In the matter of Группа Вагнера (Wagner Group)
UPDATE 4 NOVEMBER 2022
Wagner Group have opened corporate offices in St Petersburg, an extraordinary manouevre given that the company does not officially exist. A new form of 'Russian common law' entity seems to have been manufactured out of whole cloth.
Apparently has at least 100 people working in it
Is formally owned by PMC Wagner, i.e. a corporate form that does not exist in Russian law
Conducts operations from these premises as a private military company that are in open breach of Russian legislation banning mercenaries and other private military organisations
Is a modern structure of glass concrete and steel that would not look out of place in the City of London
Appears to house a museum or exhibit of drones (www.euronews.com/amp/2022/11/04/russias-wagner-paramilitary-group-opens-first-official-hq-in-st-petersburg) and indeed it may be mostly empty and/or just a glorified display cabinet for Russian armour at the current time
Appears to have a rival for Wagner's corporate headquarters in Rostov-na-danu, if Ukrainian information is to be believed (https://kyivindependent.com/uncategorized/wagner-group-establish-headquarters-in-rostov-on-don) although again we have no address
Calls itself a 'trchnology centre' (although it is not clear what this means)
Purports to provide grants to IT startup companies to develop (presumably software) that supports Wagner's military operations
Has no available financial information because PMC Wagner, not being a recognised corporate form, does not publish accounts.
Had lots of veterans in uniform at the office opening.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, no media or other source provides the address of the Wagner Group headquarters, which the Moscow Times says is in 'East St Petersburg'
Wagner Group has no known website. It used to have one, namely join-wagnsr.com in English and French. This has been taken down but can still be found in the Internet Archive.
The only other internet presence of Wagner Group appears to be the following VKontakte page (VKontakte is the Russian equivalent of Facebook): https://m.vk.com/wall-177427428_1369
To describe all this is as weird, even by Russian standards, would be an understatement.
Much has been written about the Wagner Group, an organisation which does not have a formal name or even an official existence. It is a Russian military organisation not within the structure of Russian law. By this we mean that of the three types of registered Russian corporate structure which include state-owned or otherwise publicly owned companies (1. private limited companies, that carry the prefix 'OOO'; 2. joint stock companies, that may carry the prefix 'ПАО' or 'JSC' in English; and may be 'open' (ОАО, OJSC in English) or 'closed' (ЗАО, CJSC in English) (the distinction between open and closed being to do with the rights of existing shareholders to sell their shareholdings to non-shareholders, what in Anglo-Saxon law we would call pre-emptjon rights); and 3. partnerships ('товарищество' in Russian), it is none of them. The organisation is not registered in the official Russian corporate registries.
Instead it is sometimes known as чкв вагнер, in English 'PMC Wagner' (Private Military Company Wagner). This is not a recognised corporate form in Russia and indeed there is a provision of Russian law outlawing private military organisations, so Wagner Group appears to be an oxymoron. Its head is formally Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch about which much can be read on the internet.
Nevertheless what the Wagner Group really is is Vladimir Putin's private army of some 6,000+ highly trained troops. Vladimir Putin can afford this because (a) he is the richest man in the world; and (b) he has the legal and political authorities to grant to Wagner Group access to all Russian military bases in Russia and without; and access to all their armour. The Wagner Group is one of the principal reasons why Vladimir Putin cannot be removed from power as President of Russia.
The reader will understand that it is a little tricky to obtain reliable information about this organisation, and we have no privileged access to insider information about them. The greater part of information that does exist about them comes from military units who have encountered them as opponents on the battlefield, in particular in Libya. We feel reasonably confident in making the following assertions about them.
Theatres in which they have fought or provided training and similar services include Syria, Libya, Sudan, Central African Republic, Ukraine, Venezuela, Mali and Mozambique.
Their modus operandi is to have an elite core (we think these people are mostly Russian Special Forces or retirees from the same of various kinds) that hires mercenaries from various sources, including in particular DDR (disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration) troops from existing or former combat zones; and Russian prisons.
Wagner Group takes smartphones from their mercenaries and gives them dumbphones with which the mercenaries can only communicate with one another in theatre. (This is documented particularly well for Syrian DDR militias deployed by Wagner to Libya.)
Wagner Group mercenaries seem to be well trained, on the whole, in the full arsenal of Russian ground armour - possibly better than the Russian Armed Forces itself. (Again the evidence for this comes from Libya.)
A number of Serbian mercenaries have been recruited by Wagner Group, who seem to consider them some of their most elite troops; for this reason Serbia has enacted legislation punishing Serbs who travel to Ukraine with a period of two years plus imprisonment, with a view to disincentivising Serbs from joining Wagner Group.
The following is an excellent article setting out the links between far-right Serbian paramilitary movements, the leading character(s) in the Serbian opposition, and the leading people in the Wagner Group: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/sep/15/putin-balkans-war-ukraine-russia-serbian
Wagner Group's methods appear ruthless; they were reported as telling recruits from Russian prisons that if they spent six months in service in Ukraine they would be free to go; but if a recruit arrived in Ukraine and decided it was not for him, then they would be executed. So a ticket with Wagner Group seems to be a one-way affair.
One way of looking at Wagner Group is like a giant version of 'The Dirty Dozen' (a famous movie in which compromised prisoners are 'offered' to 'volunteer' on a guaranteed death mission during World War II).
Put another way, Wagner Group is a Russian sort of a solution to her principal problem in the war in Ukraine, namely that her ill-trained and poorly motivated conscripted domestic troops keep dying in huge numbers (some estimates put it at 80,000 at the time of writing), and Russian public opinion is sensitive to that. So Wagner Group, through shady deals with the governments of countries like the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Central African Republic, pay those governments in cash or in kind to be given access to unlimited numbers of young men in those countries to serve as lambs to the slaughter. Because the West has no diplomatic leverage whatsoever in these sorts of country, the Russian efforts to recruit a continuing stream of frontline cattle proceed effectively uninhibited.
Their funding is totally obscure and nothing intelligent can be said about it. Actually it's not clear whether the mercenaries get paid at all, or they are just given false promises.
We do know from Libya again that they periodically charge for their services: in the Libyan case they sent hefty invoices to Khalifa Haftar which apparently he was unable to pay in full, compromising him and exposing him to the risk of assassination at the hands of the Kremlin.
Does the Wagner Group, whoever they are (and we cannot name the top ten men in the Wagner Group; we doubt any other western source could either) have access to any part of Russia's arsenal of thermonuclear warheads? In 2018 a US Kremlinologist estimated the number of Russian thermonuclear warheads (i.e. hydrogen bombs) at 10,000. This would entail that they have been making them in large quantities behind our backs, in violation of their treaty obligations which is arguably why the then US National Security Advisor John Bolton, under US President Donald J. trump, tore up the treaty agreeing not to proliferate nuclear warheads in 2018. It was being brazenly disregarded by the Russians. The recent evidence from the Enerhodar nuclear facility in Ukraine suggests that Russia has been engaged in a massive exercise in manufacturing thermonuclear warheads on Ukrainian territory. There can be no other reason why the IAEA found 40,000 MT of highly enriched uranium and 30,000 MT of weapons grade plutonium on a site inspection in 2021. These materials - found in quantities to make well over a thousand hydrogen bombs - have no other purpose. Wagner Group is now believed to be active in the Enerhodar region of Russia-occupied Ukraine.
Here is a detailed article about how Wagner recruits prisoners in Russian penal colonies. It speaks for itself and we have no comment: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/20/russia-recruits-inmates-ukraine-war-wagner-prigozhin
The only real comment we can make about the Wagner Group, aside from the fact that it is quite an ingenious idea to recruit limitless expendible troops who nobody is counting, train them on Russian armour to the extent they are not already skilled in it from their experiences in theatre, and send them to their slaughter, is that we strongly contra-indicate membership of this organisation. It seems guaranteed to result in your death. Nobody seems to count how many of their mercenaries die in the course of their duties with Wagner Group, but the number does seem to be close enough to 100 per cent from the various reports we have read.
In the meantime the fairly well trained and experienced mercenaries are achieving Russian foreign policy objectives - before they die without trace.
If you really want to work as a mercenary, it is probably better to find another such organisation.
Finally, we imagine that the reader
realises why fascism is relevant ('Wagner', originally from Richard Wagner, Hitler's favourite composer). Fascism is an ideology that tolerates or encourages the mass slaughter of fighters from subhuman species (i.e. in the eyes of the Nazis, and now seemingly in the eyes of the Wagner Group, Africans, Arabs and prisoners) in the interests of some imagined greater good - in this case some inchoate goal of the Russian state. The theme of massive war, death and destruction in the pursuit of national interests is recurrent in the music of the composer Richard Wagner.
Wagner Group is not what we would call a modern liberal European organisation.
None of this, of course, is necessarily the fault of the President of the Russian Federation. The breadth and complexities of his powers and limitationa are oft misunderstood, particularly outside Russia and the CIS. He may not have any practical choice in all this; or he may consider it the least bad outcome. We do well to remember these observations.