Private Military Contractors
"arbitrary executions and killings"
In February 2022, Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine. The Russian army send to carry out his orders committed numerous atrocities. Amongst this invading force, is the Wagner Group, a brutal mercenary army.
Composed of various nationalities, the Wagner Group is led by a Russian white supremacist with strong Nazi sympathies, and the unit has been given orders to conduct a reign of terror against the civilian population of Ukraine.
Established in 2014 by former Russian special forces soldier Dmitry Utkin, a veteran of the Chechen wars, the Wagner Group first participated in the annexation of the Crimea. Utkin had previously served with the GRU, Russian military intelligence.
The group, which was composed of Russian military veterans, and would eventually become involved in security operations throughout the world, was initally part of the Slavonic Coprs, which was involved in operations in Syria.
The group, some 276 contractors, participated in the conflict by guarding oil fields. On October 18, 2013, the unit came under attack in the city of Al-Sukhnah by a force of six thousand Jaysh al-Islam fighters.
With Syrian army suport, the fighters assumed defensive postions, and were only saved by the intervention of a desert storm that covered the battlefield. With six Slavonic Corps members wounded and having failed their mission, they returned to Russia.
Once on Russian soil, some of the contractors were arrested by the FSB and detained as mercenaries. Utkin then founded the Wagner Group, that had been born out of the blood of the Syrian battle, during that disastrous military operation.
Utkin’s Little Green Men
Upon returning to Moscow, Utkin formed his own mercenary unit, known as Wagner Group, named after the German composer Richard Wagner. It is believed this is became Utkin hold strong Nazi sympathies, and has several Nazi tattoos, including a swastika.
The group became involved in the killing of four separatists commanders of the Luhansk People’s Republic, who were assassinated because of their opposition to Moscow. By June 2017, the US government imposed sactions against Utkin as head of Wagner Group.
After involvement in the Crimea and Donbas, where its members were known as “little green men” because of the uniforms they wore, members of Wagner Group were sent back to Syria where they became involved in both Palmyra offences in 2016 and 2017.
During this operation, 32 contractors were killed and 80 wounded. The objective of the unit was to secure all ISIL-held oil fields from the terrorist group. Besides killing ISIL terrorists, the Wagner Group also trained Syrian army units.
From December 2017, Wagner Group soldiers took part in the Syrian Civil war, in such engagements as the Battle of Khasham in February 2018, and the later that month during the securing of Damascus.
Around this time the Wagner Group consisted of several units, most notably the Serb unit commanded by Bosnia Serb Davor Savicic, and the Rusich unit, which has been described as a “sabotage and reconnaisance group,” as well as a neo-Nazi unit of far-right extremists.
By September 2019, the unit was preparing to take part in an offensive on the rebel-held city of Idlib. In mid-January 2020, the group were involved in several tense stand-offs with US soldiers, who blocked Russian military vehicles from using a highway in northeastern Syria.
The unit had been involved in numerous war crimes in Syria, and on December 13, 2021, The US imposed further restrictive measures against Wagner Group and Utkin, who was accused of being “responsible for serious human rights abuses committed by the group, which includes torture and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings.”
Invasion of Ukraine
In February 2022, Vladimir Putin launched his ill-judged invasion of Ukraine. The Russian army began launching attacks from the North, North-West and East of the country, with the intention of taking Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.
It was reported that more than 400 Wagner Group mercenaries were flown from the Central African Republic, where they had been conducting operations, and were sent on a missing to assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The number of mercenaries in Ukraine had trebled in late-March 2022, and they were focused on the Donbas region. Reports soon emerged that Wagner Group had played a leading role in the Bucha massacre of more than 1,300 civilians.
In early July 2022, it was reported that Wagner Group were recruiting from two St. Petersburg prisons, offering inmates amnesty and cash incentives if they volunteered for service in the Donbas, from which they were told, “almost nobody will return.”
The Wagner Group units in Ukraine are composed of mostly Russian, Syrian, Chechen, Belarussian and even Ukrainian civilians and former military personnel. Under Utkin’s command, these men are given a free reign to rape, torture and murder indiscriminately.
With the on-going conflict in Ukraine, it is likely that Moscow will send more mercenaries into the war, where they are used to terrorize the local populations. It is men like these that the Ukrainian army and civilians now face on a daily basis.