Putin’s Pocket Army? The Rise of Russian Mercenaries

Putin’s Pocket Army? The Rise of Russian Mercenaries, by David Isenberg.

Despite all the often negative publicity surrounding companies like Blackwater, Dyncorp, and numerous others operating in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 17 years, they essentially served as private security companies (PSC), guarding embassies, U.S. and coalition bases, convoys, officials, etc. PSCs carry guns, of course, and use them, but they are not engaging in what we would recognize as combat operations …

A PMC like the ones I am describing in Russia, on the other hand, is doing exactly that. It is carrying out offensive, military operations, just like a regular military unit would. While due to their relatively small size PMCs are incapable of engaging large-scale, combined arms operations, they carry out many of the tactics and strategies akin to special operations forces. …

But since the U.S. let the genie out of the bottle with its unprecedented use of private contractors in its Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Russia has taken it to the next level and has been using Russian PMCs — off the books — to conduct serious combat missions both in the Donbass region of Ukraine and in Syria.

In both countries, the PMC de jour, Russia’s Blackwater on steroids as it were, is something called Wagner. …

An interview with Fontanka’s reporter, Denis Korotkov, helps explain why Wagner is qualitatively different from the PSCs we’re accustomed to hearing about in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Can private military companies be involved in military operations? Certainly. They can guard bases and communications lines, and protect key human assets in zones of active operations. However! When a private company is armed with tanks, 122-mm artillery, and armored infantry vehicles, and it’s carrying out attack missions or performing tasks better suited to the special forces, that, in my view, isn’t okay.

122mm artillery, armored infantry vehicles? Not even in his wildest fever dreams did Erik Prince’s Blackwater have anything like that.

They’ve created a powerful pocket army operating tanks, armored personnel carriers, BM-21 Grads, and heavy artillery. What does it look like? It looks like a private army of Putin. If the situation destabilizes, God forbid, in Belarus or Baltics states or Moldova, the first to go there wearing civilian clothing will be the representatives of Wagner PMC.

According to InformNapalm,“Taking part in the annexation of Crimea and in the fighting on Donbas, Wagner PMCs is illegal under international law, even more so from the point of view of Russian law. It does not protect sites or escort objects but performs military tasks on an equal level with the national armed forces. The armed group is acting on the orders of the Kremlin and is supervised by the Russian special services, performing those military tasks in which the Russian authorities does not want to “blow” its regular troops. In other words, Wagner PMCs is a private and illegal special forces, secretly carrying out the criminal orders of the Kremlin.

And why is this a problem? Korotkov lays it out succinctly:

Because these people aren’t constrained by the law. Guys, if we’re using violence in the state’s interests, it should be done by the army, which has to comply with the laws of the state, which observes the laws of war. …And who are these people really? Who gives them their orders? Who are they fighting for? When we’re fighting for some oligarch, instead of our country — guys, I don’t know, but this is like something out of the 15th century. And I’m not even talking now about the fact that it’s simply illegal. The legal, ethical, and reputational losses here seem to me to be incompatible with any supposed benefit we could possibly be getting.

hat-tip Stephen Neil