How Putin’s mercenary army, the Wagner Group, is doing the dirtiest work in Ukraine

Human rights groups also took notice of Wagner, accusing his staff of committing war crimes wherever they were deployed. But for Putin’s purposes, the mercenaries were deniable and cost-effective.

The Wagner Group does not employ a public relations officer who can explain its tasks in more detail. Your employees are prohibited from giving interviews. As such, the Kremlin can always give a ready-made shrug that it was unaware of their presence in a war zone. But most believe that there is no daylight between Wagner and the Kremlin. John Sipher, a 28-year veteran of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, says: “The Wagner Group’s operations are designed to plausibly deny Moscow, but the opposite is true. They work closely with the GRU, the SVR foreign espionage service, and the FSB, the post-Soviet KGB. They are irrefutable organs of the Russian state. Your denial is purely implausible.”

Illustration from The Sporting Press

Wagner steps in wherever natural resources and weak-security pro-Putin regimes require additional tactical muscle. Wagner units fought government troops in Libya. They were deployed in the Central African Republic, Sudan and Madagascar. Wagner was even spotted in America, in oil-rich Venezuela, where he supported President Nicolás Maduro’s narco-regime. Wherever they are sent, civilians are tortured, raped and murdered. Moscow denies, but in the age of smartphones it’s impossible to hide hard evidence that Russian nationals are involved in horrifying atrocities.

So was the only conventional combat that took place between Wagner agents and the US military. On February 7, 2018, about 600 Wagner fighters, supported by tanks and artillery, attacked a Syrian Democratic Forces position near Deir ez-Zor in the eastern part of the desert near the Iraqi border. The SDF contingent, mostly Kurdish fighters, was reinforced by elements of the US Joint Special Operations Command, including operators from Delta. AC-130 gunships unleashed air support from thousands of feet over the desert to assist the Americans and Kurds. What was not cleared from the air was left for Delta operators to sort through on the ground. More than 300 Wagner Group fighters were reportedly killed in the one-sided battle. Secretary of Defense James Mattis told Congress, “I have ordered their destruction.”

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