The Wagner Group is an often-vicious privately owned band of mostly Russian mercenaries with a wide range of military and quasi-military operations located throughout the world. Made up of retired or former special operation soldiers, regular army veterans, and, more recently, released convicts, the private military company (PMC) has been accused of numerous atrocities.
During Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Wagner Group emerged as a military auxiliary deployed to the Crimean Peninsula and later to the Donbas areas in the eastern portion of Ukraine, augmenting regular Russian forces. The PMC has proliferated, engaging in unconventional warfare and enlarging Russia’s areas of influence, mainly across Africa in places like Libya and Sudan.
Wagner Group Around the World
The group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is reportedly a favorite of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Press reports claim Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch and businessman, secured his favored status in Putin’s inner circle by catering large dinners honoring Putin. Moving from the banquet hall to the battlefield is an odd career progression, but Prigozhin has made both businesses profitable. However, the Wagner Group’s interference operations in the US Federal Election Commission process, including the 2016 presidential election, got Prigozhin placed on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s wanted list.
The group assists Moscow’s expansionist desires in Third World countries by helping fledgling governments gain or retain power over the citizens. A Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) report explained typical Wagner Group behavior:
“In June 2021, a panel of experts convened by the UN Security Council reported numerous indiscriminate killings and other human rights abuses conducted by ‘Russian instructors’ (primarily Wagner troops) in the CAR (Central African Republic). These included ‘excessive use of force, indiscriminate killings, the occupation of schools, and looting on a large scale, including of humanitarian organizations.'”
The CSIS analysis also indicated the breadth of Wagner’s global reach. The PMC’s activities have been reported in South and Central America, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. Recently, Prigozhin’s military has come onto the public stage with its backing of the Russian invaders in Ukraine. A little more than a year ago, “Wagner forces … appeared in Ukraine, presumably to fight alongside Russian troops in Mr. Putin’s war. In the past month, the number of Wagner troops in the country … more than tripled to over 1,000,” Victoria Kim reported for The New York Times. However, as the fortunes of war have turned against the Russian ground troops, more Wagner fighters have been deployed to the Ukrainian battlefields.
Wagner Group Complains About Lack of Kremlin Support
“As his military continues to struggle in Ukraine, President Putin is increasingly turning to Wagner… We currently assess that Wagner has 50,000 personnel deployed in Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts,” John Kirby, National Security Council strategic communications coordinator, told reporters at a January 2023 press briefing. Lately, however, the PMC’s leader has been complaining in public that Russia, specifically Moscow’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and armed forces chief Valery Gerasimov, were withholding ammunition and other armament support in the Wagner Group’s ground battle in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. Combat there is intensifying around the town as Kyiv’s forces make demonstrable progress in their counteroffensive to recapture the area, and Prigozhin’s soldiers are taking large losses.
The Wagner Group has been labeled an international criminal organization, and “Britain is set to formally classify Russian mercenary force Wagner Group as a terrorist organization as a way of increasing pressure on Russia,” Reuters reported. The Wagner Group and PMCs like it give the Kremlin a potent traditional military and unconventional warfare presence in the world, allowing Russia to skirt normal diplomatic solutions. Since Wagner’s activities fall outside international legal norms, the group represents another example of Russia’s willingness to thumb its diplomatic nose at the West.
All opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Liberty Nation.
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