Gruppe Wagner: What you should know about the mercenaries

The Wagner group is also known as “Putin’s Shadow Army” or “Russia’s Mercenaries”. According to Vladimir Putin, however, the Russian fighters are officially employed by a private security company.

In May 2014, Putins founded Koch Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin the mercenary group. This also includes the right-wing extremist Task Force Russitsch. The name of the military company has a National Socialist background. It was named after Adolf Hitler’s favorite composer, Richard Wagner.

Dmitry Valeryevich Utkin, a neo-Nazi with a swastika on his chest, has headed the group since retiring from military service in 2013.

Composition of the Wagner group

Mostly former members of the special forces of the Russian Federation are recruited. Participation should be voluntary and attractively rewarded. In addition, the survivors of fallen fighters are to receive additional financial compensation from the Russian state.

Training is usually carried out for two months before deployment, at a military training area that is said to be on the premises of the Russian military intelligence service GRU. The Wagner Group, like the Russian army, is financed by the founder and entrepreneur Prigoschin.

The Wagner Group has already been deployed in several wars in which it is said to have committed war crimes. However, these are difficult to prove. In addition, it is difficult to accuse someone because the group acts in disguise.

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Operations in Ukraine, Syria, Venezuela and Africa

The killers, who are known to be extremely ruthless, fought for the first time in Ukraine in 2014 in the annexation of Crimea. Here the mercenaries took over military police duties. In the war of aggression against Ukraine in 2022, the Wagner group is said to have been camouflaged and had defined goals such as people in the political leadership.

The general participation of the mercenary group in the war of aggression against Ukraine has long since been proven. Due to their own losses, fighters from other countries are now also being recruited. Rumor has it that prison inmates will also be admitted.

Also in Syria the group is said to have been active since 2015, also to set up Russian bases. Even the Syrian army probably uses the training capacities of the mercenaries. Equipment was strengthened as the war progressed. The Russian journalist Maxim Borodin was probably killed by them as a result of his investigative research on the Wagner group.

The example of Yevnegnij Nushin shows how the group deals with deserters. Nushin is said to have been executed with a sledgehammer by Wagner mercenaries. The mercenaries themselves posted the video online.

In Venezuela Group Wagner is used to train the government’s own elite units.

Also in In Africa, it is active in countries such as Sudan and Mali, where it is also about training country-specific units, but from the Russian side it is also about asserting military, economic and geopolitical interests.


2023: Wagner updates from the Ukraine war

January 24, 2023: Of the estimated 50,000 Russian prisoners recruited by the Wagner group, only 10,000 are said to have remained at the front. This is reported by the head of the independent Russian human rights organization “Rus Sidyashchaia” (Russia behind bars), Olga Romanova. The number of victims, capitulations and desertions on the Russian side are therefore very high, explain the military experts of the Institute for the Study of War. A “mass of untrained prisoners” die or surrender in the war, it is said. These numbers cannot be independently verified, but they are very plausible, “if you consider Wagner’s model, in which prisoners are used as cannon fodder in very grueling offensive operations,” according to the ISW.

January 24, 2023: A German fighting for Ukraine in the Donbass reported in an interview with the “Tagesspiegel” about two captured Germans from Bakhmut who fought for Wagner. One of the two men traveled to Russia in September “without any prior military experience to join the Wagner troops,” reports the German Ukraine fighter. “He said he did it for the money alone.” While the German gets 3,000 euros a month for his work in Ukraine, the Wagner mercenary from Berlin’s base salary was “US$ 5,000 plus allowances, so he gets up to to $7,000.” In addition, he could earn a bonus. “If he kills one of us foreigners and shows the body’s passport as proof, he gets an additional $10,000.”

USA declare Wagner group a criminal organization

January 26, 2023: The US government has declared the Russian private army Wagner a transnational criminal organization and imposed sanctions on the mercenary group and its network. This was announced by the US State Department and the US Treasury Department in Washington.

February 10, 2023: The Wagner mercenary group has been recruiting fighters in Russian prisons for months. They are the cannon fodder of war, almost all of them die. Now the Russian Ministry of Defense is turning off that tap. A massive problem for Wagner boss Prigoschin.

March 08, 2023: EU sanctions against the mother of the Wagner boss are not legal

March 8, 2023: Prigozhin speaks of the end of Wagner and shoots at the Russian military

March 22, 2023: The Wagner Group could soon lose most of its fighting men. The reason for the West’s hope: Many of them will soon have their six-month contract expiring. Then, according to the agreement, the fighters recruited in droves from prisons will be pardoned and could start a new life in Russia. In the fall of 2022, Wagner had recruited tens of thousands of men from prisons. It is estimated that 80 to 90 percent of them died on the battlefield.

March 23, 2023: Prigozhin reportedly plans to end combat operations of his mercenaries in Ukraine. This is reported to the US medium “Bloomberg” by people familiar with the situation. According to the report, Prigozhin wants to direct the focus of his mercenaries back to operations in Africa after they have not achieved any great success in Ukraine.

Russia wants to replace Wagner with its own mercenary force

April 4, 2023: According to information from British secret services, Russia is planning to build up further mercenary troops for the war against Ukraine. The goal is to replace the Wagner Group in its “significant” role, the Defense Ministry said. Because of the “high-profile feud” between the Ministry of Defense and Wagner, Russia’s military leadership wants a private army that they can better control. “However, no other known Russian private army currently matches the size or fighting power of Wagner,” it said.

April 11, 2023: Prigozhin pledges Russians to Ukrainian counteroffensive. He says: “Not to be underestimated.” The Wagner boss is reportedly aiming for leadership of the Russian party “Fair Russia – For Truth” to further his political ambitions.

April 14, 2023: According to a media report, dozens of Russians are said to have been locked up in the factory and “sold” to Wagner like “cattle”.

April 14, 2023: The European Council added the Wagner mercenary group to its sanctions list for its “active” involvement in the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine. The measure was justified by the fact that the actions of the Wagner group undermined and threatened “the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine”.

Jean Harris

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