The shady and mysterious Wagner Group has been working deep in the shadows of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to further Putin’s mission. The members of Wagner Group are highly trained and competent individuals who are generally recruited from the Russian special forces community. Now, many Russian and Western news outlets call Wagner Group a private military company, but this isn’t the whole picture. In reality, it is a way for Putin’s regime to train and deploy mercenaries to achieve objectives that benefit Russia. It is not a commercial entity and not even a legally registered company in Russia.
An estimated 400 members have already been sent into Ukraine with the objectives of sabotaging infrastructure and assassinating key figures of the Ukrainian government and military. Their overall goal is to cause fear and damage in Ukraine without taking collateral damage into account. These men are the ones likely responsible for the many attempted assassinations of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. When observing how Russian forces attacked Ukraine during the first few days of the invasion, we can understand their strategy and how Wagner Group likely held a key role during the initial moments of the invasion.
Using over 100 missiles and 75 bombers, Russia began the invasion with the objective of quickly grounding the Ukrainian air force and severely crippling Ukrainian armed forces. However, they were unable to fully strike and destroy key assets. The Russians also seemed to want to take the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and install a puppet government within the first few days of the invasion. They tried to achieve this with ground troops that quickly invaded from Belarus while simultaneously using airborne troops to seize Anatonov airport outside of Kyiv which would allow them to establish an airbridge to funnel in more Russian forces. Because of the nature of this strategy, it is almost certain that the Wagner Group played a key role. But like many things surrounding this conflict, we won’t know what exactly happened until it’s all over.
But the question then arises, why utilize Wagner Group at all and not only rely on other highly trained special forces that Russian leadership has at their disposal. Well to begin, Wagner Group has a long history of deployments in Syria, Sudan, Libya and even pro-Russian breakaway states in Crimea and the Donbas. So, many of these men have likely already seen combat and understand the nature of war much more than the average Russian soldier. Also, assassinating high value targets for example, is something that is far above the pay grade of most in the Russian military. Plus, using fighters who aren’t officially apart of the Russian military allows the Kremlin to distance themselves from the group if they are successful in carrying out the dirty work assigned to them. However, seeing how Russian forces have recently begun intentionally bombing civilian centers, Putin’s regime seems be less concerned with saving face when it comes to unsavory actions.
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Reynolds, Nathaniel. “Another Tool for the Kremlin.” Putin’s Not-So-Secret Mercenaries: Patronage, Geopolitics, and the Wagner Group, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2019, pp. 1–1, http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep20986.3.
Rondeaux, Candace. “Tracing Wagner’s Roots.” Decoding the Wagner Group: Analyzing the Role of Private Military Security Contractors in Russian Proxy Warfare, New America, 2019, pp. 32–44, http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep19981.7.
Rondeaux, Candace. “Defining Terms & Probing the Edges of Russia’s Proxy Strategies.” Decoding the Wagner Group: Analyzing the Role of Private Military Security Contractors in Russian Proxy Warfare, New America, 2019, pp. 16–19, http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep19981.5.