Ukraine: The Wagner Group

Wagner Group

2/19/22 7:30 PM

The first time I remember being aware of the Wagner Group was late last year when I was reading about the criticisms of Ukraine’s president Zelensky.  There were some who were not happy with the way a situation worked out which involved mercenaries from the Wagner group who were thought to have been tricked into flying over Ukrainian air space.  The purpose, evidently, was to force a landing of the plane they were in and arrest them for crimes they had committed in Ukraine’s separatist territories.  The plan went terribly wrong and there were contradicting stories about whose fault it was.

Zelensky stated that he would have never put people on the plane at risk by forcing a landing while flying over Ukraine and denied responsibility.  Others claimed that Zelensky had put a stop to the operation and caused chaos.  The mercenaries were arrested in Belarus and eventually returned to Russia.

This article from Bellingcat gives a detailed account of the operation.

The Waner Group is a Russian paramiitary organization, PMC, or Private Military Company.  Sometimes compared to Eric Prince’s Blackwater, its contractors have reportedly taken part in various conflicts (Syrian civil war on the side of the Syrian government, 2014-2015 war in Donbas aiding the separatists) and other conflicts.

The NYT has characterized the Warner Group as a unit of the Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) and the GRU in disguise, used in government sponsored efforts when deniability is needed.  It’s forces are trained on MOD installations.

The Warner Group is believed to be owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin a businessman close to Putin.  The Wagner Group itself first showed up in 2014,  in the Luhansk region of Ukraine. The company’s name comes from the man thought to be its founder, Utkin, and his own call sign (“Wagner”), which he allegedly chose due to his passion for the Third Reich.

The organization is said to be registered in Argentina, but has offices in Saint Petersburg and Hong Kong.

New recruits are cut off from all social media and prevented from taking photos , etc. during training.  They are  required to sign a 10-year confidentiality agreement.

According to the Security Services of Ukraine (SBU) there are Ukrainian nationals working for Wagner, around 40, but the other 95% of Wagner contractors are Russian.

Prigozhin was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury in 2016 for involvement in Ukraine conflict.  In 2017, the Wagner Group itself was sanctioned.  There were further sanctions in 2018 and 2020.  Prigozhin was also sanctioned by the EU and the UK in 2020.  In December 2021, the EU imposed sanctions against the Wagner Group and eight individuals and three entities connected with it, for committing “serious human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings, or in destabilising activities in some of the countries they operate in, including Libya, Syria, Ukraine (Donbas) and the Central African Republic.”

The following is from Wikipedia:

“Following the deployment of its contractors between 2017 and 2019, to Sudan,[20] the Central African Republic,[21] Madagascar,[96] Libya[27] and Mozambique,[30] the Wagner Group had offices in 20 African countries, including Eswatini, Lesotho and Botswana, by the end of 2019. Early in 2020, Erik Prince, founder of the Blackwater private military company, sought to provide military services to the Wagner Group in its operations in Libya and Mozambique, according to The Intercept.[98] By March 2021, Wagner PMCs were reportedly also deployed in Zimbabwe, Angola, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, and possibly the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

Private military organizations are not allowed to operate legally in Russia.

 Further Reading


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