The fiancee of fallen mercenary, Ivan Slyshkin (right), exposed Putin's use of a private army
Former conscript Ivan Slyshkin, 23, decorated for courage while serving earlier in Chechnya, joined to earn money for his wedding to girlfriend Kristina Gainutdinova, 20.
It is now revealed that he was serving not with Russian defence ministry forces in Syria, but was shot on active service for a mercenary group known as Wagner's private army, which was earlier deployed to annex Crimea and support Putin's military objectives in eastern Ukraine.
The shadowy group's role is not spoken about in Moscow because experts under Russian law mercenary forces are illegal, despite Putin having been pictured with its leaders at a Kremlin event.
Slyshkin – who joined up to receive super wages of around £3,500 a month on offer from the private army – was shot in the head by an ISIS sniper, and his funeral was held on 2 March in Ozersk, Chelyabinsk on what would have been his 24th birthday.
Friends said that he wanted to pay for his wedding and save for the couple's future, and it was his second combat trip to Syria.
"He did not say a word to anyone about Wagner's private army, and nobody will tell you this," Kristina told RBC news service.
It was all top secret
Friends of Ivan Slyshkin
"Ivan did not speak about it because when he left, he signed a non-disclosure contract.
"It was all top secret.
"Before this, he served for two years in Chechnya, also on a contract."
Earlier he had served as a conscript in the Russian army.
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The 23-year-old was fighting in Syria to earn money for his wedding to Kristina Gainutdinova
She said he had been trained for the secret army operation in Krasnodar region, where the Wagner force is reported to have a base alongside Russia's elite GRU special forces.
She posted on her social media: "He is my hero, proud of him!!! He is a hero!!! I love him. Thanks to his mother for giving birth for such a HERO.
"He is not with me but he is always in my thoughts."
Before he was killed he posted her a message: "We will surely meet one day very soon. And I will hug you as strong as possible."
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Sources said Slyshkin was killed during intelligence operation near Shaer oil field.
He was earlier involved in training President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
"We got a call," said Kristina.
"The man did not give his name. We were told that he was shot in his head. His parents went to pick up the body in Rostov."
A fellow mercenary said: "According to the terms of his contract, the bodies are not brought back to the motherland.
Slyshkin was part of Wagner's private army who are not spoken about openly in the Kremlin
"We made a deal via some friends, and the body was brought first to Krasnodar and then to Rostov."
"His relatives went to identify his body on 26 February."
RBC claimed that the Wagner forces have cost Russia £145 million during the Syrian conflict.
Despite mercenary forces being illegal under Russian law Putin was pictured with the groups leaders
Wagner – or Vagner – is the nickname of an ex-Russian special forces officer called Dmitry Utkin who runs the private army.
He is reported to be the ex commander of the famous Pskov special forces brigade.
He is shown on the far right of the picture of Wagner chiefs with Putin at a Kremlin ceremony.
Other leaders include decorated former senior Russian army personnel.
The force enabled Russia to deploy in Crimea, other areas of Ukraine and Syria, while denying its soldiers were on the ground.
The funding for the secret army is believed to come from Russia's military budget.
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