Understanding The Wagner Private Military Company

Understanding The Wagner Private Military Company

There is a massive misunderstanding about the Wagner PMC. I want to try to clear up some of the confusion and erroneous assumptions.

First, Wagner PMC was created by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence organization. Think of it as the CIA’s Special Activities Divsion (SAD) on steroids. It is a para-military unit that carried out missions under the cover of a PMC but was controlled by the GRU. Wagner gave Russia the ability to carry out military missions without putting the reputation of the Russian military on the line. The military commanders of Wagner are former Spetznaz and conventional Russian military.

Second, Wagner PMC was a Russian military contractor, albeit “covert.” The cover was not robust but Wagner could project Russian military force without being overtly seen as a direct Russian operation.

Third, Prigozhin is the business CEO of Wagner. He has zero military experience but is an established contractor, just like Raytheon or General Dynamics in the United States. He handled (or mishandled) the money flowing to Wagner and probably spread the wealth among some commanders. The cash flow from Wagner added to Prigozhin’s wealth. It also fed his ego and provided him the illusion of being viewed in Russia an important military figure.

Fourth, Prigozhin reportedly cut a deal in 2018 with a Syrian warlord to capture a Conoco oil field in a portion of Kurd-controlled territory, which was defended by a small group of U.S. Special Operations Forces. This was the Battle of Khashsam aka the Battle of Conoco:

The Battle of Khasham, also known as the Battle of Conoco Fields, was a military engagement of the Syrian civil war fought on 7 February 2018 near the towns of Khasham and Al Tabiyeh in the Deir ez-Zor GovernorateSyria. The Operation Inherent Resolve coalition delivered air and artillery strikes on Syrian Armed Forces and pro-government militias after they reportedly engaged a U.S. military and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) position in the region.

The United States explained the attack by stating that the pro-government forces had “initiated an unprovoked attack against well-established Syrian Democratic Forces headquarters” in the area, while coalition service members were “co-located with SDF partners during the attack 8 kilometers (5 mi) east of the agreed-upon Euphrates River de-confliction line”.[18][19][20] The Russian Ministry of Defence‘s statement, released on 8 February 2018, referred to the incident at the village of Salihiyah (located south of the SDF-held town of Abu Hamam in the Abu Kamal District) and said that it was caused by reconnaissance actions of Syrian militias that had not been cleared with the Russian operations command; the statement stressed that there were no Russian service members in the “designated district of the Deir ez-Zor province of Syria”

The United States, from its Joint Air Operations Center in Qatar, asked its Russian counter parts if there were any Russian personnel in the area, according to the New York Times:

American military officials repeatedly warned about the growing mass of troops. But Russian military officials said they had no control over the fighters assembling near the river — even though American surveillance equipment monitoring radio transmissions had revealed the ground force was speaking in Russian.

The documents described the fighters as a “pro-regime force,” loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. It included some Syrian government soldiers and militias, but American military and intelligence officials have said a majority were private Russian paramilitary mercenaries — and most likely a part of the Wagner Group, a company often used by the Kremlin to carry out objectives that officials do not want to be connected to the Russian government.

“The Russian high command in Syria assured us it was not their people,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senators in testimony last month. He said he directed Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “for the force, then, to be annihilated.”

This is the origin of Prigozhin’s anger with the Russian Ministry of Defense. Prigozhin, going rogue as part of a scheme to make some big money not tied to Wagner’s contract with the Russian MOD, authorized the attack and got burned.

This apparently was one of the motives for Prigozhin’s eventual meeting with Ukrainian and Western intelligence officers in Africa, which led to his harebrained scheme to take out the Defense Minister Shoigu and Chief of Staff of the Russian military, Gerasimov.

Apart from Prigozhin the other guilty party in the failed mutiny is the GRU or, more specifically, those GRU officers responsible for managing the PMC. It is highly likely that Prigozhin may have bribed his GRU handlers with some of the cash he earned on the side in order to get them to look the other way and allow him to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities. Those officers may be in more trouble than Prigozhin.

Wagner PMC is now consigned to history. It is kaput as a PMC. This explains why the MOD ended the contract with Wagner aka Prigozhin and established a dead line for moving the Wagner troops under the direct control of the Russian military.

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Author: Larry Johnson