For many NGOs and journalists, there is no doubt that the Kremlin employs the opaque Wagner Group and its mercenaries – with a strong presence in Ukraine, Syria, and Africa – to serve their interests.
On Monday (15), three organizations – the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the Russian Memorial Center for Human Rights – filed a complaint in Russia against what they regard as “war crimes” committed in Syria by men of this “informal organization (…) under the effective control of Russia”.
– Throughout the crisis –
Wagner’s men were shot for the first time in 2014 alongside pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
In this region where Russia denies any military presence, these well-equipped and professional fighters have appeared among rebel groups committed against pro-Western Ukrainian authorities.
In 2015, with the Russian intervention in Syria in support of Bashar Al Asad, there was information about his presence alongside the Russian army, mainly in the main battles, such as the reconquest of the ancient city of Palmira. Moscow has always denied it.
Then, Wagner’s field of action widened: in Libya, his men would be alongside the forces of Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and in the Central African Republic they would be part of the army’s “instructors”.
His presence in Sudan, Mozambique, and Venezuela was also pointed out. An accumulation of suspicions, but without any formal proof and always with Russian negatives.
– Utkin and Prigozhin –
According to the state news agency TASS, Dmitri Utkin is responsible for the operations of the Wagner Group. Little is known about this man in his fifties, who is said to come from military intelligence.
In December 2016, he was received at the Kremlin for a ceremony in honor of Syria’s “heroes”. He was even photographed with President Vladimir Putin.
In financial terms, Wagner would be commanded by a key Kremlin man, businessman Yevgueni Prigozhin, close to Putin, who is subject to American sanctions for electoral interference and is wanted by the FBI for “fraud”.
Something he always denied.
– Badly kept secret –
Wagner has no legal existence in Russia, where private military companies are prohibited. However, the group would have several thousand men, particularly veterans of the army or security services.
According to the Carnegie Moscow Center, Wagner is ultimately “Russia’s worst-kept secret”.
The group has two functions: “to provide the Kremlin with the possibility of denial during the displacement of combatants in war zones” and to serve as “a tool prepared to reinforce its influence with receptive states”.
– Losses and scandals –
However, Wagner’s operations did not go without losses and scandals.
A crisis between Russia and Belarus put an unexpected focus on the organization in 2020, when Minsk announced the arrest of 33 “mercenaries” in the group.
These men said they were traveling through Belarus to other places like Venezuela, Libya, Cuba, Turkey and Syria. Moscow remained in evidence and quietly negotiated his return to Russia.
In February 2018, the group suffered heavy losses in Syria in U.S. attacks on pro-regime fighters trying to seize oil fields.
That same year, in the Central African Republic, three Russian journalists investigating the group’s activities were murdered.
Source: with Agencies