Fierce battles in jap Ukraine have thrown a brand new highlight on Russia’s Wagner Group, a personal army firm led by a rogue millionaire with longtime hyperlinks to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Wagner has spearheaded the push to jump-start Russia’s stalemated offensive in jap Ukraine’s Donetsk province. The ferocious house-to home combating has produced a few of the bloodiest encounters since Russia despatched troops into Ukraine, with Wagner personnel “marching on the our bodies of their very own troopers” as Ukrainian authorities put it.
The U.S. this week expanded sanctions towards Wagner for its position in Ukraine and mercenary actions in Africa.
Here’s a have a look at the Wagner Group’s historical past and its present position within the combating.
WHO OWNS THE WAGNER GROUP?
Yevgeny Prigozhin, who acquired a 12-year jail time period in 1981 on expenses of theft and assault, began a restaurant enterprise in St. Petersburg following his launch from jail. It was on this capability that he acquired to know Putin, who served as the town’s deputy mayor within the Nineteen Nineties.
Prigozhin, 61, used his ties with Putin to develop a catering enterprise and gained profitable Russian authorities contracts that earned him the nickname of “Putin’s chef.” He later expanded to different companies, together with media retailers and an notorious “troll manufacturing unit” that led to his indictment within the U.S. for meddling within the 2016 presidential election.
Prigozhin denied any hyperlink to the Wagner Group earlier than he acknowledged proudly owning the corporate in September. This month, he declared he additionally based, led and financed it.
WHERE HAS WAGNER WORKED?
The Wagner Group was first noticed in motion in jap Ukraine quickly after a separatist battle erupted there in April 2014, weeks after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Whereas backing the separatist insurgency within the Donbas, Ukraine’s jap industrial heartland, Russia denied sending its personal weapons and troops there regardless of ample proof on the contrary. Participating personal contractors within the combating allowed Moscow to keep up a level of deniability.
Prigozhin’s firm was known as Wagner after the nickname of its first commander, Dmitry Utkin, a retired lieutenant colonel of the Russian army’s particular forces.
It quickly established a status for its excessive brutality and ruthlessness.
Together with Ukraine, Wagner personnel deployed to Syria, the place Russia supported President Bashar Assad’s authorities within the nation’s civil struggle. In Libya, they fought alongside forces of Libyan commander Khalifa Hifter.
The group additionally has operated within the Central African Republic and Mali.
Prigozhin has reportedly used Wagner’s deployment to Syria and African nations to safe profitable mining contracts.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland informed members of the Senate International Relations Committee on Thursday that the corporate was utilizing its entry to gold and different sources in Africa to fund its operations in Ukraine.
Some Russian media have alleged Wagner’s involvement within the July 2018 killings of three Russian journalists, who had been shot lifeless within the Central African Republic whereas investigating the group’s actions there. The slayings stay unsolved.
WHAT IS THE GROUP’S REPUTATION?
Western nations and United Nations specialists have accused Wagner Group mercenaries of committing quite a few human rights abuses all through Africa, together with within the Central African Republic, Libya and Mali.
In December 2021, the European Union accused the group of “severe human rights abuses, together with torture and extrajudicial, abstract or arbitrary executions and killings,” and of finishing up “destabilizing actions” within the Central African Republic, Libya, Syria and Ukraine.
A number of the reported incidents stood out of their grisly brutality.
A 2017 video posted on-line confirmed a gaggle of armed folks, reported to be Wagner contractors, torturing a Syrian man, beating him to demise with a sledgehammer and reducing his head earlier than mutilating after which burning his physique. Russian authorities ignored requests by the media and rights activists to analyze the killing.
In November 2022, one other video surfaced on-line that confirmed a former Wagner contractor getting crushed to demise with a sledgehammer after he allegedly fled to the Ukrainian facet and was recaptured. Regardless of public outrage and a stream of calls for for an investigation, the Kremlin turned a blind eye to it.
WHAT IS WAGNER’S ROLE IN UKRAINE?
The Wagner Group has taken an more and more seen position within the struggle in Ukraine as common Russian troops suffered heavy attrition and misplaced management over some beforehand captured territory in a collection of humiliating setbacks.
Prigozhin claimed full credit score this month for capturing the Donetsk area salt-mining city of Soledar and accused the Russian Protection Ministry of making an attempt to steal Wagner’s glory. He stated Wagner was spearheading the assault on the town of Bakhmut, a close-by Ukrainian stronghold that Russian forces have tried to win for months.
Prigozhin has toured Russian prisons to recruit fighters, promising inmates pardons in the event that they survived a half-year tour of front-line responsibility with Wagner. He just lately posted a video wherein he congratulates the primary group of convicts that acquired official pardons and the precise to depart the corporate.
The U.S. estimates Wagner has about 50,000 personnel combating in Ukraine, together with 10,000 contractors and 40,000 of the convicts the corporate enlisted.
The U.S. assesses that Wagner is spending about $100 million a month within the combat and has taken supply of weapons from North Korea, together with rockets and missiles.
WHAT DO RUSSIA’S MILITARY BRASS THINK?
Wagner’s attain for North Korean weapons might mirror its long-running spat with the Russian army management, which dates again to the corporate’s creation.
A gaggle of troops presupposed to be Wagner contractors on the entrance line in Ukraine just lately recorded a video wherein they showered the chief of the Russian army’s Normal Workers, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, with curses for an alleged failure to supply ammunition.
Prigozhin himself castigated the highest army brass in latest months, accusing top-ranking officers of incompetence. His remarks had been unprecedented for Russia’s tightly-controlled political system, wherein solely Putin might air such criticism.
Earlier this month, Putin reaffirmed his belief in Gen. Gerasimov by placing him in direct cost of the Russian forces in Ukraine, a transfer that some observers additionally interpreted as an try to chop Prigozhin all the way down to dimension.
Prigozhin considerably toned down his harangues towards the army management after that, however remained defiant.
He additionally has more and more raised his public profile, issuing day by day messaging app statements to boast about Wagner’s purported victories and sardonically mock his enemies.
Requested just lately a couple of media comparability of him with Grigory Rasputin, a mystic who gained deadly affect over Russia’s final czar by claiming to have the ability to treatment his son’s hemophilia, Prigozhin snapped: “I don’t cease blood, however I spill blood of the enemies of our Motherland.”
HAS WAGNER BEEN SUBJECTED TO WESTERN SANCTIONS?
The U.S. slapped a number of waves of sanctions on Prigozhin and Wagner. The Treasury Division additional ramped up sanctions towards Wagner and affiliated firms and people on Thursday.
The European Union additionally has sanctioned Prigozhin and in December 2021 imposed sanctions on a number of folks related to Wagner and three Russia-based vitality firms linked to the group in Syria.
Prigozhin mocked the Western sanctions.
“We now have performed an inner verify to look into alleged crimes by Wagner however discovered no incriminating proof,” he stated, commenting on the most recent U.S. spherical.
He challenged Wagner’s accusers to ship proof of wrondoing to his press service.
Observe AP’s coveage of the struggle in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine