.0 Conclusion

    PMC Veterans can be identified as a well-equipped, well-resourced formation managed by capable leadership that shows proficiency in maintaining operational and information security. Nonetheless, a lack of available information does constrain the extent of analysis which can be made around how Veterans conducts operations in Ukraine.

    Veterans serves as an illustration of the opaqueness of self-described volunteer units when it comes to their support from the Russian state and other key stakeholders. Identifying its features on an organisation and tactical-operational level may be instrumental in assessing the impact of Veterans on the frontline.

    Weapons IDing 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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