The Wagner Group is a notorious private military company from Russia. The insights about their whereabouts and origins are not available. According to the various reports, the Wagner Group is officially described as a private military company with the capacity to deploy thousands of private military contractors in combat zones.
The Wagner Group was a relatively unknown company in the world of private military contractors. They appeared on the public scene in 2014, after they supported pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine’s armed conflict. That was an introduction to Russia’s annexation of Crimea where they played a significant role.
Since then, more information started surfacing. Now, they are described as a kind of “unofficial” pro-Russian military force. Their operators were located in Syria, Lybia, Venezuela, as well as Sudan and the Central African Republic. All these countries have a common element. They are places where Russia and its president Putin has interests. Western experts correlated to the security topics consider it clear that they are aligned with the actions of Vladimir Putin’s government.
While the Wagner Group is not the only Russian-born private military company with these characteristics, it is the best known. Wagner finds precedents for his model in the Balkan War and the Russian volunteers who fought in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.
According to the reports, the founder of the Wagner Group is reported to be Dmitriy Valeryevich Utkin, a former lieutenant colonel and brigade commander of a special forces (Spetsnaz GRU) unit (the 700th Independent Spetsnaz Detachment of the 2nd Independent Brigade) of Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). The company’s name comes from Utkin’s own call sign (“Wagner”).
The operators working under Wagner Group are mostly Russian ex-special forces operators (Spetsnaz). They have set up their own barracks in Molkin, Krasnodar Krai. In the first years since their foundation, they had not a permanent name or a legal address. They were operating fully in shadows. Today, the situation is quite different.
Today, they are registered as a company in Argentina and they also have offices in Saint Petersburg and Hong Kong.
Their military deployment capacity fluctuates between hundreds and thousands when they are in combat zones. In 2014 were no more than 100 operators. Since then, they have grown up in numbers. In early 2016, Wagner Group had a membership of 1,000, which later rose to 5,000 by August 2017, and 6,000 by December 2017.
The pay of Wagner private military contractors (PMCs), who are usually aged between 35 and 55, is estimated to be between 80,000 ($1087) and 250,000 ($3397) Russian rubles a month. One source also stated the pay was as high as 300,000 ($4077).
Today, Russian private military contractors including the Wagner Group are guns for hire operating worldwide. They are usually deployed in war zones to carry out more specific actions such as providing security or carrying out targeted attacks.
Wagner’s staff has operated on the front lines of all of Russia’s recent wars in Ukraine and Syria. Sometimes they have fought alongside the “official” Russian army, sometimes on their own. Wagner operators have also been in Libya and have had a more traditional training and security role in Sudan and the Central African Republic. They were allegedly deployed to Venezuela in 2019 as support of Nicholas Maduro. There are reported deaths of Wagner operators in Mozambique.
The Wagner Group was reported to have been involved in the armed conflict in Libya, but the things didn’t go smoothly as the battles against the so-called Islamic State in Syria. Wagner Group’s performance in Libya has been much less successful, as Russia finally had to redeploy some of its air power from Syria to reinforce its position in the region.
In February 2018, the Wagner operators were involved in the battle in eastern Syria, when a sizeable unit of Syrian Army and Russian contractors attacked a Peshmerga base near a crucial oil field. The Peshmerga unit was alongside its U.S. instructors. When the Syrians and Russians come to close, the attack brought a massive U.S. response with possibly hundreds of casualties among the Russian-speaking attackers.
The death toll of the Wagner Group operators is estimated between 300-500 since 2014.