Former Russian soldiers ready to take on Blackwater in Iraq

A group of former Russian soldiers is involved in an intense military training program in preparation for Iraq. They believe they can compete with their British and American counterparts by adopting a unique approach.

The training of the Oryol anti-terror centre may seem like an intense action scene from a Hollywood blockbuster movie, but in fact it is to prepare Russian men to work in Iraq…

“Before we send people there, we put them through some serious training. This includes psychological training and an educational program,” says Sergey Epishkin, head of Oryol anti-terror training centre. “In our classes, we even speak the way they speak in this particular region. If you can’t master local slang, you can run into a serious trouble sometimes.”

And to avoid such trouble is the chief responsibility of this group. These men are from the anti-terror group Oryol and, much like their infamous, American counterpart “Blackwater”, they provide private security for Russian engineers and businessmen operating inside Iraq.

“I firmly believe Russians can do a lot in the Middle East, much more than our American and British colleagues. Local people treat us much better – both police and the opposition. We are there with a peaceful mission. We help rebuild power plants,” says Sergey Epishkin.

The guys from Oryol go through highly-specialized training, under very tough conditions. They are true professionals, but to understand why these guys do what they do, one has to take a look at the individual men who do the job.

The company is entirely made up of ex-military officers who wanted an outlet to continue to use their skills.

“The potential of Russian special units is really unlimited. The reform [of the Russian military], with all its mistakes, left a good number of skilled professionals without a job,” Sergey Epishkin says.

And even though they have soldiers’ backgrounds, one of their main strategies is a unique form of diplomacy.

“We establish a good relationship not only with the Americans and the British, but with the Iraqi police and National Guard as well. To be frank with you, even with opposition forces. In such a region, it is important to find a common language with people,” explains Sergey.

The Oryol team considers their mission a peaceful one, making every attempt to restrain from using force, even under stressful conditions.

“It’s hard when you are driving, and you’re tense, and all of a sudden you see a boy running across the street ahead of you with a plastic bag. You can’t help it, you get scared. You don’t know if it’s just a boy or a terrorist,” says Oleg Maslov, a trainer from the Oryol Anti-Terror Training Centre.

“We don’t know what’s in his bag. That too is hard. The most important thing is not to panic, not to pull the trigger,” Maslov continued.

And though it is an emotionally taxing job, in many ways these guys are pioneers, paving the way for more Russian companies to help rebuild Iraq.