Russia’s private military contractor Wagner comes out of the shadows in Ukraine war.
The mercenary group does not officially exist but is playing a more public role and openly recruiting in Russia.
7 Aug 2022
Wagner was established in 2014 to support pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. The US and others say it is funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a powerful businessman closely linked to Vladimir Putin who is under western sanctions. Prigozhin denies any links to the group.
The group has since played a prominent role fighting alongside the Russian army in support of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and has been spotted in several African nations – places in which Russia holds strategic and economic interests. It has been repeatedly accused of war crimes and human rights abuses.
On paper, it doesn’t exist, with no company registration, tax returns or organisational chart to be found. Russia’s senior leadership, including Vladimir Putin, has repeatedly denied any connections between Wagner and the state.
Private military companies are officially banned in Russia, and the semi-legal framework mercenaries operate under has also meant that family members of deceased Wagner operatives were often pressured into silence when seeking information about their loved ones.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has, however, brought the group out of the dark. At the end of March, British intelligence claimed that about 1,000 Wagner mercenaries had gone to Ukraine. The group’s role in the war appears to have since grown significantly after Moscow refocused its efforts on the east following its failure to capture the capital, Kyiv.