The Wagner Group, also known as PMC Wagner: we hear this name in the news regarding brutal mass murders, torture, destruction, and annihilation of the civilian population in war zones. These unlawful acts can be traced back to the Kremlin’s orders, which PMC Wagner carried out. But what is the Wagner Group? How did it come about? What ideology do its participants profess?
According to the group’s founder, Dmitry Utkin, whose own call sign is “Wagner,” a contract with PMC Wagner is a deal with the devil. Utkin openly calls the company a militarily structured criminal group. Unlike other PMCs in the world, PMC Wagner is not a registered legal entity. Moreover, its actions should be qualified as terrorism. Terrorism is the deliberate use of terror by means such as arson, murder, torture, taking hostages, intimidating the population and authorities, or committing other encroachments on the lives or health of innocent people. This is precisely what PMC “Wagner” does.
Kremlin’s establishment of private military companies
The idea of creating private military companies (PMCs) was brought to Russia by Eeben Barlow, a former lieutenant general of the South African security forces and founder of the world’s first legal private army, Executive Outcomes. It is known that Barlow arrived in Russia in 2010 as a participant in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. In addition to giving an official address, he privately presented the PMC concept to representatives of the General Staff of the Russian Defence Ministry, where he proposed forming private military companies from retired military personnel and contractors.
In 2011, the security firm Moran Security Group was registered in Russia. It was headed by Alexey Badikov. The firm was engaged in protecting private ships from being captured by pirates because, at that time, this was an urgent issue in the Somali region. However, the firm was not successful: competition and ignorance of regional problems led to an arrest of the Moran Security Group’s crew onboard the Myre Seadiver in October 2012 while in Nigeria.
Bashar al-Assad turned to Putin for help when an uprising and civil war broke out in Syria in 2012; protesters demanded the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad and an end to nearly 50 years of one-party Ba’athist rule.
Russian PMC in Syria
When Bashar Assad appealed to Vladimir Putin for help in the war in Syria, the Kremlin decided to use the PMC as an instrument for covert assistance. To cover their actions, they made a contract with the Syrian Arab Republic’s Ministry of Oil and Mineral Resources to protect facilities that produce, transport, and process Syrian oil. The Syrian ambassador to the Russian Federation, Riad Haddad, personally conducted all negotiations in Moscow with pro-Russian mercenaries and later signed a deal with Moran Security Group. Formally, the recruitment of mercenaries to Syria was carried out by Vadim Gusev, the deputy director of the Moran Security Group company, and Yevheny Sidorov, the head of the personnel service. In 2013, Sidorov created the Slavonic Corps PMC in Hong Kong, which recruited former members of special forces, including the FSB, GRU, Airborne Forces, and Internal Troops of Russia. The indicated offshore PMC was a front for the Russian security company Moran Security Group.
The operation of the Slavonic Corps in Syria turned out to be a failure. After suffering heavy losses from being caught in an ambush, the fighters of the Slavonic Corps managed to retreat under the cover of artillery and aircraft of the Syrian armed forces. One of the commanders, D.V. Utkin, call sign “Wagner,” former commander of the 700th separate special unit (military unit 75143) of the General Directorate of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, managed to make a tactically correct retreat, thus saving the lives of his personnel. This was the only combat encounter of the Slavonic Corps in Syria that did not turn into a grave for Russian mercenaries. Another group of personnel of the Slavonic Corps was saved from destruction by a dust storm. The (allegedly) retreating enemy was not pursued. Moreover, during their retreat, some of the mercenaries left personal belongings and documents, which fell into the hands of their enemy and became indisputable proof of the Russian adventure in Syria.
On 8 October 2013, the Russian government urgently sent two chartered vessels to Syria to take the mercenaries to Moscow. They were immediately met by FSB special forces and arrested at the gate. Following this, in October of 2014, the Moscow City Court sentenced the company’s leaders, Vadim Gusev and Yevgeny Sidorov, to three years in prison for being mercenaries to hide the involvement of the Russian authorities in the activities of the Slavonic Corps.
However, the Kremlin did not abandon the idea of PMC as an instrument of hybrid war. Thus, Utkin, under the personal number M-0209, headed a freelance unit created by Russian military intelligence. This unit became popularly known as PMC Wagner, named after Utkin’s call sign.
Private military company Wagner is a term used by the media. In fact, legally, such a company does not exist. It has never been registered anywhere, is not part of the regular armed forces of Russia and has no legal status on Russia’s territory. Its fighters are not on the lists of personnel of any military unit of the Russian Federation, and PMC activities are formally prohibited in the Russian Federation. The first official source that mentions this unit is the 2017 US Department of the Treasury sanctions list, which includes PMC Wagner.
The military formation, called the Wagner Group, was created in 2014 on the basis of the above-mentioned organisation Slavonic Corps.
In the spring of 2014, PMC Wagner participated in the occupation of Crimea, and later their mercenaries fought in Luhansk and Syria on the side of the Russian Federation. All of them were equipped with armoured vehicles and heavy weapons. The owner of the military company is Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch and a confidant of Vladimir Putin. The Wagner Group is headed by Dmitry Utkin, call sign “Wagner,” a staunch supporter of Nazi ideology. Until 2013, Utkin was the commander of the 700th Independent Special Forces Detachment of the 2nd Independent Brigade of the GRU of the Russian Ministry of Defence. Members of PMC Wagner have repeatedly received awards in Russia on the personal orders of Russian President, Vladimir Putin, although they were not officially published.
(Photo of Utkin with Nazi tattoos)
According to data from open sources, many fighters of PMC Wagner are followers of far-right, neo-Nazi ideology.
A group of soldiers of PMC Wagner, led by a man in a Wehrmacht cap. The faces of the mercenaries are covered, but the baldness and the shape of the ear that we can see in the photo suggest that this person could be Utkin.
Another “high-ranking” militant, a friend of Dmytro Utkin, is Yan Petrovsky, deputy commander of the Task Force Rusich, a special-purpose unit. Task Force Rusich is a Russian neo-Nazi militarised group that has been actively involved in military operations in Ukraine and Syria. In a number of photographs taken during Petrovsky’s stay in Syria, he can be seen in the pose of a Nazi salute. These images were not only localised to determine Petrovsky’s exact location but also to identify him despite the blurry image of his face in the photographs.
The following photos are posted by the twin brothers Sirota S.V. and Sirota A.V., former employees of the Kaliningrad OMON. After serving in the Slavonic Corps in 2014-2015, the Sirota brothers fought in Ukraine, and since 2016 they repeatedly traveled to Syria and Sudan as part of the PMC Wagner, where they serve as a driver and gunner of the ATGM anti-tank platoon (1915 and M-1240 respectively). Not only do the brothers like to pose with Wagner’s grave crosses on their chests, but also, since their service in the Slavonic Corps PMC, they openly wear equipment with the double-sig rune, a Nazi symbol.
This is a photo of a military vehicle belonging to the mercenaries of PMC Wagner. It has the Othala rune painted on it, which was on the flag of the SS infantry during the Second World War.
Another frequently encountered rune, Tiwaz, is associated with war. In the SS, it was positioned as a battle rune (Kampf), symbolizing military command. We see this rune on a photo of Russian mercenaries taken in the Central African Republic (CAR):
Below are photos from the conflict in Libya, where the mercenaries of PMC Wagner left swastika signs and SS runes, as well as other symbols of hatred in the territory they controlled. The inscription on the wall reads in Russian: “I see mosques on Russian land, but I would rather see them in hellfire.” 14/88 is a combination of two symbols of hatred associated with the Nazis: the first symbol is 14 (shorthand for the “14 words” slogan: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,” and the second is 88 (stands for Heil Hitler). These signs were left by Russian mercenaries in the suburbs of Tripoli.
Having started its journey in 2014 during the Russian aggression in the east of Ukraine, the Wagner Group has shown itself to be an effective means of realising the hybrid expansion of the Kremlin. The company’s presence quickly spread to the Middle East, Africa, and even South America, with the Kremlin encouraging its militants to have complete freedom of action. A few years ago, the media repeatedly published footage of the Wagner Group beating people to death with sledgehammers, as well as beheading and burning people alive. However, at that time, these facts did not convince the world to recognise the Wagner Group as a terrorist organisation and Russia as a sponsor of terrorism. Now, this neo-Nazi group advocates for the torture of Ukrainian prisoners, including the “removal of body parts.”
Militants of this organisation are accused of many murders and war crimes on the territory of foreign countries: Ukraine, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Mali, and the Central African Republic (CAR).
Four years ago, journalists Orkhan Jemal, Kirill Radchenko, and Oleksandr Rastorguev were killed in the Central African Republic after traveling there to investigate the activities of PMC Wagner. They were followed from the moment they arrived in the CAR, then shot on the road between the cities of Sibut and Kaga-Bandoro.
In Mali, on the 5 March 2022, the Wagner Group arrived in a village and, according to eyewitnesses, gathered adult men and teenagers, tied their hands behind their backs, and blindfolded them. The people captured were both residents of the village and others who came from outside settlements to get water. The soldiers blocked women and children while they looted houses in the village. After that, they beat the bound men with batons. Then they abducted more than 30 people. The next day, their bodies were found four kilometers from the village having been shot and burned.
Today, PMC Wagner continues its terrorist activities on the territory of Ukraine: the explosions in Olenivka, which led to the mass death of Ukrainian defenders, are undoubtedly acts of terrorism. According to available information, this act was carried out by mercenaries from PMC Wagner under the personal command of Wagner Group’s nominal owner: Yevheny Prigozhin.
During the storming of the Vuhlehirsʹka Tes powerplant in the Donetsk region, PMC Wagner militants dressed up as Ukrainian servicemen, which violated Article 23 of the Hague Convention on the Laws and Customs of War. They confirmed this when they themselves posted a video on the Internet, which clearly shows their combatant dressed in the uniform of a Ukrainian soldier.
The nuclear blackmail of the whole world is connected to the Russian seizure of the Zaporizhzhya NPP, in which the Wagner group was also involved. The Russian command gave the order to mine the nuclear power plant, but the Russian Armed Forces service members refused to carry out the order. Representatives of the “Rosgvardiya,” despite the loud statements of the leadership, also hesitated after apparently realising that the consequences of their actions could lead to a nuclear disaster that would surpass Chornobyl in terms of scale. The Wagner Group’s fighters were then brought in to carry out the order; they fulfilled it without hesitation.
A significant number of Russian mercenaries serving in PMC Wagner are known for their involvement in war crimes around the world while adhering to Nazi, chauvinistic views, and thus their actions clearly fall under the definition of terrorism.
Author: Richard Rocksherman