On February 7, 2018, about 600 fighters, most of them belonging to the Wagner Group, launched an attack in Deir Ezzor, Syria, against Kurdish forces backed by the United States.
The aim of the operation was to seize an oil refinery stationed nearby, but the unit that launched the attack was not aware of the presence of dozens of American soldiers among the Kurds in the region, who quickly requested Washington to provide large-scale air support in response to the attack.
The operation resulted in the deaths of up to 200 Wagner Group fighters on the battlefield, as well as many wounded, and no American soldier was injured.
With this introduction, the Pakistani magazine Global Village Space began a report by writer Shane Quinn dealing with the history of the Wagner Group and its relationship with the Putin regime, confirming that this paramilitary organization affiliated with the Kremlin first came to light in 2014 at the hands of its founder, the wealthy businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin. .
The writer mentioned that the Wagner Group often describes itself in the Western media as “mercenaries” and is made up of retired veterans of the state security services between the ages of 35 and 55, in addition to pro-Moscow fighters from the countries of the former Soviet Union as well as from its ally Serbia.
By December 2017, the number of Wagner Group members had reached about 6,000, compared to 1,000 at the beginning of 2016.
Monthly salaries for group members range from $ 1,200 to $ 4,000, and its senior employees and those working abroad generally earn higher wages.
Fight and finance
Wagner personnel first appeared in the spring of 2014, when their contractors were seen among the Russian military forces during the Moscow takeover of the Crimean peninsula, and elements of the complex were also seen in the following weeks in eastern Ukraine in which hostilities broke out since April 2014.
Sources suggest that Wagner receives support and funding from Prigozhin, who was called “Putin’s cook”, who was imprisoned in 1981 on charges of theft and fraud, and spent 9 years in prison.
Prigozhin now owns a large catering company, and in recent months he has been the target of sanctions by Washington as the US Treasury Department imposed financial sanctions on his personal property, similar to his three private jets and yacht. In February 2018, former FBI Director Robert Mueller accused him of interfering in the 2016 US presidential election.
Several media reported that Prigozhin ordered the attack in Deir Ezzor, eastern Syria, where American soldiers are stationed, and is likely to have interests in oil and gas reserves in Syria, which explains Wagner’s presence in the region in the first place.
The group is led by Dmitry Utkin, a Ukrainian-born presenter who is deeply sympathetic to Moscow, and a former member of the Spetsnaz Division of the Main Intelligence Directorate, founded under Stalin. It is reported that Putin himself awarded Utkin military orders.
Utkin appears to have a close working relationship with Prigozhin. Since November 2017, he has held the position of CEO of Concor, a management and consulting company, which the latter founded in 1995 and owns at least half of its shares.
The US government has not stopped following the activities of Utkin, who has also been subject to sanctions since June 2017.
It is reported that Wagner intervened for the first time in Syria in October 2015, just days after Putin announced a military intervention in that country in support of his ally Bashar al-Assad. After that, the group participated in a series of battles on the ground.
The magazine believes that while the Kremlin does not officially recognize secret organizations – such as Wagner – it is unlikely that such groups will be allowed to carry out their activities without Putin’s consent. It is likely that the group is an additional party responsible for implementing Russia’s foreign policy agenda.
For example – the magazine adds – Putin described in April 2012 the PMCs as “a tool for achieving Russia’s national interests without the direct participation of the state.” However, Putin’s personal influence on Wagner remains unclear.
Moscow benefits from the “covert action” nature of combat groups such as Wagner, as it will not be forced to admit the number of deaths in the event its fighters were killed, and Moscow could also avoid taking responsibility and distance itself from this group when its fighters are accused of war crimes.
Moreover, Wagner employees are active in remote areas such as African countries, such as Libya, Sudan and the Central African Republic, which are strategically important.
A report leaked to the United Nations last May revealed that a thousand members of the Wagner Group are in Libya to support retired General Khalifa Haftar.
The group’s activities have also expanded since January 2019 to reach South America, where it helped “provide security” for Nicolas Maduro, President of Venezuela, which has the largest known oil reserves in the world.