The Wagner Group: An Army of Ghosts

The big question is what exactly is Wagner group and what activities is it involved in
Representational Image
Representational Image Wikimedia Commons/ Anton Holoborodko

During the war in Ukraine, the world got introduced to a ghost army, little green men they were called initially, but the question was who are they and what were they doing in Ukraine.

Very little was known of them until 2014 they were first seen in the eastern Ukrainian region. The group's name was Wagner which was revealed later. The big question is what exactly is Wagner group and what activities is it involved in, how it operates and where it carries its missions.

The Wagner group is hard to define as an organisation, it has a wide variety of words which can be used to describe it. A secretive mercenary group, a murky paramilitary force, a Private Military Company (PMC), a small special unit or what many like to call Vladimir Putin’s “Private Army”.

Why did I say it’s hard to define the Wagner Group as not much was known about this group until 2014 when they were first seen in the Donbas region of Ukraine fighting beside the Pro-Russian separatist? It may be hard to define the entity but it aims to increase Russian influence across the globe, especially in places where Russia has a special interest like Ukraine. Wagner PMC works as a proxy for the Russian government and has either directly on Russian behalf or independently as a private contractor.

The Name Wagner comes from the German composer Richard Wagner who lived in the 19th century in Germany and also coincidentally was Hitler’s favourite.

The Wagner group is part of a large conglomerate run by the Russian Oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin but reportedly he had a co-founder in the name of Dmitry Utkin who served in the Russian Special Forces and is considered a key link to Prigozhin.

Yevgeny Prigozhin is the main man behind the Wagner Group and has connections to important people within the Russian government including the defence ministry. He was a chef who thanks to his close ties with Putin was able to get many government contracts for the military and established his position.

Yevgeny Prigozhin manages a network of many businesses that are all somehow tied to one another. The main company is Concord (management and consulting), along with numerous other businesses, which received harsh criticism for its campaign during the 2016 US elections. These businesses included Internet Research Agency (IRA), a propagandist and toolkit that frequently targets elections in the US.

The Wagner group has always operated covertly, and its hiring practices are even more questionable. Only those with military backgrounds were initially permitted in the PMC Wagner, but as the conflict in Ukraine grew more intense, it became increasingly challenging for the organisation to recruit more conscripts. Therefore, Prigozhin turned to prisons and recruited inmates; what's notable is that Prigozhin himself has been a convict.

Human rights violations were a feature of the Wagner group's actions in Ukraine. Wagner was at the vanguard of the operation at Soledar, where it strengthened its position. The Wagner made its power against the Ukrainian army known at the city of Soledar. In reality, it was Wagner's troops that suffered the greatest losses and overcame the city; nonetheless, the Kremlin claimed all the glory and caused a wedge between Wagner and the Russian government.

 Aside from Ukraine, Wagner operates largely in Africa. The Wagner group is interested in countries that are going through political unrest and crises. Additionally, they have been spotted in Syria, where they battled alongside the Syrian Army to support Bashar al-Assad's regime. Their military, economic, and political contributions to Africa can be categorised into these three categories. Wagner's operations have been significant to the Russian government, particularly in regions like Mali and the Central African Republic. The Wagner gang has typically targeted the Sahel because of its abundance of natural resources.

The best scenario for Wagner's involvement is in the Central African Republic. The Wagner group entered the nation in 2017 thanks to CAR President Faustin Archange Touadera. Wagner was able to assist and train their Army, enabling him to protect his regime against the insurgents. The image became increasingly more unsettling in the months that followed as Wagner troopers were spotted all over the nation, even guarding borders. In exchange, the Wagner began to mine the nation's natural resources, including gold, diamonds, and other precious metals. The Wager group arrived in Mali in December and began operating at the Bamako airport. They came there during the political turmoil to assist the security forces against the insurgents. Like in all African countries, they came there for minerals and natural resources, especially gold and diamonds. Now what was different in Mali that caught global attention was that more than 300 people were killed in a town called Moura around 250 miles from the capital city Bamoka. The mass murder was carried out by the Wagner troops as well as the Malian security apparatus. In Sudan the Wagner first supported the Dictator Omar Al-Bashir and then with the generals who ousted him. Wagner was given state permission to extract gold and export it, untaxed by the government.               

When the war in Ukraine started there were many speculations that Russia was secretly planning to assassinate senior politicians and military leaders of Ukraine using a secret militia.  Many looked at Wagner from that lens but never turned true. But recently the Kremlin has been showing the cold shoulder to Prigozhin, after the battle of Soledar Prigozhin publicaly lashed at Russian officials for “stealing the victory” from Wagner. Wagner initially was more successful than the Russian Army but the recent battle in Bakhmut tore the Wagner apart as it lost a huge chunk of men and many were trying to desert. As the war in Ukraine enters into new phases Wagner will play a more crucial role for the Kremlin and may prove its best weapon against the Ukraine.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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