Small Wars Journal

The Rise and Fall of a Russian Mercenary Army

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 12:09am

The Rise and Fall of a Russian Mercenary Army by Neil Hauer – Foreign Policy

The Russian firm Wagner Group, a shadowy mercenary outfit waging secret wars on the Kremlin’s behalf from Ukraine to Syria to the Central African Republic, seems like something from a Tom Clancy novel. Born out of a need for plausible deniability in Moscow’s military operations abroad, Wagner contractors were at the forefront of some of the heaviest fighting in eastern Ukraine and Syria in recent years before exploding into the headlines with their brazen assault on a U.S. military position in northeast Syria in February 2018. Wagner seemed to herald a new reality, one in which it would form the spearhead of an aggressive new Russian policy abroad. But Wagner may be less influential than it seems.

The past few months have been filled with revelations about the group’s reversal of fortune. On July 28, an investigation by the Russian independent media outlet Novaya Gazeta revealed that three Russian military contractors killed in central Syria in mid-June were not Wagner employees but part of another such firm, called Shield. The casualties were the first confirmed non-Wagner-linked Russian contractors killed in the country, a fact made more significant by their presence in the central Syrian desert, heretofore one of Wagner’s primary operations zones in Syria: The group played a pivotal role in capturing (and then recapturing) Palmyra and Deir Ezzor in 2016 and 2017…

Read on.