Russian Oligarchs

PMC Española Being Raised By Oligarch Viktor Shendrik

In addition to its conventional military forces, Russia has deployed numerous pseudo-mercenary groups (REDUT, PMC Española ) in Ukraine, funded by various entities ranging from state agencies to large corporations. For instance, the Uran battalion receives backing from the Russian state space corporation Roscosmos, while the Soyuz unit, composed of martial artists, is supported by state-owned companies like Sberbank and Rosatom. Moreover, reports suggest that private military companies associated with energy giant Gazprom were discussed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the late founder of the Wagner Group.

Furthermore, investigative journalists at independent outlet iStories have uncovered that oligarch brothers Boris and Arkady Rotenberg have taken control of the Española battalion, a paramilitary faction composed of far-right football enthusiasts, indicating the diverse sources of funding and the involvement of influential figures in these operations.

Who Is Viktor Shendrik ?

According to reports from the independent outlet iStories, Viktor Shendrik, the head of the security department at Russian Railways, serves as the sponsor of the Española battalion, a paramilitary group comprising Russian football fans operating in Ukraine. Shendrik’s ties to the billionaire Rotenberg brothers, Arkady and Boris, who are longstanding associates and close allies of Vladimir Putin, are notable. Previous investigations by iStories have detailed how the Rotenbergs facilitated Shendrik’s ascent to his role within the railroad firm, having engaged in business dealings with him over the years. (The Rotenberg brothers own several companies that provide services to the railroad company.)

Viktor Shendrik’s background includes graduation from the Russian FSB’s border service academy in Golitsyno, followed by service in the agency’s covert Vympel unit. Apart from his role at Russian Railways, Shendrik holds a position on the board of directors of Transtelecom, Russia’s second-largest telecommunications company. Leaked documents suggest that he amassed earnings exceeding two billion rubles (equivalent to over $21 million) in 2021.

What Actually is Española ?

According to a source cited by iStories, the Española battalion initially comprised fans, primarily from the Spartak soccer club. However, the Rotenberg brothers intervened with the notion of establishing a private military company (PMC) under their supervision. The source indicated a trend where numerous prominent companies are forming their private armed forces, prompting the Rotenbergs to consider establishing their own based on Española. They selected Viktor Shendrik to lead this initiative due to his expertise in the security domain.

Española originated as a volunteer battalion comprised of soccer fans with far-right ideologies from various regions of Russia. Initially associated with a battalion from the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic,” Española transitioned into a private military company in February 2024. The organization boasts a diverse array of units, including reconnaissance, assault, artillery, electronic warfare, drone, and sniper units. Supply management falls under the purview of Ilya Khanin, a soccer enthusiast and the sibling of Nikolai Khanin, who heads Moscow’s Ramenskoye district.

Formally affiliated with Redut, a pseudo-private military company acting as a recruitment intermediary for the Russian Defense Ministry, Española’s fighters sign contracts with Redut. Stanislav Orlov, also known as Spaniard, leads Española as its commander. Orlov, a CSKA Moscow supporter, initiated his involvement in Ukraine’s conflict in 2014. Española fighters have participated in various engagements, including the siege of Mariupol’s Azovstal Iron and Steel Works, battles in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, and conflicts in Vuhledar and Avdiivka in the Donetsk region.

The Española battalion – mostly ultra supporters of Russian side Spartak Moscow – was reported to be 550 strong in March 2023.

This included 100 operators of lethal Kamikaze drones, unmanned devices that crash into their targets with devastating effect like a guided missile.

Española’s commander, Stanislav Orlov, known by his call sign “Spaniard,” previously mentioned the group’s collaboration with Russian operatives in the Donetsk People’s Republic, regions in eastern Ukraine where Russian-backed paramilitary units have been active since 2014.

Orlov stated, “Recently we managed to obtain separate status, so now we are not affiliated with any battalions or divisions. We have been authorized to establish a distinct battalion, Española.”

Reports indicate that the group is currently recruiting various roles, including stormtroopers, scout-saboteurs, snipers, drone operators, electronic warfare and air defense specialists, portable reconnaissance station operators, anti-tank guided missile operators, anti-aircraft specialists, communications experts, mechanic-drivers, and medics. Despite their club loyalties, supporters from teams such as CSKA, Zenit, Spartak, Torpedo, and Lokomotiv have joined forces in combat against Ukrainian forces.

Española’s Sponsors : The Rotenberg Brothers

The Rotenberg brothers, Boris and Arkady, are prominent Russian billionaires known for their involvement in the StroyGazMontazh group, the largest construction company specializing in gas pipelines and electrical power supply lines in Russia.

Boris Rotenberg, previously a Judo instructor, had ties with Vladimir Putin since their youth and experienced rapid success as an entrepreneur following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Arkady Rotenberg, another close associate and childhood friend of the Russian president, trained with Putin in sambo at the age of 12. Like his brother, he initially pursued a career as a judo instructor before his club received substantial state funding, including the construction of a $180 million facility that included a yacht club.

Following the imposition of sanctions after the 2014 Crimea invasion, the Rotenbergs faced financial constraints, leading them to sell their private jets after their Swiss bank intervened.

“If the brothers were to provide support to Española, it would not be unprecedented, as Russian companies and state-affiliated entities have previously financed paramilitary groups to bolster the war effort in Ukraine.”

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