Counter-Terrorism: Wagner Group Makes The Terrorist List


February 20, 2023: A month ago the United States issued multiple sanctions against members of the Russian Wagner Group and those affiliated with Wagner Group. The United States defines much of what Wagner Group does as a form of terrorism. Some of it definitely is. Most of the criminal offenses were committed by Wagner Group personnel sent to Africa, where the profits from legal and illegal activities were abundant. More recently, a Chinese space satellite manufacturer and satellite operator was sanctioned for selling the Wagner Group satellite imagery of Ukrainian military units and facilities. These imagery services aided Wagner Group in its recent offensive against Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine. During these operations Wagner Group members committed numerous atrocities and war crimes.

Then there was the Wagner Group activity in Ukraine, which received far more publicity than the more lucrative dirty deeds Wagner was guilty of in many parts of Africa. For Ukraine the Wagner Group recruited convicts with the promise of a pardon if they served six months. This backfired when it became known that only about 20 percent of the first convicts recruited survived their six months and received their pardons. Recent recruiting efforts show that far fewer convicts are willing to volunteer and, justifiably, feel safer serving out their sentences. Russia has now officially banned recruiting prison inmates.

The Americans are not the only ones criticizing Wagner Group. About the same time the sanctions were announced, Russian leader Vladimir Putin settled a dispute between the Russian generals in Ukraine and the commander of the Wagner Group. Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was in trouble with his patron, Vladimir Putin, for feuding with Russian army commanders in Ukraine over credit for some recent victories. Prigozhin wasn’t going to get fired but Putin sided with the army generals and had to publicly criticize Prigozhin to make sure everyone got the message about the limits of the Wagner Group forces in Ukraine.

Wagner is a profitable international operation that reports directly to Putin. It was sent to Ukraine because the Russian army needed help, not competition. Prigozhin organized the largest Wagner Group force ever for the Ukraine operation and did it with money supplied by Putin. For the Ukraine operation Prigozhin assembled 10,000 of his usual military veterans and over 40,000 cheaper and less skilled convicts recruited from Russian jails. Putin took care of enabling that and the use of pardons for the convicts who joined. Some of the convicts had some military experience but most did not. They received six-month contracts of which some was devoted to brief but intense training, unlike most Russian troops which get no training at all. The convicts were not told that they were being used in high-risk operations under the supervision of veteran Wagner personnel. Many of the convicts recruited realized they were unlikely to survive their six-month contract and later deserted, or attempted to, rather than be killed in combat. Apparently most of the convicts recruited were lost to massive desertion as well as combat casualties. Despite that, during the last few months, the Wagner Group force was one of the few Russian units in Ukraine capable of defeating Ukrainian forces. The Ukrainians took fewer casualties but had to give ground against the Wagner force.

The only other effective Russian forces in Ukraine were a few airborne units. Those were composed of well trained and led Russian troops that the army could not afford to lose in the kind of attacks the Wagner Group was making. Prigozhin made the mistake of criticizing the airborne troops, and army forces in general, for being less useful than the Wagner Force. Putin was putting a lot of time and money into training and equipping more Russian troops to join the airborne units in a few months for a major offensive. Prigozhin did not pay sufficient attention to this and his boss Putin was not pleased. The Ukraine Wagner Force continues as part of a larger Russian army plan and its leader will obey army commands and bring in lots of hard currency and precious metals and gems from its African operations.




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