The Wagner Private Military Company is outlawed in Russia. It is not talked about on state channels. But its fighters died in the Donbass, Syria, Libya, Sudan and other countries. DW has collected all the evidence about this PMC.
DW – 29 Jul 2020
Less than two weeks before the presidential election in Belarus, the state news agency BelTA, citing law enforcement agencies, reported that 32 militants of the “private military company (PMC) Wagner” were detained near Minsk. Another person, according to the agency, was found and detained in the south of the country. Footage of the detention of the alleged militants was shown on the state TV channel “Belarus 1”.
BelTA also published a list of all detainees with names and dates of birth. At least nine people are listed as Russian mercenaries in the database of the Ukrainian website “Peacemaker”, which publishes information about those who are involved in hostilities in the Donbass on the side of the separatists. Belarusian law enforcement agencies suggest that the detained Russians arrived in the country to destabilize the situation during the election campaign.
Little is known about the activities of Wagner’s PMCs. Journalists and activists have collected a lot of information about it bit by bit in recent years. DW presents all the most important things that have been learned so far.
What is Wagner PMC
The Wagner Private Military Company or Wagner Group is an unofficial military organization that is not part of the regular armed forces of Russia and does not have legal status on its territory. Military units of the Wagner PMC numbered at different times and according to various sources, from 1350 to 2000 people. According to sources of the German newspaper Bild in the Bundeswehr, the total number of mercenaries reaches 2500 people.
The existence of the Wagner PMC is denied by officials in Russia. The Kremlin only acknowledges that privately Russians can participate in hostilities abroad. Mercenarism is prohibited by Article 359 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, but the State Duma and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation make proposals to legalize private military companies in Russia. Speaking about the goals of Russian journalists in the CAR, Russian state media reported that they “shot documentaries about the life of this country in the republic.”
Where did Wagner come from and what are Prigozhin’s interests?
Dmitry Valeryevich Utkin “Wagner”, born in 1970, is considered the head of the private military company of the same name. Apparently, he took up this activity after being dismissed from the post of commander of the 700th separate detachment of special forces of the 2nd separate special purpose brigade of the GRU, stationed in Pechora, Pskov region. A copy of the report on his dismissal is on the Web. Nothing is known about its authenticity, but there were no refutations either. In 2016, Utkin was seen at a special reception in the Kremlin for the military, who distinguished themselves by special heroism. Since June 2017, Utkin has been under US sanctions, the list of the US Treasury department states: “Associated with the private military company Wagner.”
One of the sources of financing PMCs in the media are secret items of expenditure of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, as well as businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He is also called “Putin’s cook”. As RBC found out, Yevgeny Prigozhin participated in several tenders for the maintenance of the Wagner Group base.
Prigozhin himself, who is also under US sanctions, denies any connection with the Wagner PMC. There is only circumstantial evidence of his involvement. Since the winter of 2016-2017, the Russian company Euro Policy LLC has become interested in the development of gas and oil fields in Syria. According to rbc and Fontanka, she is affiliated with Prigozhin.
In the summer of 2017, Euro Polis concluded an agreement with the Syrian state concern that it would be engaged in the protection and production of energy resources in local fields and receive at its disposal a quarter of the volume produced from those towers that it recaptured from militants from the IS, AP reported, citing a copy of the agreement. The functions of protection, as it is believed, should be assumed by the fighters of the Wagner PMC.
Where Wagner’s mercenaries fought
Wagner’s PMC is believed to have grown out of the Slavic Corps military company, which carried out combat missions in Syria back in 2013. In the “Slavic Corps” was the future head of the PMC – Dmitry Utkin, call sign “Wagner”. The first evidence of the activities of the Wagner PMC was recorded by the Ukrainian special services in May 2014 in the Donbass. In October 2017, the head of the SBU of Ukraine Vasyl Hrytsak announced the involvement of “Wagnerians” in the destruction of the military transport Il-76 in eastern Ukraine in June 2014, the storming of the Donetsk airport and the fighting near Debaltseve. There is no independent confirmation of this information.
Wagner’s PMC, according to various testimonies, twice participated in the liberation of Palmyra
Since the second half of 2015, evidence of Wagner’s PMC activity has appeared only in Syria. It is believed that its fighters, in particular, actively participated in the first and second assault on Palmyra in 2016 and 2017. Since June 2017, the targets of the mercenaries, as reported by the Russian media RBC and Fontanka, have changed. “Fontanka” wrote that the Russian Ministry of Defense sharply reduced the supply of PMCs with weapons, transferring only outdated samples.
Allegedly, PMCs were offered to receive funding in Syria itself, including through the seizure and protection of oil and gas fields. In this regard, it is noteworthy that the attack in the area of the Syrian village of Husham, presumably with the participation of “Wagnerians”, was conducted in the area of the oil field and, according to some reports, was aimed at capturing it.
Interests of Russian PMCs in Africa
The interest of Russian mercenaries in the region was recorded after the negotiations of the top Russian leadership with the leaders of Sudan and the Central African Republic in the fall of 2017. According to the British BBC, traces of the Wagner PMC have been seen in Sudan since the end of 2017. Russian journalist Alexander Kots published a video with a Russian instructor training soldiers in Sudan, with the caption “everyday life of a Russian PMC.”
According to the publication The Bell, mercenaries numbering about a hundred people train the military units of Sudan. In exchange, according to the publication, the companies “M Invest” and Meroe Gold associated with Yevgeny Prigozhin signed concession agreements for gold mining in this country.
The road to Sibut where Russian journalists were killed
But armed men from Russia were seen in the neighboring Central African Republic, and it is possible that we are talking about a new PMC not associated with the Wagner group. Officially, it is only known that Russia is studying the possibility of “mutually beneficial development of the natural resources of the CAR. In 2018, the implementation of exploratory mining concessions began,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in late March.
Also, the Foreign Ministry said that Moscow “on a gratuitous basis” supplied a batch of small arms and ammunition for the needs of the Central African army in late January – early February, and also sent 5 military and 170 Russian civilian instructors to train CAR servicemen.
The first to report that “civilian instructors” can be members of Russian PMCs was reported by the French radio station Europe1, the AFP agency and the publication Le Monde. According to their information, the Russians as their base chose the estate of the former leader of the country Bokassa – 60 kilometers from the capital Bangui. An AFP correspondent who visited the site reported that he was unable to take photos or videos.
On July 30, 2018, three Russian journalists were killed in the Central African Republic (CAR): Kirill Radchenko, Alexander Rastorguev and Orkhan Dzhemal. They went there to investigate the activities of the Wagner PMC.
What are PMC mercenaries doing in Libya?
In May 2020, the report of the monitoring mission of the UN Sanctions Committee on Libya appeared at the disposal of international news agencies, which stated that 1200 mercenaries of the Wagner PMC fought in Libya on the side of General Khalifa Haftar against the internationally recognized government in Tripoli.
The paper stressed that this number was approximate and based on “a few visual contacts and open source information”. From the report, which was not officially made public, it follows that members of the Wagner PMC have been in Libya since 2018. “The Wagner PMC provides technical support for the repair of military equipment, participates in combat operations and in influence operations,” the AFP news agency quotes excerpts from the document.
He has repeatedly accused Russia and Washington of using mercenaries in Libya.A report by experts at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on the subject said that “the tendency to increasingly use PMCs as a foreign policy tool is a hallmark of Putin’s strategy.” The intricate network of subcontractors does not allow for a clear distinction between military and civilian forces, and PMCs operate outside a clear legal framework, experts explain.
Soldiers of the private army: who they are
The recruitment of mercenaries, judging by the information about the dead, went throughout Russia. Many of those killed in Syria have previously had experience of fighting in eastern Ukraine. This is confirmed by both relatives and friends of the dead mercenaries. According to the Ukrainian SBU, those who fought in both “hot spots” number 277 people.
The recruitment of private army personnel did not appear to be limited to Russia, but also among residents of the separatist-controlled part of eastern Ukraine. According to the SBU, as of October 2017, 40 fighters with Ukrainian passports served in the Wagner PMC. Similar information without specifying exact figures was given earlier by several Russian media.The UN report also said that, in addition to Russians, there are citizens of Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and Serbia in the PMCs.
How mercenaries are accepted and how much they are paid
Mercenaries hired by PMCs sign a non-disclosure agreement. Most of all the details were reported about the work of the Wagner PMC by the St. Petersburg edition of Fontanka, which states that it has part of the company’s internal documentation. Referring to the published copies of the documents, Fontanka claims, in particular, that all applicants fill out questionnaires with personal information, a photo, undergo a polygraph test and receive from 160 to 240 thousand rubles a month for their work.
Ruslan Leviev, founder of the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) activist group, which monitors the actions of the Russian military in Syria, clarifies that the salary depends on the skills, goals and location of the operation. During training in Russia, according to CIT, the salary ranges from 50 to 80 thousand, during foreign operations – 100-120 thousand, in the case of hostilities – 150-200 thousand, in the case of special campaigns or major battles – up to 300 thousand.
Where mercenaries train in Russia
The Wagner Group, according to numerous testimonies, trains at a military base near the Molkino farm in the Krasnodar Territory, directly adjacent to the 10th Separate Brigade of the GRU Special Forces of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation (military unit 51532). There is no information about other training points.
The calculation of losses among the “soldiers of fortune” is complicated for a number of reasons: this is the illegal status of the PMC and its fighters, and the formal non-accountability of the company to state bodies, and the non-disclosure agreement. As a result, relatives of the victims often find out about the incident only a few weeks later. The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation refuses to record losses among mercenaries.
In October 2017, the SBU cited data on 67 dead who had experience of combat operations both in the Donbass and in Syria. As of December 2017, the total number of established losses since the beginning of the participation of mercenaries in hostilities in Syria was estimated by Fontanka journalists at 73, the CIT team – at 101 people.