The Role of Wagner Group in Ukraine

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Wagner Group is a private military security contractor known as a PMSC. The service provided by private military companies (PMCs) and private security companies (PSC), as described by the Center for Strategic & International Studies, was brought to fruition after the Cold War. These companies allow nations and non-nations to rely on a more flexible, cheaper, less accountable and seen as more capable than regular militaries. The conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq saw primate military companies “getting involved on all levels, from providing logistical support to high-intensity operations,” stated by the Center for Strategic & International Studies. When it comes to the Wagner Group emerged after the Slavonic Corps was disbanded due to a defeat near Deir al-Zour, Syria.

The Russian government has continuously denied any knowledge or responsibility of the Wagner Group; it was founded in 2014 by Dmitry Ukin. As Aljazeera reported, the group “has since represented the interests of Russia and its alliances across Africa and the Middle East.” At the same time, in 2014, the Wagner Group participated in Russian operations to annex Crimea. Even though the Russian government denies any involvement or knowledge with the Wager Group the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace informs, “The Russian military already had a loyal, GRU-controlled cadre in Wagner. In 2015, it started relocating them and other mercenaries from eastern Ukraine to a covert, well-equipped training base next to a GRU special operations facility in southern Russia.” By doing so, fighters from the Wagner Group were sent into Syria in the early days of the intervention.

However, due to the war in Ukraine, Wagner Group has played a vital role for the Russian government. At the same time, reported by the Washington Post, “Wagner and its mercenaries have suddenly emerged from the shadows in the Ukraine war, openly celebrated on Russian state media and lauded as heroes of President Vladimir Putin’s bloody invasion,” which is extremely different from how the Kremlin has treated this private military contractor in the past. Nevertheless, the usage of the Wagner Group revealed a serious issue for Russia due to the group not being seen fighting in the earlier days of the conflict until the Ukrainian military halted Russian military forces. The Washington Post stated that Wagner’s operations are believed to be coordinated with the Russian Defense Ministry. In addition, Wagner Group took over command of some of Russia’s operations in parts of the Donbas region as reported by Politico.

In May of 2022, the Guardian reported that two Wagner Group fighters from Belarus have allegedly been accused of murdering civilians near Kyiv. However, in December 2021, the European Union sanctioned Wagner Group members due to their human rights abuses in the Middle East, Africa, and Ukraine.

There is a serious concern regarding the personnel and equipment Wagner Group has received. Reuters has reported that Wagner Group “took delivery of an arms shipment from North Korea to help bolster Russian forces in Ukraine,” which the White House has seen as a sign that the private military company’s role in the Ukraine-Russian war is expanding. Although the owner of the organization Yevgeny Prigozhin has denied the assertion by the United States government. The White House National Security Council spokesperson stated, “Wagner was searching around for the world for arms suppliers to support its military operations in Ukraine.” North Korea initially sent infantry rockets and missiles to be used. The United States believes through its assessment that the battlefield dynamic will not change, but they expect that the North Korean government will continue to send equipment. Regarding the personnel on the ground, the United States government estimated that the private military contractor has fifty thousand personnel in Ukraine, consisting of ten thousand contractors and forty thousand convicts recruited from Russian prisons reported by Reuters.

Since Wagner Group has accepted military equipment and violated UN Security Council resolutions the United States has announced that they would implement further sanctions on Wagner, at the same time, the Biden administration is taking steps “to designate Wagner as a military end user,” reported by Politico. In doing so, the Department of Commerce will prevent the Wagner Group from accessing any equipment based on United States technology, preventing the private military contractor from using equipment based on United technology in Ukraine. The BBC has stated that Wagner Group “is spending more than $100 million each month in Ukraine.” Even though the group faces further economic sanctions, Wagner Group’s influence and presence inside Russia has increased due to the Russian military suffering multiple setbacks.

Private military companies such as Wagner Group pose a serious security concern in Ukraine and any nation, they have been stationed in. As the Russian-Ukraine war continues, the global community must take up the mantle to come to terms with the issue that private military companies pose to international security. It is of the utmost importance that an international treaty is founded to ban the usage of private military companies with a consequence for any state that decides to use them in the future. As seen through Wagner Group they can and have hidden the number of losses that have occurred to their personnel assisting Russia to portray the war as if it is not causing serious harm to them even though Western intelligence and analyst have shown the pain that the war has caused on the Russian economy and populace. Nevertheless, private military companies allow their organization to sell a lie that a conflict they are in is not causing harm alongside the lack of accountability that occurs with companies such as these. It is time that the international community comes together to ensure that any state or non-state actor cannot use private military contracts.


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