Russian private military company / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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The Wagner Group (Russian: Группа Вагнера, tr. Gruppa Vagnera), also known as PMC Wagner (Russian: ЧВК[lower-alpha 1] «Вагнер», tr. ChVK «Vagner»; lit. 'Wagner Private Military Company'), is a Russian paramilitary organization. It is variously described as a private military company (PMC), a network of mercenaries, or a de facto private army of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The group operates beyond the law in Russia, where private military companies are officially forbidden. Because it operates in support of Russian interests, receives equipment from the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) and uses MoD installations for training, the Wagner Group is said to be a de facto unit of the MoD or Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU. While the Wagner Group itself is not ideologically driven, various elements of Wagner have been linked to neo-Nazism and far-right extremism.
It is widely speculated that the Wagner Group is used by the Russian government to allow for plausible deniability, and to obscure the true casualties and financial costs of Russia's foreign interventions. The group came to prominence during the Donbas war in Ukraine, where it helped pro-Russian separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics from 2014 to 2015. Its contractors have reportedly taken part in various conflicts around the world, including the civil wars in Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, and Mali, often fighting on the side of forces aligned with the Russian government. Wagner operatives have committed war crimes in areas where they are deployed. The accusations include rape and robbery of civilians, and torturing accused deserters.
Wagner has played a significant role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, where, among other activities, it has been reportedly deployed to assassinate Ukrainian leaders, and has recruited prisoners for frontline combat. In December 2022, United States National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby claimed Wagner has 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts. Others put the number of recruited prisoners at more than 20,000, with the overall number of PMCs present in Ukraine estimated at 20,000. In 2023, Russia granted combat veteran status to Wagner contractors who took part in the invasion.
After years of denying links to the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with close links to Putin, admitted in September 2022 that he "founded" the paramilitary group.