North Russian Governor bonds with Wagner Group
After having been a frequent user of Russia’s Nazi-inspired “Z” on his uniform, the leader of the Komi Republic now appears to prefer the insignia of the PMC Wagner Group.
Over the past weeks, Vladimir Uiba has repeatedly appeared in public wearing a uniform-style jacket with the logo of the mercenaries.
During his recent visit to occupied territories in Ukraine, Uiba presented himself as a Wagner associate when meeting warriors from his Komi Republic. He also carried the insignia of the extreme group when he met with village people in the occupied area, including Andrei, a young boy who on a video appears clearly traumatised by war and the Russian aggression.
The regional leader has visited the war zone at least three time since the start of the onslaught.
The governor is also presenting himself as a Wagner man in his home region. When Uiba in late February visited a youth camp he stood in front of the youngsters with the Wagner insignia. The camp was devoted to teenage cadets and Uiba himself gave a so-called ‘bravery class’ to the girls and boys. The event took place in the “Grenada”, a children and youth center outside the regional capital Syktyvkar, the same place as mobilised soldiers from the region were assembled in September and October 2022.
Uiba also carried the symbol of the Wagner mercenaries when he in late February commemorated Russians killed in the Northern Intervention of 1918-19.
Uiba has publicly offered condolences to relatives of Wagner-fighters that have been killed on the battlefield. On March 1st, he published a video address where he praised the war action of Aleksei Shelepov, a man from Komi who worked as instructor for the Wagner Group and was killed in battle.
“He was training Wagner fighters that protected our Motherland and died heroically,” Uiba said. On this occasion, however, Uiba did not carry the insignia of the Wagner Group, but instead had on a badge that read “combat medic.”
Vladimir Uiba has himself no military background, but is medical doctor by profession. Before he was appointed to lead the Komi Republic in 2020, he served as federal deputy Minister of Health.
It is not clear how many soldiers from the Komi Republic has been killed in the war, but the Barents Observer has a survey of at least 93 men, most of whom are presented with photo and text in slideshows.
Critical voices in the region believe the regional leader might for some time have been in contact with Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin. Local Komi media have also speculated whether Uiba ultimately could follow the example of Kursk Governor Roman Starovoit and himself take part in training at a Wagner military camp.
The speculations are partly based on the association to the region of Maksim Shugaley, the ultra-conservative leader of the Foundation for Protection of National Values. Shugaley, who for more than two years was in captivity in Libya, in 2020 took on the lead of the Rodina Party in Komi and won a seat in the regional legislative assembly. He soon later left the position, but is believed to have remained in contact with people from Komi. Judging from his VK page, he has been in the region several times after 2020.
Maksim Shugaley is today on the sanctions list of the EU for his connection with Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Wagner Group.
In his duties as leader of the Foundation for Protection of National Values, Shugaley cooperates closely with several of Russia’s most extreme right-wing politicians and public figures, among them Aleksandr Malkovich, Anton Davidchenko and Vitaly Milonov.
The Wagner Group has lately activated its work with Russian regions. The mercenaries are planning to open recruitment centres in a number of regions, including Murmansk and Karelia. It is also stepping up its activities aimed at children and youth, both in big cities and in the regions. Recently it became known that there are ongoing efforts to establish a Wagner Youth Center in Apatity, Kola Peninsula.
Komi Governor Vladimir Uyba has cooperated with several more of the most controversial public figures in Russia. In May 2022, he went to Grozny to meet with Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. The two men discussed “cooperation in economic, culture and social affairs.”
“For me, Chechnya is a region very close to my heart,” Uiba said in a comment.