Wagner Group: Putin’s Mercenaries Now a Criminal Organization

Wagner Group: Putin’s Mercenaries Now a Criminal Organization

Wagner Group: Putin’s Mercenaries Now a Criminal Organization

While political junkies across the US played “Who’s Got Documents Now?” the United States labeled the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organization on Thursday. The Treasury Department also accused the group of atrocities, not only in Ukraine but internationally as well.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement:

“As sanctions and export controls on Russia from our international coalition continue to bite, the Kremlin is desperately searching for arms and support – including through the brutal Wagner Group – to continue its unjust war against Ukraine. Today’s expanded sanctions on Wagner, as well as new sanctions on their associates and other companies enabling the Russian military complex, will further impede Putin’s ability to arm and equip his war machine.”

Specifically, Treasury sanctioned eight individuals and 16 entities with ties to the Wagner Group, locking them out of accessing any assets they may hold in the United States. They also prohibit anyone in the US from doing business with them.

So what have they done? For one thing, the group has been receiving arm shipments from North Korea for use in Ukraine. But that’s just for starters.


Who and What is the Wagner Group?

In short, the Wagner Group, PMC, is a private military group. They want the world to see them as merely a legal business enterprise. But Wagner has extended its influence into Russian intelligence and its military. Putin, in fact, has been using them for Russia’s military operations in the Middle East and in Africa.

They’ve also been exacting “blood diamonds” in the Central African Republic to fund their operations, as well as recruiting prisoners there and sending them to Ukraine to fight.

Never mind that the Russian constitution specifies that the military and security belong only to the state, and that private military companies are illegal. There are loopholes, and as with just about anything in Russia, oligarchs can get their way with a nod and a wink from Putin. Thus, Yevgeny Prigozhin, oligarch and one of Putin’s BFFs, is able to operate the Wagner Group without it even being registered in Russia. In other words, on paper, this group does not even exist.

Wagner Group Prigozhin and Putin

Putin and oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0.

But Putin has allowed them swanky digs in St. Petersburg. Pretty good for a nonexistent military entity.

Red State military writer “streiff” notes that most of the Wagner Group’s personnel in Ukraine are paroled felons. Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently Prigozhin has made some prison visits, promising to expunge the records of felons in exchange for 6 months deployment to Ukraine. NSC spokesman John Kirby also reported that 40,000 of the 50,000 WG personnel serving in Ukraine are criminals.

The Russian people, however, are irate that these Wagner Group parolees are returning to their cities once their “tours” are completed. And who can blame them?


Atrocities Witnessed

Justyna Gudzowska and Natalie Dukhan are investigators for The Sentry, which reports on multinational predatory organizations such as the Wagner Group. In an opinion piece in Politico, they labeled Wagner as “Russia’s Bloody Sledgehammer,” writing:

“But if you consider the range and severity of Wagner’s activities — mass murder, rape and torture; using terror to subjugate civilian populations; control of territory; looting of natural resources; enlistment of foreign fighters; sophisticated, Hollywood-style propaganda glorifying the group and Russia — it presents much more of a global threat than the average criminal racket.”

The Wagner Group also enjoys snuff films. Reports surfaced of a Wagner member, 55 year-old Yevgeny Nuzhin, who had surrendered to the Ukrainians with the intent of defecting. He was executed by a sledgehammer to his head. Not only that, but Prigozhin promoted a video of the execution, and gave commemorative sledgehammers to units in the field he visited.

In addition, British author and counter-extremism researcher Jack Buckby reported in December that the Wagner Group is also targeting foreign aid workers assisting Ukrainian citizens. Atrocities, anyone?

One former member of the Wagner Group fled to Norway, where he recently spoke out about the executions he witnessed made upon his fellow soldiers while serving in Ukraine.

Hopefully more of these soldiers will be able to gain asylum and serve as witnesses to the atrocities committed by this barbaric militia.


The Wagner Group Are Not the SEALs

Prigozhin and his allies in Russian social media want the public to believe that the Wagner Group is akin to the Navy SEALs. But while they’re great at wreaking terror, militarily they’re not that formidable. Streiff writes:

“While Wagner Group may be the most effective segment of the Russian forces fighting in Ukraine, that is not a high bar to step over. They use WWII NKVD-style “barrier” units to motivate reluctant assault troops by shooting them if they retreat. A recent video has emerged of them using WWI-style charges to try and overrun Ukrainian positions. The ground they gain is at a high price, but they are using expendable manpower, so no one cares.”

Dr. Michael Rubin, Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, writes:

“When faced with a dedicated, professional army like the Rwandan Defense Force in Africa or most NATO armies in Europe, Wagner becomes the militia that wore no clothes.” 

Rubin also noted this result when Wagner was deployed to Bakhmut in Ukraine:

“Wagner Group deployed to the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut on Ukraine’s eastern front. They provided no magic solution in the face of the determined Ukrainian opposition. In fact, they appear to have fared little better than ordinary Russian forces …”

“When it comes to public relations, Prigozhin might top Putin. But if the standard is military prowess, they share the bottom of the same barrel.”


What is Treasury’s Strategy?

If the Wagner Group is really more of a paper tiger than a true threat, why the sanctions by Treasury?

Streiff surmises that sanctions are a strategy to divide Prigozhin from Putin and the Russian military:

 “… it could either force Wagner Group out of Ukraine and remove Prigozhin as a military power broker in Putin’s inner circle or result in the Russian Armed Forces absorbing Wagner Group and still forcing Prigozhin to the sidelines. Even if Prigozhin survives the power struggle, the animosity between him and the Russian military leadership will limit the combat effectiveness of his unit.”

On the other hand, former intelligence officer Irene Kenyon disagrees. In a personal interview, she stated:

“Yes, there are fractures between Prigozhin and his thugs and the Russian military, but I doubt the designations will do much to exacerbate those. The strategy is to cut Wagner off from resources, supplies, assets, etc., and sanction anyone who deals with Wagner … Wagner is also designated by the Bureau of Industry and Security as a military end user, so they can’t access any weapons, military tech, etc. that has any US-origin technology at all. The new designation might also prompt other countries to take more actions against the group.”

Time will tell if the sanctions upon the Wagner Group will be successful. They may be deficient in a military sense. But this is a truly evil group, willing to spread carnage throughout Ukraine, the Middle East, and Africa at the bidding of the malicious Vladimir Putin. Because what happens in Ukraine doesn’t just stay in Ukraine.


Featured image: cardin.senate.gov/uploads/cropped/public domain. 

Written by

Kim is a pint-sized patriot who packs some big contradictions. She is a Baby Boomer who never became a hippie, an active Republican who first registered as a Democrat (okay, it was to help a sorority sister's father in his run for sheriff), and a devout Lutheran who practices yoga. Growing up in small-town Indiana, now living in the Kansas City metro, Kim is a conservative Midwestern gal whose heart is also in the Seattle area, where her eldest daughter, son-in-law, and grandson live. Kim is a working speech pathologist who left school system employment behind to subcontract to an agency, and has never looked back. She describes her conservatism as falling in the mold of Russell Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles. Don't know what they are? Google them!

  • Hate_me says:

    Eh. There’s always a lot of hypocrisy whenever one nation goes after another for their use of PMCs, or whatever term happens to be en vogue at the time for hiding government interests behind seemingly independent actors… Air America, Contras… mercenaries adapted to a political environment that makes mercenaries illegal, and a lot of bricks get thrown in glass houses.

    Wagner Group might be toward the low end of the moral spectrum, but it remains a spectrum. Many do great things cleaner and cheaper than conventional militaries ever could (such as Executive Outcomes’ efforts in Africa).

    The vast majority of private military contractors I’ve met (I don’t believe any were with Wagner, but that may have changed) were simply damn good soldiers who took the chance to do a very similar job for considerably more money and considerably less bullshit. Like all groups of personalities, they run the gamut from honorable to father-raper, but most were on the very honorable end (which makes sense, as they’re often selected from a community that already vets for such).

    No, Wagner are not equivalent to SEALs, but you’ll never see SEALs designated to “ try and overrun [enemy] positions…” period, regardless of the tactics involved – they’re designed and organized for other things.

  • Scott says:

    Sorry Kim, tempest in a teapot.. as noted, they utilize the same tactics Russia used during WWII, when a DEMOCRAT made them our allies.. Now that we’re on the other side, we disapprove??? Russia is Russia, same tactics, same disregard for human life. This is communism, no point in getting panties in a twist over them. Either we stand up and fight them, or we acknowledge that these thugs are just an arm of the Russian military that we are unwilling to engage, and ignore their activities… Sanctions are pointless in this case..

    Note to Kevin, since I’m sure you’re misconstrue my comments.. the Wagner group are scum, garbage human beings that deserve nothing but contempt.. It doesn’t mean it’s worth going to war with a nuclear power helmed by a psychotic to oppose them..

  • Lemuel Vargas says:


    At least, the American Mercenary co. Blackwater is subject to the laws and regulations of the US forces, unlike the Wagner group w/c seems to be outside the purview of Russian laws and regulations.

    • Hate_me says:

      I’m not familiar enough with Russian law nor Wagner’s contracts to address how they are regulated while working for the tricolor.

      The reason I didn’t list Blackwater as an example is because, at least to my knowledge, they were never utilized as an independent/proxy force; there was never any deniability associated with them.

      They generally ran security missions in Iraq and were prevented from doing any of the real pipe-hitter jobs. However, the protections and regulations on their individual employees differed significantly from our uniformed joes. Nevertheless, they were never presented as anything other than acting on behalf of the US government (save when scapegoated for one poorly-investigated fight).

      Air America (some contend Wagner is just a part of the Russian apparatus and the PMC label is only a cover) and the Contras are simply more apropos examples of hypocrisy.

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