Traces of Prigozhin Maniacs: “Wagner” as an Instrument of Russian Expansion in the World

Wagner

This war clearly showed the world many previously hidden features of the “mysterious Russian soul”: pathological lies, cruelty, gluttony. And these are not just individual manifestations of the aggressors’ behaviour — they are institutionalized, organizationally designed, and branded.

One of the most notable Russian brands of recent times was its private military company Wagner. Its mercenaries, also known as “musicians,” are run by “Putin’s personal cook” Yevgeny Prigozhin. In the eighties, he spent nearly 10 years in prison for theft, fraud, and robbery. This did not prevent him from becoming a successful businessman in Russia, having created the Concord company, which specializes in the field of catering, in particular, feeds senior officials of Russia.


However, it was the business on blood that brought Prigozhin real glory. PMC “Wagner” can hardly be called a private enterprise. This structure, which grew out of the hybrid war in Ukraine, combined a dubious status from a legal perspective, a criminal culture, subordination to the Kremlin, access to state weapons arsenals, information and propaganda capabilities, and experience of operations on different continents of the world. We are dealing with a new shadow organization that replaces the state. A kind of “alien” from horror films that has matured on the state body of Russia.

During the hybrid stage of aggression against Ukraine in 2014, the existence of Wagner was the secret of Polichinelle of Russian politics. Prigozhin even sued EU officials to deny his connection to the PMC. Even during the French president’s February visit to Moscow on the eve of the full-scale invasion, Putin lied in Macron’s eyes that Russia had nothing to do with this company.

And since the second half of 2022, this group has already been responsible for assault actions in the whole direction of the Russian aggressors — the Bakhmut one. There is evidence that the Wagner PMC is armed with heavy artillery and even combat aircraft, on which recruited mercenaries fly. The armed group, which is actually outside the legal field, openly recruits mercenaries from among the convicts right in the penal colonies.

Prigozhin’s mercenaries no longer hide and even resort to bold criticism of the high command of the Armed Forces of Russia — up to the head of the Russian General Staff Gerasimov.

Since the summer of 2022, PMC Wagner has become a powerful PR brand of Russian propaganda, which is used to give marketing novelty to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Stories about the success of mercenaries regularly appear on Russian television, and Wagner is positioned as an elite part of the Russian army. 

Since last year, Russian cities began to advertise mercenarism in the ranks of PMC Wagner on billboards 

On January 20, this year, the US Treasury Department recognized PMC Wagner as a “transnational criminal organization,” which provides for the introduction of new sanctions against it and its global allies.

The decision is natural because the area of activity of Prigozhin’s mercenaries is not limited to Ukraine. Back in the summer of 2020, a group of Wagnerians was arrested in Minsk by the Belarusian KGB. Lukashenka, who now obediently fulfils Putin’s will, at that time suspected Moscow of attempting a coup d’état involving the “wandering musicians.”

PMC Wagner has also left traces in more distant countries from Russia, where Moscow also reaches. The Centre for Strategic Communication recalls Putin’s “soldiers of fortune” track record.

Sledgehammer Traditions in Syria

Since 2015, the Wagner formations have been providing military support to the pro-Russian regime of Bashar al-Assad during the civil war in Syria.

Although the Wagnerians were quick to declare themselves “ISIS hunters,” their main specialization in the sands of the Middle East was the seizure and maintenance of oil fields.

In the fight for Syria’s natural resources, Prigozhin’s opponents were often not the terrorist “Islamic State,” but the forces of the anti-Assad opposition, which enjoy the recognition and support of the United States, Turkey, and other influential external actors.

On February 7, 2018, during an attempt to recapture oil fields near the city of Hasham (Deir ez-Zor governorate) from the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Wagnerians managed to feel the superiority of Western weapons and tactics of warfare for the first time. An assault detachment of mercenaries was discovered and completely destroyed by American aircraft and artillery.

The criminal and sadistic pattern of PMC Wagner became widely recognized precisely in connection with its “work” in Syria. In the summer of 2017, a two-minute video was published, in which several armed militants communicating with each other in Russian, kill a man with a sledgehammer while listening to a song with the words “I take a heavy machine gun off my shoulders, shoot the son, then shoot the mother.” Later, the executioners dismember and burn the victim’s body.

Freeze frame from the video of the execution of a Syrian by Wagnerians

Arab and Russian journalists were able to establish the circumstances captured in the terrible footage. The victim was 31-year-old Mohammed Taha Ismail Al-Abdullah, a deserter from Bashar al-Assad’s government army. One of his killers was identified by journalists as a mercenary of the Wagner PMC. The place of execution in Syria was also identified, and this cleared all doubts about the possible presence and involvement of the Wagnerians.

Neocolonialism in Africa

Back during the war in east the of Ukraine, Russian mercenaries became an instrument of the Kremlin’s powerful neocolonial expansion in African countries. Since 2014, Wagner has been providing peculiar services to clients from among Putin’s friends in more than 20 countries of the African continent. In many of them, the presence of entire Wagner contingents is recorded.

Currently, the Putin regime, with the help of its mercenaries, is effectively controlling the CAR and Mali. Thus, it uses the resources of these countries to obtain illegal profits and continue wars, in particular, in Ukraine. Notably, it was Wagner PMC that played an important role in the military coup in Burkina Faso in October 2022.

Demonstration with Russian flags during the coup in Burkina Faso

The wide geography of the ambitions of the illegal Russian group is evidenced by the propaganda campaigns of Prigozhin’s mercenaries in Africa. Thus, in 2020, Facebook deleted accounts created by Wagner specifically for lobbying Russian policy in the CAR, as well as in Madagascar, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, and South Africa. 

In early 2022, Facebook also deleted accounts linked to Wagner in the Gambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe. It was for publishing false information about the war in Ukraine, which ultimately led to the pickup of disinformation by local journalists.

  • The US Treasury Department found that Prigozhin was funding missions that “observe over the elections” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.
  • Thus, Wagner, in addition to power control, also spreads disinformation in Africa, manipulating the media and interfering in election campaigns to bring dependent proxies to power.  
  • “Since 2017, the Russians have begun to penetrate the CAR: to supply weapons, military instructors — allegedly for training the regular army, to provide other assistance, including financial. And by the end of 2018, Touadéra began to be, in fact, in direct dependence on them. He is surrounded by Russian advisers, instructors, and intelligence officers,” Frenchman Dominique Christophe Reneto, who witnessed the penetration of Putinism into Africa, told Novaya Gazeta. 
Russian propagandists in their Telegram posts rejoice that “Russian Africa is to happen” and build new imperialist dreams of capturing Africa — in response to France’s assistance to Ukraine.

Indirect evidence suggests the involvement of Prigozhin’s mercenaries in the murder of three Russian journalists – Alexander Rastorguev, Orkhan Dzhemal, and Kirill Radchenko, who came to investigate the activities of Wagner in the CAR in 2018. 

Notably, Wagner, through controlled media, tried to accuse France of killing journalists: allegedly with the aim of ousting Russia from Africa.

As in Soviet times, the Kremlin pursues its neocolonial policy in Africa under anticolonial slogans. In Mali, a network of Wagner Facebook pages promoted Russia as a “viable partner” and “alternative to the West,” popularized Wagner. Local media often repeated these narratives, publishing interviews with Russian officials who praised the “advisers” from Prigozhin’s PMC, while claiming that the company was a victim of the information war because of its role in “destroying the neocolonial system.”

Dmitry Utkin (Wagner) is Prigozhin’s business partner and the commander of his militants. Among other things — an open admirer of the SS, which does not prevent Putin from taking pictures with him. It was Utkin’s call sign that gave the name to the Wagner PMC. 

At the same time, there were also cases of mass terror and murders in Africa, such as the Ukrainian Bucha, in which the Russians are suspected of involvement. Thus, at the end of March 2022, there were reports of the massacre of at least 300 civilians in the village of Moura in central Mali. 

Witnesses reported that Malian forces and about 100 white Russian-speaking men put the victims in the lines of 15 to 20 people, ordered them to kneel, and executed them. Human Rights Watch called the killings the worst crime in Mali in a decade. 

Terror is combined with PSYOP. Thus, on April 19, the French withdrew their forces from the city of Gossi in Mali, and after that, the Wagnerians spread a fake that allegedly the bodies of the executed people were victims of the French military. 

Discussing Prigozhin’s role, senior propagandist Solovyov said he was doing phenomenal things in Africa. These things caught the attention of more than just Solovyov.

On November 21, last year, French President Macron made a sharp statement about Russian neocolonialism in Africa. “All it takes to see that the Russian project, which is being implemented there when France is pushed aside, is a project of predation, is to look at what is happening in the Central African Republic or elsewhere” Macron said. “This is done with the complicity of the Russian military junta,” UP cites his words.

Recruitment in the Balkans

Another country, which drew the attention of Prigozhin’s predators, was Serbia. Against the backdrop of new tensions with Kosovo, the Serbian office of RT began its work in November. And at the same time, a representative office of Wagner was opened in Serbia, which operates under the cover of the autonomous non-profit organization Russian-Serbian Cultural and Information Centre for Friendship and Cooperation Orly.

The legalization of the representative office of the Russian PMC in this country was made possible with the assistance of the newly appointed director of the Security and Information Agency of Serbia, Alexander Vulin, whom most local experts directly call an agent, or “liaison officer” between Moscow and Belgrade. The Wagnerians have already stated that one of the goals of the centre is to fight against Russian oppositionists who moved to Serbia.

The activity of Russian militants in the Balkans has caused concern of the US State Department. On January 12, diplomatic adviser Derek Cholle drew attention to RT’s information support for the recruitment of Serbian mercenaries for the war in Ukraine.

Finally, even Serbia’s pro-Russian president, Aleksandar Vucic, was forced to respond“Why are you, from Wagner, calling someone from Serbia when you know that this is against our laws? Have we not lost enough heads in all the wars?”

Wagner as a Global Threat

In addition to other dishes, the menu of the “Putin’s cook” boasts of its own “troll factory.” Prigozhin’s “trolls” even interfered in the US elections in 2016, which the head of Wagner himself admitted on November 7: “we interfered, we interfere, and we will interfere. Carefully, surgically and in our own way, as we know how to do. During our punctual operations, we will remove both the kidneys and the liver at the same time. Prigozhin’s statement sounded like a threat, but already in the direction of democracy and the United States.

Threats and terrorist methods in general are quite typical of the Wagnerians. In November 2022, they killed their former colleague Yevgeny Nuzhin with a sledgehammer, and the video of the murder was posted on the Internet. Almost immediately, with a transparent hint, Prigozhin sent a sledgehammer imitating traces of blood in a violin case to the European Parliament. In December, unknown persons threw sledgehammers at the courtyard of the Finnish Embassy in Moscow.

And all this does not prevent the Putin regime from being as loyal as possible to Prigozhin’s activities: criticism of the military command, the opening of business centres, and even providing prisoners from the colonies.

Prigozhin clearly has serious political ambitions, which are deliberately fuelled by the Kremlin to intimidate the democratic world and the remnants of the opposition in Russia itself. Despite all his odiousness, he has many sincere fans who are impressed by the brutal lawlessness of Wagner. Prigozhin can also count on his illegal army. He understands that the presence of power support gives a good chance to compete in the future for the main throne, which in Russia can suddenly get empty.

Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security

Media version of the material can be found on the Obozrevatel website

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