The New American Foundation has issued a new report on Russian private military security contractors (PMSCs), including Wagner, the mercenary force controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, confidante of Vladimir Putin and financier of the Internet Research Association, which waged a large scale social media campaign to help Donald Trump before and after his election.
The report illuminates how Putin’s government has privatized security and intelligence operations, creating parallel forces related to but independent of the Russian intelligence services–FSB, GRU and SVR. Prigozhin is a Russian equivalent of Erik Prince, a mercenary entrepreneur who has the ear of the chief of state.
Some of the findings of the New America report.
- PMSCs “are pivotal players in ongoing proxy wars in the Greater Middle East and its periphery. They provide targeting intelligence, training, logistical support, infrastructure protection, and backstop proxy militias and paramilitary groups in key hotspots around the world, including Ukraine, Syria, and Libya
- Neither fully within the state nor outside of it, PMSCs are, in theory, an attractive way of lowering the costs of intervention while extending Russia’s reach. In practice, the Kremlin’s reliance on PMSC operations in fragile states has gained Putin and his closest political allies many benefits. Yet, PMSCs also pose substantial risks for a regime determined to keep a lid on domestic outcry over its military adventurism and to manage blowback.
- Many PMSC groups are reconstituted units formed from security services such as the FSB, GRU, and VDV. They have imported wholesale the organizational structures and operational culture of those institutions.
- Strategic state-run enterprises constitute a substantial part of Russian PMSCs’ client base, making them integral to informal networks that shape Putin’s domestic politics and foreign policy.
- Russian PMSCs did not begin with the Wagner Group or Wagner’s titular head, Yevgeny Prigozhin. The Wagner narrative conceals a larger more enduring system of intertwined state and private networks.