What is the Wagner Group? The British Ministry of Defence shared an intelligence update on Monday, warning that as Russia reprioritizes its military resources on a “phase two” mission of “liberating” the Donbas region of Ukraine, Russia has deployed a private military company to eastern Ukraine.
“Russian Private Military Company the Wagner Group has deployed to eastern Ukraine,” the update reads. “They are expected to deploy more than 1,000 mercenaries, including senior leaders of the organisation, to undertake combat operations.
The British government believes that Russia’s heavy losses in Ukraine and a “largely stalled invasion” is the driving force behind Russia’s decision to deploy private military personnel to Ukraine “at the expensive of operations in Africa and Syria.”
British Air Vice-Marshall Mick Smeath also issued a statement on the expected deployment of private mercenaries, stating that Russia has “likely been forced” to reprioritize their Wagner personnel.
The Wagner Group was sanctioned by the British government last week as part of a range of sweeping sanctions against Russian officials, leaders, and organizations.
What is the Wagner Group?
Wagner Group is a Russian private paramilitary organization. It uses a network of mercenaries and is considered a private army that works for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The private military company has operated since 2014, when it assists separatist, pro-Kremlin forces in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. Contractors have also aided various militaries in conflicts across Syria,. Libya, and the Central African Republic.
Founded by Dmitriy Valeryevich Utkin, who served in both the First and Second Chechen Wars, the organization reportedly had 1,000 employees in 2016, which grew to 6,000 by the end of 2017.
Why It Matters
Not only does the deployment of private mercenaries mean that reports of Russian troops running out of supplies, food, and stream are likely true, but it also gives the Kremlin an opportunity to potentially commit further war crimes with some level of plausible deniability.
As a private mercenary group, the Wagner Group may use more questionable tactics when working with the Russian Army in eastern Ukraine.
Should Russian President Vladimir Putin go ahead with rumored plans to use biological or chemical weapons in Ukraine, he may even choose to blame private mercenaries to avoid scrutiny. At this stage, though, it is virtually impossible to predict with certainty what Putin has planned.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.