The Kremlin’s incursion into Ukraine has tested the limits of Russian global political prowess. As the Kremlin’s “special military campaign” plods on, Putin takes steps to prop up its military with a private military company (PMC) called the “Wagner Group.”
Reports suggest that Russia’s offenses have significantly weakened since the start of the war, leading Putin to announce the partial mobilization of an additional 300,000 reservists in September. As Putin also claimed to have annexed 15% of Ukraine, including Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, and the self-declared independent People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, Ukraine has reportedly begun to recapture territories it initially lost.
What Is The Wagner Group?
In testimony to the House Oversight Committee, Kimberly Martin, a professor at Barnard College and Columbia University, reported that the Wagner Group is a private military company serving as a mechanism of the Russian Federation armed services’ general staff. The group recruits and trains Russian and pro-Russian veterans on temporary contracts. The group’s essential function is to conduct specialized training and support Russian forces, as well as Russia’s foreign policy enforcement.
Earlier this month, the Kremlin began to recruit IT workers for Putin’s war.
In similar efforts, Russia has exploited the collapse of Afghanistan for the war, recruiting at-risk Afghan nationals with the promise of jobs, asylum visas, and protection from the Taliban. An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Afghan nationals, including former resistance fighters have joined Russia’s side.
Three Afghan generals reportedly stated Russia’s 20,000-30,000 recruits include former commandos who served with the U.S.-NATO mission to Afghanistan for the war effort in Ukraine. The generals claimed that the Wagner Group oversees Afghan refugee recruiting.
“I’m not at all surprised that the Kremlin is trying to involve the Afghan Commandos in their war,” Kseniya Kirillova, a Russian society expert and analyst told American Pigeon.
“Back in July, military analysts loyal to the Kremlin noted that Russia lacked the manpower for a massive offensive. At the moment, Moscow is actively recruiting for combat not only prisoners, but also the homeless,” Kirillova explained.
The unofficial nature of Wagner recruiting also takes advantage of Islamist insurgencies across Africa, The Financial Times wrote. The group’s growing global influence and recruiting potential pose security risks to the Western rule-based law.
More Than Numbers
In the case of recruiting Afghans, the motivation goes beyond adding numbers to the Kremlin’s war effort renewal.
“Mercenary detachments are being actively formed in the regions of Russia, however, according to Western military analysts, they will not be able to meet the needs of the army in combat. Despite defeats at the front, Vladimir Putin does not appear to have abandoned his plans to attack Odesa and Mikolaiv in case he fails to persuade Ukraine and the West to accept the annexation of occupied Ukrainian territories,” Kirillova wrote.
“However, analysts seriously doubt the possibility of such an offensive. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if Putin tries to bring in additional forces, especially those who used to work for the US, trying to humiliate America at the same time,” she added.
A New Wagner Center
Wagner’s new private military center (PMC) was set to open on November 4. This is the first official facility for the Wagner agency.
This news leaked via obscure Telegram channels. Then, on October 31, Wagner Chief Yevgeny Prigozhin highlighted the process in a Telegram exchange with Ekaterina Ryazanova, a correspondent for Kommersant out of St. Petersburg, Defense One reported.
“The PMC Wagner Center is a complex of buildings in which there are places for free accommodation of inventors, designers, IT specialists, experimental production and start-up spaces,” Prigozhin wrote in the statement.
He also stated the mission of the group.
“The mission of the PMC Wagner Center is to provide a comfortable environment for generating new ideas to improve Russia’s defence capability,” Prigozhin said in his statement.
Long Term Incentives
Lawfare notes the political immunity the Wagner Group has from the outcome of the Ukraine war. As a for-profit entity that is an arm of the state, Wagner provides post-war career opportunities to Russian veterans. As in the case of Afghanistan recruits, Wagner has opened post-service opportunities to its forces. With this logic, Wagner has ramped up incentives among Tajiks, Belarusians, and Armenians, according to U.S. defense officials.
The group also brings in global profits from the Kremlin’s private ventures. While offering support in Ukraine, Wagner has also managed to maintain Russian foreign interests, including the support of war efforts in Africa.
The war in Ukraine has cost the Wagner group significant losses, the U.S. Defense Department stated in September. Renewed growth efforts bolster the strength of the group,with long-term incentives. Wagner supports the Russian state’s capacity to unofficially be many places at once. The group’s services are cost-effective, making them sustainable for the Kremlin longer-term than official state ventures.
Lawfare noted that Russia will “almost certainly” keep using the Wagner Group after the Ukraine conflict regardless of the outcome. With growing regional instability, Russia can use this strategy long term with destabilizing incentives abroad.
Threat To The West
Because of its long-term war profiteering and destabilizing capacity, the Wagner Group poses long-term threats to Western interests worldwide. The Wagner Group can divide the West on world conflict issues, and sow confusion about Russian state involvement. Security analysts are concerned that the Wagner Group will use its covert operations to create conflicts across the post-Soviet space, reclaiming greater territory for Russia.
Russia’s Internal Conflict
Wagner’s magnate poses a potential political risk to Vladimir Putin, Newsweek reported. Prigozhin has reportedly joined forces with the ultra-nationalist militia organizer Igor Girkin to increase the influence of the parallel military structure.
As the two political influencers join forces, they create a likely constituency backing for Prigozhin that could jeopardize Putin’s influence. Russian political dissidents explained to The Guardian that the Wagner Group officials have as much influence at present as Russian Federation ministers. This has led political commentators to speculate whether Wagner could destabilize the Russian ministry, and cause Putin’s downfall.
Russian Collapse and Wagner
The political instability caused by the losing Russian war effort in Ukraine has many humanitarian implications. World hunger risk is increased. Russia recently suspended its agreed participation in the Black Sea Initiative with Ukraine.
Wagner is also currently taking advantage of the Russian Federation’s political instability, and Asia’s recent humanitarian crises. The growing influence of Wagner can make it a more attractive group for new recruits, putting global security into question as Wagner becomes a more prominent paramilitary actor in geopolitics.