The Wagner Group: Origins and Early Deployments

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In just a few years, the Wagner Group has emerged as one of Russia’s most (in)famous organizations, in particular for providing security services to pro-Kremlin factions in various warzones around the world. The outfit officially does not exist; it has a shadowy leadership, and it maintains close ties with the military and intelligence services of the Russian Federation. Often described as a private military company (PMC), meaning a mercenary enterprise offering security services to customers operating in dangerous areas, the Wagner Group is actually a conglomerate of firms whose ownership can be ultimately traced to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a rich businessman with close ties to the Kremlin. Besides security-focused entities, it includes energy and mining ventures – the typical clients of other PMCs. This is not only an example of a group controlling separate firms that operate in synergy, but is also an expression of Russia’s peculiar governance structure, where a few oligarchs who control strategic economic sectors are granted access to Putin’s circle and therefore exert considerable political power. The end result is significant overlap between public and private interests; and this has been a major driver of recent Russian foreign policy and how the Wagner Group has been dispatched around the world.


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