Wagner Group

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Wagner Group (or Wagner PMC) is a private military contractor/mercenary group affiliated with the Russian Federation.[1] The name is a reference to Richard Wagner, a composer and favorite of Adolf Hitler. The group's founder, Dmitry Utkin (1970–), is a well known white supremacist who is fond of Nazi ideology. It is funded and currently led by Yevgeny PrigozhinWikipedia (1961–), a convicted felon[2] who obtained riches through contracts with the Russian government, spanning from providing nutrition for school children[note 1] to helping construct training facilities for the armed forces. Though he previously denied being affiliated with the organization, he has taken a prominent role in the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Wagner PMC is viewed by many as a terrorist organization and has been labeled a "Transnational Criminal Organization" by the United States Treasury.[3] In Estonia, Wagner PMC is designated as a terrorist organization.[4]

Under Russian law it is illegal for mercenary groups to exist and operate, but due to loopholes in Russian law, Wagner can operate and recruit members in the country since a private corporation can legally have a private military.[5] The Kremlin abuses this legal loophole on a regular basis to secure its imperialistic goals.[6] In 2023, Wagner resorted to an unusual form of recruiting (this is not a joke): advertising on PornHub to replenish their numbers.[7]

Operations in Ukraine[edit]

The Russian military initiated a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. To cement its military occupation, Wagner was called upon to assist. During the invasion Wagner systemically brutalized Ukrainian civilians. People were murdered, raped and their personal belongings stolen; most infamously in Kyiv.[8] Wagner has taken a forward role in the 2022 invasion. For several months from late summer to early autumn they were the only part of the Russian forces with any sort of success. Wagner operations are largely in line with Russian military doctrine, namely attempting to bomb their targets out of position, then use infantry to sweep the area. However, this tactic can be very attritional, many times infantry assault groups aren't supported by armor groupings, making the infantry easy targets for Ukrainian forces. At the height of its influence on the frontline, it is estimated that Wagner had 50,000 fighters, mainly from a covert but later overt prison recruitment scheme.

Wagner has been the primary force leading the encirclement and seizure of BakhmutWikipedia in Eastern Ukraine since March 2022. The city has very little tactical value, and losses on both sides have been high, though because of Wagner's attritional tactics it's estimated Wagner's losses are higher. There are many documented accounts from captured Wagner fighters that their missions often bordered on suicidal; sending in small assault groupings, without adequate support, to capture hardened Ukrainian defensive positions. This has resulted in an estimated 30,000 casualties in the area.[9] The callous logic behind Wagner's tactics is that if command sends in small groupings of recruited convicts to test Ukrainian positions before committing less 'expendable' resources the Group's remaining experienced fighters and valuable armored assets can be better preserved.[10]

Wagner and Prigozhin have been permitted a significant amount of autonomy compared to many other informal military groupings that have found themselves folded into the Russian armed forces. This autonomy extended to permitting a significant amount of criticism directed towards the Russian Ministry of Defense and indirectly to Putin. Prigozhin frequently criticized Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov. Each was in charge of early operations that included an assault of Kyiv that led to serious losses of Russia's most experienced fighters, in addition to poor combined arms combat that resulted in heavy losses of Russian armor. Prigozhin has accused both Shoigu and Gerasimov of corruption and suggested that they be sent to the frontline naked, armed only with a machine gun. Prigozhin has also lobbied the Russian Duma to change laws making it easier for Wagner soldiers to receive equivalent benefits to the Russian armed forces, including burial rights. Prigozhin lobbied heavily for a more violent posture from Russian forces, and was instrumental in the promotion of Sergei Surovikin from Autumn 2022 until January 2023.

Recently the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has taken the lead in offensive operations in Ukraine as well as reining in Prigozhin's autonomy. Putin reinstated Gerasimov as the commander of forces, and reduced Surovikin to his subordinate. The Russian MoD has also taken sole control of prisoner recruitment, denying Wagner its most effective way to replenish troop strength. Several pieces of legislation that would have made it easier for Wagner to operate in the country have been tabled, likely at Putin's direction. In response, Prigozhin has significantly tempered his criticism of the Russian MoD. Losing access to their primary recruiting tool, Wagner has now established around 42 recruitment centers, including three that are based out of local sports clubs including the Dynamo Sports ClubWikipedia's facilities in Samara, the Antares sport club in Rostov and the Boxing Federation of RussiaWikipedia building in Tyumen.[11] Wagner has also opened its own youth club in St. Petersburg called 'Wagnernyok'.

Institute for the Study of WarWikipedia released an assessment on March 12th 2023[12], detailing Wagner and Prigozhin's falling out with Putin and Russian MoD. There appears to be an effort by the Russian MoD to weaken Wagner forces by making them responsible for most of the fighting happening in and around Bakhmut. The decision by Gerisamov and Shoigu to deploy forces in that way seems to be politically motivated rather than tactically. Putin may also be favoring the MoD over Wagner because they failed to seize Bakhmut by the end of 2022. Prigozhin has also been dominating the Ultra-nationalist blogger information space, which has been a great recruitment tool, and lately co-opted by Putin to support Russia's maximalist goals. The main thrust of the assessment though is that Putin was threatened Prigozhin's rising influence, reshuffled the command structure to weaken Wagner's standing and access to materials, then stopped giving credit to Wagner for any advances in Bakhmut, and began establishing a narrative of failure to eventually blame Wagner for military shortcomings, despite a plethora of evidence that Russian MoD is plagued by the same if not worse shortcomings.

Operations Abroad[edit]

Countries where Wagner is known (red) or suspected (pink) to have operated as of 2023

Wagner has been deployed in multiple places across Africa and the Middle-East for security and military operations. They have been active in Syria since 2015, employed by the Russian armed forces. They previously engaged directly against American forces near Khasham during the Battle of Khasham.Wikipedia They have been hired by Sudanese president Omar al-BashirWikipedia for security, deployed as military "trainers" in the Central African Republic, as well as supplying support for Khalifa Haftar,Wikipedia the leader of the Libyan National Army fighting against the UN-recognized Government of National Accord. Frequently after Wagner's deployment, they often are the beneficiary of lucrative government resource exploitation contracts including diamonds, chromite, cobalt, and fossil fuels.[13] Although Wagner is the focus of sanctions from the US, EU and other countries, Wagner continues to bring in millions of dollars monthly from their diamond mine in CAR.[14]

Crimes against humanity[edit]

Wagner has been accused credibly of committing multiple crimes against humanity including, but not limited to: war crimes, mass summary executions, arbitrary detentions, looting, enforced disappearances, sexual abuse, torture, enslavement, deploying banned anti-personnel land mines and beheadings.[15][16] In Ukraine, there are multiple reports of summary executions against its own forces for not following orders and desertion. The most gruesome includes unverified videos purporting to show the execution of a soldier with a sledgehammer covered in Norse symbols.[17] One video includes a confession from a POW, recently exchanged in a prisoner swap, of desertion. Prigozhin also sent a violin case storing a sledgehammer, purportedly used in an execution, to the European Union Parliament before a vote designated Wagner a terrorist organization.[18]

See also[edit]

  • Blackwater - the American equivalent.
  • Internet Research Agency - like Wagner, the IRA was founded by Prigozhin to further Russian interests abroad. In this case the theatre of war is cyberspace rather than meatspace.
  • Terrorism - Wagner's common tactics against civilians.
  • Genocide - Wagner happily involves itself in genocidal actions.


  1. Earning him the moniker of Putin's chef.


  1. Wagner PMC website, Retrieved March 2, 2023.
  2. Prigozhin’s criminal past, straight from the source A complete translation of one of the court documents from the case that sent ‘Putin’s chef’ to prison, four decades ago (10:43 am, June 29, 2021) Meduza.
  3. ICCT, Retrieved on March 2, 2023.
  4. Al Jazeera, Retrieved on March 3, 2023.
  5. Amy Mackinnon, Russia’s Wagner Group Doesn’t Actually Exist. Foreign Policy, 6 July 2021.
  6. CSIS, Retrieved on March 2, 2023.
  7. Russia’s Wagner group recruiting mercenaries on Pornhub - report. Jerusalem Post, 16 March 2023.
  8. What is Russia's Wagner Group of mercenaries in Ukraine?, Retrieved on March 3, 2023.
  9. "Ukraine War: Over 30,000 Wagner fighters injured or killed in Ukraine, says US" - BBC. Published February 18, 2023.
  10. "Russia Using 'Expendable' Convict Recruits to Protect Wagner Troops: U.K.". Newsweek. Published December 19, 2022.
  11. https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-4-2023
  12. https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-12-2023
  13. NPR, Retrieved on March 3, 2023.
  14. https://adf-magazine.com/2023/01/wagner-group-plundering-car-diamonds/
  15. "MEPs list crimes of 'Kremlin proxy' mercenaries" - euobserver. By Andrew Rettman. Published Nov 26, 2021.
  16. UN Human Rights Commission, Retrieved on March 3, 2023.
  17. "Wagner Group Release ANOTHER Sledgehammer Execution Video" - The Daily Beast. By Dan-Ledden Hall. Published Feb. 14, 2023.
  18. "Wagner's Prigozhin gives bloody sledgehammer to EU for terror designation" - The Jerusalem Post. Published Nov 24, 2022.