Here’s What You Need to Know About the Wagner Group

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wagner group

Ever heard of Russia’s Wagner Group? It has become increasingly notorious inside and outside Russia in recent years due to its involvement in conflicts across the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, Asia, and Latin America.

This shady network of private military contractors is said to have engaged in proxy wars on behalf of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Still, not much is known about their specific operations.

In fact, officially, the group doesn’t exist.

Confused yet? No worries.

We’re here to help decode the mysteries of this shadowy organization. From recruitment tactics to allegations of torture and unlawful killings, this blog post dives deep into everything you need to know about the Wagner Group.

Wagner Group Leader Yevgeny Prigozhin

Photo Credit: BBC News

Yevgeniy Prigozhin is a close friend and ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin. He recently revealed that he leads the Wagner Group, despite dropping a lawsuit on a journalist who made the same claim several months earlier.

Prigozhin has used his considerable wealth to fund several pro-Kremlin initiatives, such as a media company called Russia Today and an IT company called The Internet Research Agency.

Prigozhin is nicknamed “Putin’s Chef” because he often organizes lavish dinners for the Russian president and his guests. He also allegedly was involved in setting up the now-infamous “troll factory”, where internet trolls were employed to spread pro-Kremlin messages online.

Despite being suspected of countless wrongdoings, Yevgeniy Prigozhin has skirted justice due to his immense wealth and powerful connections and is wanted for questioning by the FBI because of his alleged interference with the 2016 US Presidential Election.

Allegations of War Crimes

Reports have emerged stating that Russian mercenaries operating with the Wagner Group have been involved in the torture and killing of civilians, as well as other violations of international law.

Unlike many other countries’ special police forces, the Wagner group does not adhere to regulations set forth by the UN, the Red Cross, or other international peacekeeping organizations.

For example, in March of 2022, a United Nations report confirmed that the Wagner Group was involved in a massacre of more than 300 Syrian civilians. Witnesses in Mali reported that the group’s members rounded up anyone trying to escape and opened fire.

But wait…there’s more.

In October of 2022, the UN uncovered evidence of war crimes in Ukraine committed by members of the Wagner Group. The ultimate goal of these criminal acts was to support the Russian-backed separatists in the region.

In response to these injustices, the United States has taken action by imposing sanctions against Russia and the Wagner Group.

Recent media stories indicate that the Wagner Group is still heavily involved in the Ukraine conflict.

Evidence Linking Prigozhin’s Network to an Alliance with Putin

Prigozhin’s companies are part of a larger effort to consolidate his influence in Russia and abroad, with the ultimate goal of bolstering the Kremlin’s political and economic interests.

In January of 2023, the US Treasury Department released a report detailing its investigation into the Wagner Group and its alleged links to Yevgeniy Prigozhin.

According to the report, Prigozhin has used his business network as a front for “maligned activities” linked to Putin’s foreign policy agenda. 

“Today, the Wagner Group is being redesignated pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13581, as amended by E.O. 13863, for being a foreign person that constitutes a significant transnational criminal organization.”

(Source: https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy1220 )

The Wagner Group’s Involvement in Ukraine

Photo Credit: Kiyv Independent

The Wagner Group is currently active in Ukraine, where it has been accused of supporting pro-Russian separatists and interfering in the country’s internal affairs.

According to reports, the group has provided military training and supplies to pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.

The presence of the Wagner Group in Ukraine has sparked widespread condemnation from Western governments and human rights organizations alike.

The US State Department has called for an immediate investigation into the matter and urged Russia to end its support of the separatists.

Wagner Mercenary Group Recruitment

Photo Credit: The Times

Since last year, there have been numerous reports that Yevgeny Prigozhin was seeking Wagner Group volunteers from Russia’s prison population to supplement its constrained military force in Ukraine.

According to reports, prison wardens were assigned the task of recruiting for the Wagner group and had been instructed to target prisoners with a prior military background.

In return for their participation, upon completing a six-month tour of duty, those convict volunteers would receive a presidential pardon and an income of 100,000 rubles (approx. $1,315) per month.

Although it is difficult to determine how many volunteers were recruited as part of this campaign, recent findings by Reuters indicate that U.S. intelligence believes that Wagner had 40,000 convict fighters deployed in Ukraine by December 2022.

According to Yevgeny Prigozhin, recruiting efforts within the Russian prison system have ceased as of February 2023.

Timeline of Russia’s Wagner Group

2014: Russia annexes Crimea and begins its campaign to destabilize Ukraine. Prigozhin’s company wins lucrative contracts to supply pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

2015: Reports emerge of a mysterious mercenary force fighting in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime.

2018: The Wagner Group has grown to more than 1,000 personnel. The group is now active in multiple theatres including Syria, Ukraine, and Sudan.

2019: Prigozhin is sanctioned by the US Treasury Department for his involvement with the Wagner Group.

2020: Approximately 2,000 mercenaries from the Wagner Group arrive in Libya and the Central African Republic to aid local guerilla fighters in their efforts to destabilize the government.

2021: Wagner Group mercenaries begin fighting in the Caucasus and Nagorno-Karabakh region. Prigozhin is accused of war crimes by Amnesty International.

2022: Prigozhin identifies himself as the financier behind the Wagner Group. The Wagner Group continues to expand its operations around the world, and Prigozhin is actively pursued by international authorities for his role in the group’s war crimes.

Sources:

https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/10/03/yevgeny-prigozhin-wagner-group-putin/

https://www.fbi.gov/wanted/cyber/russian-interference-in-2016-u-s-elections

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/04/russian-mercenaries-wagner-group-linked-to-civilian-massacres-in-mali

https://www.ohchr.org/en/documents/reports/a77533-independent-international-commission-inquiry-ukraine-note-secretary

https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy1220

https://www.state.gov/actions-to-counter-wagner-and-degrade-russias-war-efforts-in-ukraine/

https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russias-wagner-mercenaries-halt-prisoner-recruitment-campaign-founder-prigozhin-2023-02-09/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/feb/15/wagner-mercenary-group-will-decrease-as-prisoner-recruitment-ends-says-boss