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Global Wagner: Prigozhin's blood-soaked network uncovered

Updated: Mar 4

Following the dramatic events beginning on the 23rd of June, which saw Wagner Group’s mutiny shake the red-brick and ornate marble of the Kremlin, I, alongside many others, are only coming to terms with the sheer scale of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mercenary force.

Given that the Wagner Group is a shady and poorly monitored paramilitary organisation, it seemed that Prigozhin’s force was made up of nothing but thugs and convicts - particularly with over 32,000 prisoners handed Wagner contracts as part of the campaign in Ukraine, according to the Kyiv Independent.

However, tweets from the UK Ministry of Defence in January shed some light on the true scale of Prigozhin’s high-profile army.

Revealing that the force has “up to 50,000 fighters”, it also stated that Prigozhin only admitted to owning Wagner Group in “September 2022”, indicating that the operations of the paramilitary organisation had been kept hidden since its first emergence in 2014.

As it turns out, since 2014, the mercenary force has expanded its operations in Europe and across the globe, profiteering off of Russian influence over unstable nations and regimes. Such regions include the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

On the European continent, the mercenary group has operated specifically in Ukraine. In its earliest form, small groups of mercenaries - which later amalgamated into the “Wagner” group - were deployed on sabotage and reconnaissance missions (according to but were not part of offensive operations in the Donbass War (2014-15).

In the current conflict, Wagner’s contribution has been the decimation of the Eastern Ukrainian City of Bakhmut, in which Prigozhin declared victory in May 2023. In light of the gruesome battle over the city, it has become clear that the private military company (PMC) prides itself on its brutality.

In addition, Wagner has been reportedly involved in several middle eastern conflicts, according to DW news.

In Syria, Prigozhin’s forces were deployed to fight alongside Russian soldiers during the Civil War, to support the Assad regime in 2015. Its force in the war-torn country rose to around 5,000 men, with much of it being withdrawn following the Russian invasion into Ukraine in late February 2022. Its campaign in Syria is arguably viewed as Wagner’s experience of active combat.

Alongside operations in Syria, around 2,000 mercenary fighters are reported to have been involved in Libya since 2014.

After the dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, was toppled in 2011, the nation descended into a civil war, split between ad hoc eastern and western administrations. Wagner has aided warlord and leader of the Eastern Government, Khalifa Hifter, providing military training as well as support during assaults on the Western Libyan administration in 2019. When examining the PMC’s global operations - Africa in particular - the group often falls under the guise of military instructors or advisors.

However, the PMCs presence in the African continent uncovers how Prigozhin, an oligarch, has personally gained and enriched himself through acting as Russia’s private hammer of influence and terror, primarily through exploiting the extraction of raw materials.

This relates to Wagner’s presence in Sudan where the organisation acts as Russian influence over the extraction and deposits of materials such as gold, silicon and uranium.

Furthermore, as recently reported by the US anti-corruption organisation “sentry”, in the Central African Republic, the Wagner group has direct influence over national resources such as diamonds.

Such influence over raw materials coupled with the reported $250 million collected by Prigozhin from the PMCs oil and gas ventures (revealed by business insider) begins to shed light on the scale of Wagner’s profits from their operations.

Therefore, it is no surprise to discover Wagner Group’s presence in Venezuela, where Russia is in pursuit of access to the country’s premium oil reserves. Reuters revealed that the group were there to protect President Maduro in 2019 - it is not difficult to speculate that Prigozhin will have wasted no time in exploiting his position.

It seems that observers and analysts are only beginning to untangle the twisted web of Prigozhin’s mercenary campaigns, and even more elusive, how their leader has profited and reaped the reward by preying on unstable Governments and countries across the globe.

It must also be pointed out that Wagner Group has, in all of its campaigns, committed war crimes. For example, there have been accusations of Wagner committing horrific war crimes during its campaigns in the middle east and Africa, including the acts of rape, torture and looting.

It has also been revealed that in cooperation with the CAR’s President Faustin-Archange Touadera administration, Wagner provided ‘ultraviolet’ torture training, which involves the maiming and burning of humans to extract information. This exemplifies that Prigozhin’s forces are adept and accustomed to committing egregious and inhumane acts - not only on prisoners of war, but on civilians as well.

It is clear that the PMC has built up a blood-soaked reputation across the globe and - following its alarming revolt, from which Prigozhin has been cheered as a hero of the Russian people - it is evident that this monster is growing out of control, with ambitions for power and dominance over others, at all costs.

Image: France 24

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