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Ukraine says it killed Wagner’s mercenaries, who are they?

The controversial armed group has gone from being a shady mercenary enterprise to a public extension of the Russian military.

Controversial private military company Wagner Group is back in the news as Ukrainian authorities say several of its fighters have been killed in an attack on a hotel in the city of Kadiivka, in the Russian-occupied Lugansk region.

But who are the Wagner Group?

  • The private military company first emerged publicly during Russia’s 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea. There, Wagner’s fighters were among the so-called “little green men” (unidentified special forces) who occupied the region.
  • Starting in 2015, Wagner appeared wherever Russia had an interest: first in Syria’s civil war on the side of President Bashar al-Assad, then in Libya, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali, among other countries.
  • In Syria, Wagner fighters have been accused of torturing, shooting and beheading a defecting soldier. These claims have not been investigated by Russia.
  • In the Central African Republic, Wagner repelled a rebel advance on Bangui in January 2021. A statue of a Russian soldier defending a family was built in the capital, and an action film, The Tourist, glorified the group’s exploits. Human Rights Watch has accused mercenaries of torturing, executing, and kidnapping civilians in the Central African Republic.
  • In Sudan, he reportedly oversees gold mining operations, in collaboration with Sudan’s military government. Activists and bloggers accuse Russia of supporting the military coup in Sudan and stealing the country’s gold.
  • The European Union has accused the Wagner Group, whose members are mostly ex-military, of human rights abuses. The United States and the EU have sanctioned Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin for his role in the group.
  • The group is controlled by Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef” for his many catering contracts through a network of front companies.
  • For a long time, Prigozhin denied any relationship with Wagner, even filing complaints with the authorities after being questioned by journalists about it. But as Wagner’s role in the Ukrainian war has grown since February, he has moved into the spotlight.
  • In an online statement on September 26, Prigozhin acknowledged that he founded the Wagner Group and recruited a group of mercenaries in 2014 who “would go to protect the Russians” when “the genocide of the Russian population of Donbas began.”
  • In November, it inaugurated its first official headquarters in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg.
  • Once its existence became public, so did its recruitment efforts: Job postings reportedly offer salaries of 240,000 Russian rubles ($4,000) per month, far more than the salary of a typical soldier.
  • “Wagner has now become so public precisely because of the change in his status,” Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian security affairs, told Al Jazeera. “While once a deniable instrument of the Russian state at arm’s length… it is now little more than an extension of the military. It is an alternative source of combat manpower, necessary precisely because it is only a ‘special military operation’ and therefore the Kremlin cannot simply mobilize the men it needs.”
See also  Burkina Faso denies paying Russian mercenaries with mining rights

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