The Wagner Group was also sanctioned: who are the mercenaries in the service of Putin who are looking for Zelensky to kill him

Russian mercenaries guarding the Sloviansk city hall in Ukraine (Europa Press/archive) (Michal Burza/)

The United Kingdom announced on Thursday a new series of sanctions against 59 Russian and six Belarusian individuals and companies.due to the bloody invasion of Ukraine ordered by Vladimir Putin exactly one month ago. Among the companies are the russian diamond giant alrosa and the Wagner Private Military Services Groupthe mercenaries in the service of the Kremlin who operate in Syria, Africa and now in Ukraine.

Four days after the attack against the sovereign and neighboring country, a sinister plan of Moscow: find Volodymyr Zelensky to assassinate him. the prestigious newspaper The Times was then the one who published the chilling news: the fearsome Wagner Group It’s in Kyiv and aims to hunt down the Ukrainian president. There would be 400 mercenaries who were given the mission of assassinating the national leader in order to overthrow his government and place one that is controlled by Moscow. Today, this private group was sanctioned by London.

The government of Zelensky initiated from the beginning of the invasion a search for “russian saboteurs” in the streets of the capital. They would be part of the command of the Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, who leads the fierce and trained mercenaries. The agents are waiting for the order of the kremlin to attack, and list of 23 goals also includes the entire cabinet, the mayor of Kyiv, Vitaly Klitschkoand his brother wladimirboth former boxing champions who have become iconic figures in the Ukrainian capital’s first line of defense.

Private military companies, such as the Wagner Grouphave become in recent years a vital tool with which Russia expands its influence in the world while defending their interests. Currently, there is a presence of Russian mercenaries in at least 30 countries on four continents, which demonstrates the expansion of this phenomenon that it had in the conflict of Ukraine in 2014 his first essay.

Although mercenary companies are technically illegal under the Constitution Russian, the truth is that they have become a key component of the “hybrid warfare” strategy What is he doing? Moscow and offer the Russian head of state, Vladimir Putina medium with which “execute its political goals and advance Russian national security interests around the world”, according to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

In general, according to the authors of ‘The wars of the Moscow mercenaries‘, these security firms are in the hands of oligarchs close to the Kremlinas is the case with Prigozhinvery close to Putin and which is subject to sanctions by United States.

The mercenaries of the Wagner Group in the Starobeshevo area in the Ukrainian Donetsk
The mercenaries of the Wagner Group in the Starobeshevo area in the Ukrainian Donetsk

One of its main tasks is to prop up Russian foreign policy and expand its influence worldwide, since thanks to the mercenaries Moscow can support certain countries or partners.

From a military point of view, given the capabilities of these mercenaries (generally former members of the security forces), allies can be reinforced, while establishes a military presence in scenarios where there was none and even alters the balance of power in certain conflictswhile maintaining a degree of plausible deniability by the Kremlin”, emphasize the authors.

Furthermore, mercenaries are more expendable and their use is less risky than the deployment of Russian soldiers, especially in case they are killed in combat or during training missions. The members of the security companies have also become a source for gathering intelligence information, in addition to being able to carry out covert actions and clandestine activities, according to the CSIS.

Training supported by the Russian Army

security contractors receive training before being sent abroad, in some cases even within military bases and with the probable support of the Army and Intelligence services. For example, according to the report, the Wagner Group trains its men in two camps next to a base of the Intelligence services (GRU) in Molkino, in the Krasnodar region.

On the other hand, the mercenary companies and the firms linked to them in the fields of energy, mines, security and logistics also offer the Russian regime a way to “expand its trade and economic influence in developing countries and build new revenue streams, especially from oil, gas and mineral extraction, to reduce the impact of sanctions”, highlights the report.

As for the tasks they perform, its main task is to train and equip the security forces of the host country or some local militia, which includes training in specialized combat tasks, such as the use of snipers or anti-aircraft defense. In addition, they work to protect local authorities, even becoming the bodyguards of presidents, as is the case with Central African Republic. Today his goal is clearer: assassinate Zelensky.

On some occasions, according to the report, mercenaries linked to the GRU they recruit human assets in addition to carrying out surveillance and reconnaissance tasks and carrying out political warfare, sabotage and other covert missions.

Mercenaries are also deployed to protect key energy infrastructure or mines for both host countries and Russian companiesa situation that is repeated in Venezuela. In addition, both they and the media organizations linked to their companies help spread messages in favor of Russia. In this case, the ‘troll farm’ owned by Prigozhinalso sanctioned by United States.

From Ukraine to Venezuela

Ukraine it was the first country in which Russian mercenaries made an appearance. Currently, due to the invasion, it is estimated that there may be up to 4 thousand agents of the Wagner Group deployed throughout the territory. Four hundred of them in kyiv. Before their central role in the conflict in the Donbas region, which is still active, they were already present in the Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014. According to the CSIS, at the height of the conflict between the separatists and the Ukrainian forces there were between 2,500 and 5,000 Russian mercenaries.

His role was that ofdestabilize and then consolidate control over Crimea and Donbas, weighing down and pressuring kyiv and its Western allies to make diplomatic concessions”, all of it”denying any official Russian involvement”, underline the expert authors of the report. Despite this, the dispute has ended up becoming a “frozen conflict” from which, however, Russia has been able to draw some lessons to apply in other scenarios.

Syria has been one of them. Here, the Russian mercenaries have been key in prop up Bashar al-Assad’s regime and to curb the efforts of the United States and its allies. In addition, they have been crucial in seizing oil fields, refineries, gas plants and other infrastructure that were in the hands of the rebels.

According CSISin this country there have been between 1,000 and 3,000 Russian mercenaries of different firms, including the Wagner Groupwhich have played an increasingly direct role in the Syrian regime’s combat operations and often in sync with Syrian economic priorities. Moscow. This country has also served as a testing ground for a hybrid deployment model that includes state forces and mercenaries.

In the case of Libyathe support of the mercenaries has not been for the Government recognized by the international community, but for the general Khalifa Haftar, whose forces he has trained and supported in his offensive to take Tripoli. The role of the 800 to 1,200 mercenaries, mainly from the Wagner Grouphas also included defending Russian interests in the country.

Russia saw a power vacuum and an opportunity to exploit the instability to expand Russian influence, using the mercenaries to strengthen Haftar, turn the conflict in his favor and reap the rewards.”, underline the authors of the report. In addition, the Russian mercenaries have strengthened “the geostrategic position and diplomatic influence” in Libyawhich gives Russia a role in any solution to the conflict.

There is also a presence of Russian mercenaries in the sub-saharan africa. In RCA, they have been training the security forces, in addition to protecting their president, Faustin-Archange Touadéraand mining operations. Mozambique It has, however, been a failure. The mercenaries of Wagner Group arrived to support the government in its fight against the jihadists in Corporal Delgado “They had little experience conducting operations in the woods and had difficulty coordinating with local forces,” according to CSIS. Arrived in September 2019, they were replaced last April by mercenaries from the South African firm Dyck Advisory Group.

Soldiers and mercenaries arriving at the international airport of Caracas in the Russian Il-62 and An-124 planes, in 2019
Soldiers and mercenaries arriving at the international airport of Caracas in the Russian Il-62 and An-124 planes, in 2019

In addition, Russian mercenaries have also crossed the Atlantic. Since 2017 they have been present in Venezuela, which has one of its greatest allies in Moscow, to guard Russian interests and their companies, including Rosneft.. In addition, since January 2019, around a hundred of them have been deployed to protect Nicolás Maduroafter Juan Guaidó proclaimed himself interim president.

(With information from Europe Press)


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