Russian Wagner Group – Putin’s Private Mercenary Group
(… like Blackwater)
The U.S. Air Force Command in Africa has confirmed the sending of at least four Mig-29 and four Su-24 fighter jets from Russia to Libya in support of the Wagner Group and the Haftar Force.
The published images also show two Su-35s playing the role of escorts (two images showing the Su-35s belonging to the Hamimim base in Syria).
Libya civil war
- -United Kingdom
A video attributed to the withdrawal of the Russian Wagner group from the Libyan city of Tehran to the Bani Walid airport, which was released yesterday
The GNA is closing in Al Watiya Air base , Southern Tripoli and Tarhuna (Haftar stronghold in Western Libya. If the GNA coalition succeeds in capturing these areas. The war will be reversed and Benghazi will be threatened not Tripoli
Images of corpses\ and equipment belonging to a Russian Wagner company killed in southern Tripoli have fallen into the hands of Libyan National Unity Government forces.
A UN report has revealed that the Russian Wagner Group has deployed about 1,200 troops in Libya to bolster the forces of the Caliphate of Haftar. Meanwhile, the head of the Libyan National Reconciliation Council’s presidential council called for full oversight of the ban on arms exports to the country by implementing the 2011 Security Council resolution.
According to the Turkish Anatolia News Agency, some diplomatic sources said that UN experts in charge of monitoring Libya’s arms embargo confirmed that Russian-affiliated Wagner militias had been involved in Libyan clashes with pro-Libyan forces. Khalifa Haftar, known as the Libyan National Army, is present.
According to diplomatic sources, the experts wrote in a report to the Security Council on April 24: “The connection of these Russian mercenaries with the military command affiliated with the powerful man of East Libya (Caliph Haftar) has created many tensions.”
According to several sources, Khalifa Haftar does not want to pay Wagner $ 150 million under several contracts, including for the supply of weapons. The Libyan military leader was also unhappy with the dispatch by Wagner of inexperienced, in his opinion, fighters from Syria, Belarus and Serbia. According to some reports, recently Wagner’s fighters were recalled from the front line, ”says publication author Alain Barluet, recalling that on May 18, government forces announced they had seized a strategic position – the Vatiyya air base 125 km south West of Tripoli. He reports that when one of the mercenaries dies in battle in Syria, Libya or some other African country, his body is sent to Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia. “PMC“ Wagner ”and many other enterprises of Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is called“ Putin’s cook ”, take care of everything.
Relatives of the fighter are accommodated in a hotel. Before picking up the remains, they receive his rewards and the Wagner medallion, which they put on his grave. In addition, they will receive 5 million rubles, which are due to the family of everyone who died in battle, ”Barluet points out. Officially, these fighters do not exist, and their military company has no registration. According to the journalist of the Russian BBC Service Ilya Barabanov, who has been investigating this issue for several years, 8 thousand people have been in the ranks of Wagner for 5 years. The author cites statistics: in Syria due to American bombing in Deir ez-Zor in February 2018, several dozen of them died, maybe up to 250 people. There were losses in Libya, where since October 2018 they have supported Marshal Khalifa Haftar (together with Egypt and the UAE). According to information from various sources, a total of 35 Russians were killed in Libya, and not all of them were members of the Wagner PMC. “Some argue that Russia also had regular troops there (in particular, last year) under the command of the deputy commander of the airborne forces, Lieutenant General Andrei Kholzakov. At the moment, such a presence is possible, but it cannot be confirmed in any way, the article says. – Throughout 2019, information about this appeared in the American media, but the Russian authorities have consistently denied their role in the presence of mercenaries in Libya. In February of this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated that Moscow has no relation to the Russians who are potentially located in the country. ”
The report is an updated version of the annual report, prepared by experts in December, which confirmed the involvement of foreign armed groups in the Libyan conflict, but did not name Russian mercenaries.
According to the sources, experts in the report said that a number of special forces of the Wagner Group will be present in Libya from October 800 to 1200 tons from October 2018.
Pictures of Wagner’s “heavy and modern” weapons in the country indicate that this is not just about a private company,
This is the first time that the United Nations has confirmed the presence of mercenaries affiliated with the Russian Wagner Group, known for their close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Of course, Moscow has always denied any presence of Libyan forces in Libya.
According to experts, Wagner’s forces helped repair Haftar’s armored vehicles and assisted in operations alongside them, assisting in artillery attacks, air surveillance and countering cyber-attacks, as well as the deployment of snipers, in fact the presence of these mercenaries. It is more of a force for the forces of Haftar.
Private Military Company ‘Wagner’, a.k.a.
Chastnaya Voennaya Kompaniya ‘Vagner’, a.k.a.
Chvk Vagner, a.k.a.
PMC Wagner, a.k.a.
“Wagner group” is a Russian paramilitary organization associated with Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch and close associate of President Vladimir Putin. Vagner commanders have fought for the company both in Syria and, before that, in support of Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Wagner Group seem like something from Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina. In the novel, the main character Count Alexei Vronsky leaves to Serbia as a volunteer to fight against the Ottoman Empire as a part of a squadron he formed at his own expense. Pervasive in Russian literature these militias were used by tsars to pacify internal unrest and to achieve directed military and policy objectives. Today, Russian foreign policy has embraced many of the same ambitions that were born out of a need for “plausible deniability” in Kremlin’s military operations abroad.
The Wagner Group’s roots date back to Russia’s proxy war in Ukraine in 2014, when the Kremlin’s definitions of “soldier,” “mercenary” and “volunteer” first blurred at convenience amid its tacit support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s east. While Moscow has long insisted Russia is not formally part of the conflict, Russian fighters have routinely taken part in battles — lured by idealism, propaganda and money.
“A huge number of people went to work for Wagner with pleasure,” explained journalist Denis Korotov of Fontanka.ru, an online publication in Saint Petersburg who first broke news of the Wagner mercenaries. “Russia has more than enough people who know how to shoot a gun, and these people can’t make anything close to this kind of money working in the civilian sector,” he added in an interview with VOA in January 2018.
Officially, the Vagner mercenaries sign contracts for civilian work in oil and gas fields. Mercenaries can earn 150,000 rubles ($2,650) a month, plus a bonus of up to 100 percent for completing a three-month tour. In three months, a mercenary can make nearly a million rubles. A commander can earn about three times as much. But a fighter who changes his mind is sent back to the supply port to unload crates at 1,000 rubles a day.
Russian online investigative newspaper Fontantka provided evidence that around 500 pro-Syrian fighters – most of whom spoke Russian – played a pivotal role in the efforts to seize Palmyra and Deir Ezzor in 2016 and 2017. Leaked telephone conversations revealed Prigozhin himself ordered the assault. The commanders RFE/RL spoke with in 2018 estimated that some 400 Russians have been killed in Syria since 2015. Not all the killed mercenaries, they said, are returned to Russia.
“There is a rumor that Vagner is a so-called meat-grinder project,” one of the commanders said. “What is to be done with those who fought in Donbas? With the idiots from the first wave who are real ideologues? These are scary people who could catalyze society. They can cause trouble like yeast in bread. But in Syria, you can help the interests of the country and get rid of some yeast at the same time. That’s what some people are saying. And probably there is something to it.”
The representative of the co-owner of the group of companies Yevgeny Prigozhin told RBC 15 November 2017 that the businessman was not related to the “Wagner” PMC and is generally surprised by the very fact of its existence (mercenarism in Russia is legally banned). “We are not aware of the activities of the organization you mentioned. Also, Yevgeny Viktorovich asked to convey that he was extremely surprised by the very existence of this company and does not have anything to do with its activities, “said the representative of the businessman.
“The appointment of Dmitry Valerievich Utkin as general director is a private decision of the owner of Concord Management and Consulting LLC,” the representative of the businessman said. He added that previously Utkin had never held positions in the structures of an entrepreneur. “SPARK-Interfax” reported that this post was taken by Dmitry Valerievich Utkin – the full namesake of the alleged commander of the “Wagner” PMC.
PMC Wagner is a private military company that recruited and sent soldiers to fight alongside separatists in eastern Ukraine. When fighting broke out in 2014 in eastern Ukraine between the pro-Moscow separatists and Ukrainian government forces, Russia limited its presence there to clandestine troop deployments and funding and training for the rebels. Former Russian soldiers were recruited to join the separatists by a shadowy company called the Wagner Group, whose founder, Lt. Col. Dmitriy Utkin, came under US Treasury Department sanctions for the firm’s actions in Ukraine.
The mercenary groups worked hand-in-hand with the Russian military. They trained at a military facility near Rostov-on-Don and were commanded by experienced officers from the special services and the Defense Ministry. By June 2014, the first groups of about 250 mercenaries each had crossed the border into Ukraine. “They were basically company-sized tactical groups,” one commander said. “There were no private military contractors then, but people were paid on time.”
One of the groups sent to Ukraine was headed by Utkin, who fought under the nom de guerre Vagner, after 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner. Dmitriy Utkin is the founder and leader of PMC Wagner. It is said that Vagner has a swastika tattooed on his shoulder, wears a helmet with horns, and practices a form of paganism.
The first Russian mercenaries were sent to Syria by an organization called Slavic Corps in 2013 — 267 men, according to an investigation by the St. Petersburg website Fontanka.ru. Their official mission was to guard oil facilities and pipelines, but they were soon caught up in the country’s civil war and suffered heavy losses. When the survivors returned to Moscow in October 2013, their leaders were arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for illegal mercenary activity.
Nonetheless, the idea of a role for mercenaries apparently took hold somewhere among the Russian authorities. In 2014, as Moscow was annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region and stoking a separatist war in eastern Ukraine, a Soviet and Russian army officer named Dmitry Utkin and others began forming paramilitary units to fight in Ukraine’s Donbas.
The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on 20 June 2017 reinforced existing sanctions on Russia by designating or identifying a range of individuals and entities involved in the ongoing conflict under four Executive orders (E.O.s) related to Russia and Ukraine. As a result of these action, any property or interest in property of the designated persons in the possession or control of U.S. persons or within the United States must be blocked. Additionally, transactions by U.S. persons involving these persons are generally prohibited.
PMC Wagner was being designated for being responsible for or complicit in, or having engaged in, directly or indirectly, actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine. Utkin is being designated for being responsible for or complicit in, or having engaged in, directly or indirectly, actions or policies that threaten the peace, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine; and for acting or purporting to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, PMC Wagner. Prigozhin was sanctioned in 2016 by the US, which cited his companies’ Defense Ministry contracts related to the conflict in Ukraine.
Wagner links soon emerged in Syria, where the Kremlin launched a military campaign in support of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in the fall of 2015. Although President Vladimir Putin insisted at the outset that Russia’s military role would be limited, “Wagner became the Kremlin’s main tactical group in Syria. Because the Syrian army can’t do the job on their own,” Ruslan Leviev of the Conflict Intelligence Team, a group of researchers who have also tracked Wagners movements using online forensics stated 07 August 2018. “An air campaign can’t win the war and a ground invasion meant big losses,” he added.
Putin wanted Russia’s involvement in Syria to be different from its intervention in Afghanistan and Chechnya, which claimed many lives and were widely unpopular. The secret deployment of private contractors in Syria has helped keep the official Russian death toll low as Putin sought re-election. When Russians were killed in February 2018 in a US attack in Syria’s Deir el-Zour province, the Russian government insisted that Moscow did not send them there. Hiring mercenaries or working as one is against Russian law.
The Wagner group “is not a classic private contractor; it is … an unofficial arm of the Defense Ministry,” said Ruslan Leviev, whose Conflict Intelligence Team studied the clandestine Russian deployment in Syria. He said Prigozhin was the right person to take up the task,” compared to any other oligarch of Putin’s.” Evro Polis, a company linked to Prigozhin, signed an agreement with Syria’s state-owned General Petroleum Corp., which gives the Russian company 25 percent of the proceeds from oil and gas production at fields its contractors capture and secure.
In February 2018, an unknown number of Russian mercenaries — some reports say a dozen, others as many as 200 — were killed by U.S. air strikes during fighting in Syria. The men were hired by a private military contracting firm called ChVK Vagner, which has been sending Russians to fight in Syria since 2015.
The Russian mercenaries fighting in Syria said they are not in the country for the money or to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “[Syrians] can’t stand Assad,” one Russian mercenary commander told RFE/RL in March 2018. “Really. Only a tiny percentage of the population there supports him and the rest oppose him. Only [Russian President Vladimir] Putin supports him. Russia supports him — no one else.” There is a bigger motivation, the mercenary claimed. “If you are fighting under a Russian flag, with a Russian weapon, even if you are eating moldy food and are 10,000 kilometers from home, you are nonetheless fighting for Russia,” he said. “There is no Syrian war,” he added. “There is no Ukrainian war. There is only a war between the Russian Federation and the United States.”
RFE/RL’s sources estimated in early 2018 that there were about 2,000 Vagner fighters in Syria, although other media reports put the figure at 4,000. In addition, the Vagner troops fight together with a unit called Karpaty, which is made up primarily of about 300 Cossacks with Ukrainian citizenship.
The mercenary groups worked hand-in-hand with the Russian military. They trained at a military facility near Rostov-on-Don and were commanded by experienced officers from the special services and the Defense Ministry. By June 2014, the first groups of about 250 mercenaries each had crossed the border into Ukraine. They were basically company-sized tactical groups. There were no private military contractors then, but people were paid on time.
Other Russian Mercenary Units
By 2018 there were several Russian private military contracting companies working in the country, but only the Wagner troops are said to engage in combat operations. RFE/RL’s sources estimated that there are about 2,000 Vagner fighters in Syria, although other media reports put the figure at 4,000. In addition, the Vagner troops fight together with a unit called Karpaty, which is made up primarily of about 300 Cossacks with Ukrainian citizenship. Including Russian military forces, there are some 8,000 Russians supporting Assad in Syria now, the commanders say. “There were 6,000, but they announced a draw-down and reduced it to 8,000,” one commander quipped to RFE.
In the Central African Republic, by 2018 some contended Wagner’s mission had shifted once again — this time, to protect economic as well as political interests. Media reports suggest Wagnerites are there to flush out — or, perhaps, blend in with — 175 Russian civilian and military “instructors” tasked within a larger United Nations mission aimed at shoring up the CAR’s government amid a civil war. The Kremlin has also openly worked with CAR to develop its diamond and mineral industries. “We conclude that the ‘Russian civilian instructors’ in CAR are in fact Russian mercenaries from Wagner,” says Conflict Intelligence Team’s Ruslan Leviev. Russian officials, in turn, stress the Russian presence is there with UN backing. “There is nothing sensational about the presence of Russian instructors in the Central African Republic,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. “No one has been concealing anything.”
The company M-Invest, which Prigozhin is rumoured to own, has an interest in Sudan’s gold deposits and Libya’s oil-rich east region, presumably secured by offering various military services in exchange for natural resource contracts. Wagner’s influence might go even deeper. Proekt Media, an independent Russian news outlet, produced four lengthy reports unearthing a CAR government mining contract with Prigozhin’s conglomerate Lobaye Invest.
It finances the training of army recruits in the CAR by some 250 Russian mercenaries. Attempts at scrutiny became even more complicated when three Russian journalists investigating Wagner’s activities in the CAR were murdered under mysterious circumstances in the summer of 2018, and two additional individuals who tried to investigate their murder were poisoned. Unfortunately, details on Wagner’s deployments in CAR are scarce, but based on what can be gleaned from sources available, they follow a similar pattern.
More on the Wagner Group
“Wagner”, or formally, OSM is a Russian Private Military Company which finds it’s roots in the former “Slavonic Corps” who were disbanded after their misadventure in Syria. The name “Wagner” is the callsign of the Commander of the formation, he is a retired Lieutenant Colonel who commanded a Spetsnaz GRU group of the 2nd Separate Brigade stationed in Pskov. Wagner formerly worked under the ‘Moran Security Group’ conducting maritime safety operations. Wagner first visited Syria in September 2013 alongside the ‘Slavonic Corps’, at which point he was not a Commander and OSM did not exist. OSM has operated in Ukraine during the civil war mainly conducting operations against corrupt groups in the LNR and DNR, they are allegedly responsible for the killing of both Batman and Mozgovoy. Their first actions were as ‘Polite People’ in Crimea, seizing UA positions and disarming UA bases. A Russian Defence Official has claimed that OSM is about 1,000, but much like everything about this company, it is very hard to verify. The lowest estimates are battalion (400) sized.
OSM is a highly secretive company and so is not advertised on the web or publicly. Wagner recruited people from the defunct Slavonic Corps and ex-military professionals from across Russia. Those in the know are able to arrange joining through a series of phonecalls. Confidentiality is a priority from the beginning of the application.
To join OSM, the person must tick boxes to ensure that he is fit for the job. This includes a medical examination, proof of good soldiering in the past and background checks. They do not want any serious criminals (see phone conversation at the bottom of the page). If the candidate passes this, it is then off to Molkino in Krasnodar Krai for a month, home to 10th Separate GRU Spetsnaz brigade. OSM supposedly has a training camp close to that base. During this period of time, the mercenaries undergo training to conduct combat missions effectively.
Here is an interesting album I found of Russian cossacks (who fight in Ukraine) training in Molkino, I’m unsure if this is OSM’s camp or the camp of the 10th Separate Brigade.
The training is intense and they do not skimp on funding (which was one of the attractive parts about this PMC – good equipment and training). Every day, they shoot up to 15 Kornet ATGMs as practice. One soldier saying one Kornet is equivalent to the cost of a car. During training, the mercenary is paid 80,000 ruble (1,100 USD). If they fail training, they are not paid anything but their travel costs to Molkino. After passing training, they are able to do both 4 and 5 grade work (see below).
The Mercenary must agree to not have any social networking accounts, and no pictures, videos or any type of media must be taken. Electronic devices are given to Company and allowed access at certain times. Passport is also given in. Mercenaries are expected to remain silent about their work and if they do not, the contract is considered void. The mercenary must keep this silence for 10 years.
There is a pay grade in OSM depending on the level of danger of the operation at hand.
Pay Grade 2, this is a base pay. 60,000 ruble (830 USD)
Pay Grade 3, pay during Polygon (training) – which is pay grade 2 + 20,000 ruble. So, around 80,000 ruble (1100 USD).
Pay Grade 4, Police Operations, the type of work OSM did a lot of in Ukraine – disarming and arresting criminal gangs – 120,000 rubles (1660 USD)
Pay Grade 5, actual combat duties and military operation, 240,000 ruble (3320 USD)
Of course, squad/platoon/company leaders are entitled to more. Commander of a company – 320,000 ruble (4427 USD)
In the case of an injury, depending on severity, 50,000 ruble (691 USD) to 300,000 ruble (4150 USD) can be provided. In the case of death, a specified person will receive 3 million ruble (41508 USD)
Payments are made after so-called ‘Business trips’. In case of not following orders, the mercenary is reverted to base pay and disciplinary action is taken.
It is said that the group was contracted by the Syrian Government to conduct operations in Syria. They operated T-90 tanks and howitzers.
Fontaka claims that this picture of Russians (and some Syrians) posing in front of a Russian Mi-8AMTSh in Syria are not Russian servicemen, but mercenaries who were in the Slavonic Corps and now in OSM.
The group gained recognition when allegedly 9 members of their group were killed when a mortar hit their base in October (reported in mid-December). After this, they were said to have been withdrawn from Syria.
IHS Janes reported in late September that there are Special Forces units reporting to the Russian Embassy in Damascus, while some may speculate it is ‘Zaslon’ which is not even known to be existing, it would also make just as much, if not more, sense for it to be a PMC.
When Russian Media began circulating the report of 9 dead, the Russian MoD made this statement:
The news outlet is citing an investigating report by the Wall Street Journal, which does not mention either the participation of Russian soldiers in ground action or their deaths on the Syrian territory,
which is rather ambiguous, as it is true that it does not state anything about Russian servicemen dying but it does talk about Russian mercenaries dying. Russian MoD does not seem to address this fact.
The document that is signed before going on ‘Business trips’ is as follows:
“I voluntarily leave the borders of the Russian Federation with observance of the established rules of departure for obtaining objective information on the occurring events in territories, border with the Russian Federation.
I am not the mercenary as I am not going to participate in armed conflicts or military operations. I am going to follow laws and rules of the country of residence.
I wasn’t subjected to recruitment, wasn’t trained and didn’t earn material reward for participation in the military conflicts or military operations outside the Russian Federation.
My only purpose is and only obtaining objective information on the occurring events
Nobody had impacted my decision, nobody asked me about commission of illegal actions, and nobody bears and can’t bear responsibility for my actions which will be made by me in the future as my actions will always have the protective or constraining character.
Whatever surnames or the organizations were mentioned in connection with my future actions in the country of residence, it will always not be true as everything that I do, I do only on the internal belief and on my own initiative”.
Now officially, PMCs are banned in Russia at this point (Article 208), only ‘security companies’ are allowed to exist. In reality, multiple Russian PMCs exist and are allowed to exist and operate in many parts of the world. They operate in a so-called grey zone where they are either registered as a foreign company or say they work as individuals. This is risky as there is no legal framework for Russia to help the PMC if they ever come into trouble, eg Slavonic Corps in 2013. PMCs are an effective way to conduct covert warfare (commonly dubbed Hybrid warfare), something that the Russian government has very much toyed with during the Ukrainian crisis. This could be why they are considering legalizing PMCs officially.
Of course, when Fontaka asked these PMCs – Moran Security Group, RSB group about any operations in Syria, they were all swift to deny it.