The US says that the Wagner Group is an international criminal organization. why here
The US Treasury Department this week designated the Wagner Group a significant transnational criminal organization – part of an effort to crack down on the entity responsible for a growing number of atrocities in Ukraine.
The Wagner Group – a private military company owned by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin – first entered the battlefield during the Russian annexation of Crimea. But its operations have expanded significantly in the years since. Wagner fighters have appeared in conflict zones from Syria to Mali and Ukraine, and are notorious for the brutality of their tactics.
Canada does not have a designation equivalent to the Treasury’s “international criminal organization” tag, although the Department of Public Safety says the Wagner Group and Prigozhin are subject to Canadian sanctions. But critics say the federal government needs to do more to rein in the increasingly dangerous organisation.
What is Wagner Group?
Russian special forces commander Dmitry Utkin is believed to have founded the Wagner Group in 2014.
“Commander Dmitry Utkin, who is a neo-Nazi, named the group after Hitler’s favorite composer, the German composer Wagner,” said Molly Dunigan, senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, a US global policy think tank.
“In terms of brutality against the citizens of the population they operate in, the culture of the group has historically been so brutal and virtually no holds barred.”
The group initially hired elite-level fighters to operate in Crimea. But the organization has evolved in different ways over the years – especially during the current conflict in Ukraine.
“Over time, Wagner has spread its wings,” said Christopher Sperin, professor of defense studies at the Canadian Forces College and the Royal Military College of Canada. “It had a presence in Syria and most likely had the largest Russian ground forces there. More recently, it had a presence in Africa.”
Wagner fighters have been hired to fight the insurgency, protect government leaders and defend mining, timber and other resource extraction operations, he said.
Jessica Davis, president of Insight Threat Intelligence, said, “Wagner charges money for his mercenary activities. He is paid a significant amount … It’s a way that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and other oligarchs themselves can be made prosperous.”
By working in resource-rich African countries, the Wagner Group helps Russia gain access to both resources and money – at a time when the country is facing significant economic constraints due to worldwide sanctions.
“The Wagner Group actually serves a number of Russian foreign policy objectives,” Davis said. “They use (African) resources for Russia to inflate their currency, especially in the face of sanctions. But also to control resources and gain access to them.”
Why is Wagner in Ukraine?
Experts say it is difficult to determine exactly how many Wagner men are on the ground in Ukraine, though most estimate thousands of fighters are likely to be involved in the operation.
The scope of this operation means that it cannot operate with special forces fighters alone. Wagner is now known for hiring men with limited military training and recruiting directly from the Russian prison system.
“There was a desire to increase the number of Russian personnel on the battlefield, but to do so in a way that did not exceed the partial mobilization that took place in Russia (in September 2022),” Sperin said. “And an easy pool of individuals to harvest—for lack of a better term—were Russian criminals.”
look | The Wagner Group is led by a Putin-linked ex-con:
Dunnigan said the varying levels of fighters have contributed to Russia’s war strategy, with more elite soldiers being kept in reserve and rookie soldiers being sent into particularly dangerous missions.
“Analysts often refer to these people as a line of cannon fodder for the Wagner forces,” she said.
“They would send them out and run really risky operations, something that the US or its allies would never do with their military forces because they were so risky and there would be massive casualties.”
Is Wagner Like Other Private Military Companies?
Private military forces have existed on the battlefield for centuries. Companies such as Blackwater were hired by the US State Department to fight in Iraq (a group of Blackwater employees killed 17 civilians in an attack in Nissour Square in 2007) and other private military companies continue to operate today. Have been
But analysts say Wagner Group stands out in terms of the sheer size of its combat force and its frontline work in offensive operations. According to Dunigan, Wagner’s close ties to the Russian military also make this a typical, paramilitary operation.
Dunigan said, “It’s always been a very tightly bound paramilitary force to some degree and it’s really unique.” “They train with the Russian military. There is a large Wagner training base not far from the Russian military training base.”
Dunigan said Prigozhin, the Russian oligarch who owns Wagner, is part of Putin’s inner circle. It also sets Wagner apart from other private military companies – which have no ties to political parties or figures.
Why does Wagner have a reputation for cruelty?
There are widespread reports of brutality, torture and extrajudicial killings by Wagner fighters.
Davis said, “What they’re really known for, frankly, is atrocity at this point.” “They have committed numerous atrocities in the Central African Republic in 2018 and 2021, and most recently in Mali.
“So when they are a private military corporation or a mercenary group, they are actually known to be killing civilians and committing atrocities and war crimes at this point in time.”
“Studies have been conducted that show that perhaps not only is the Wagner group committing atrocities themselves, but their mere presence is also increasing the amount of criminal violence initiated by national military groups, whether in the Central African Republic or Mali. Be from,” Speerin said.
Academics such as Jason Blazakis warn the presence of the Wagner Group and other private military actors will lead to more proxy wars and less accountability.
“We can hold the government accountable for war crimes in any convention related to the United Nations,” said Blazakis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
“The increasing use of private military companies or international actors like the Wagner Group, who are involved in acts of terrorism, really worries me that we are going back to a period of time that is more akin to the Cold War where we saw states fighting each other. I saw fighting. Second [through] behind the scenes.”
What can governments do?
Blazakis said he thinks the US Treasury Department’s designation will not have a significant impact.
“I think it has significant symbolic value, but the effects will be very limited because the organization has already been sanctioned [through] Multiple executive orders in the past,” he said.
He said he thinks the governments of the United States and Canada should list the Wagner Group as a terrorist organization.
“Adding the terrorism label to the Wagner Group will give countries that are doing business with them second thoughts,” he said.
“But perhaps more importantly, it could deter countries that are thinking about doing business with the Wagner Group. Because who wants to work with a terrorist group, especially one that has been banned by many governments?” is allowed?”
Spearin said Canada could do more to codify and regulate the private military industry, which could inspire other countries to do the same.