Vladimir Putin's 'private army': Everything to know about the Wagner Group and Yevgeny Prigozhin

The Wagner mercenary group has had a vital role for Russia in Ukraine, looking them up more closely reveals their influence and importance for Vladimir Putin has been far-reaching.

The infamous mercenary group who are keeping Vladimir Putin's hopes in Ukraine alive
© Mikhail Svetlov / Contributeur
The infamous mercenary group who are keeping Vladimir Putin's hopes in Ukraine alive

The Wagner group is a private military company officially registered in St. Petersburg, Russia, it started off as a force of mercenaries who are paid soldiers or hired guns as they are otherwise called.

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Nowadays the Wagner group is known for being involved in warfare, protection services, disinformation, and increasing Russia’s cyber capabilities, all areas which have played out according to Vladimir Putin's playbook.


The Wagner groupfirst appeared around 2014 with a 5,000-strong mercenary force, described as ‘the little green men’ because they were outfitted in green uniforms without any identifying markings and appeared in the streets of the Ukrainian region of Crimea, BBC reports.

Due to this operation Crimea since then was captured by Russia. Today, the Wagner group is believed to have approximately 50,000 soldiers fighting in Ukraine, and the force has had a vital role in realizing Vladimir Putin’s ambitions.

It is no great surprise that the Wagner mercenary group has been called ‘Putin’s private army’. Their importance goes beyond Ukraine. Their involvement was documented in Syria, Libya, and throughout the African continent.

According to Newsweek, the Wagner group has secured great riches by providing security services to the regimes in Mali, Sudan, and the Central African Republic. In turn, they received access to mines and other natural resources where they harnessed timber, diamonds, and gold.

In this way, millions of dollars are believed to have been stolen from people across Africa, and these riches have come in handy for the Wagner group which was able to bring in cash that was not touched by international sanctions imposed on Russia.

Although mercenary activities are illegal in Russia, the Wagner group has opened a headquarters known as a technology hub.

This is where it is financing research and development to have Russia become independent in military technology, cyber-warfare, and disinformation campaigns which have become known after their involvement in meddling with the US elections in 2016.

In all of their business activities the Wagner group has shown no regard for human rights, they are believed to be behind some gruel actions in Ukraine which are being investigated for war crimes.

Putin’s chef, Yevgeny Prigozhin

Behind the Wagner Group, there is a person called Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian billionaire known as ‘Putin’s chef’, said to have made riches in catering contracts for the Kremlin.

Prigozhin’s tactics are ruthless. For its plans in Ukraine, the group is said to have recruited mercenaries in Russian prisons but due to the many losses on the battlefield, lately the process has slowed.

This is why the Wagner group has reportedly begun recruitment of mercenaries in Syria, Afghanistan, and Serbia.

With the growing importance of his group in Ukraine, Prigozhin was one of the few Putin allies who repeatedly voiced public comments about the state of the battle, criticizing the Russian army, and calling for punishing those among Moscow’s elitewho are not supporting the war.

This is why analysts in the West have listed Prigozhin as someone who could one day replace Putin.

As of January 2023, the Wagner group has been designated by the US as a criminal organisation, Reuters reports.

Sources used:

-BBC: ‘What is Russia's Wagner Group of mercenaries in Ukraine?’

-Newsweek: ‘Here's Why Russia's Wagner Group Is Worse Than You Think | Opinion’

-Reuters: ‘U.S. designates Russian firm Wagner Group as criminal organization’

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