In the harsh modern geopolitical situation, characterized by hybrid warfare between the engaged actors, bloodhounds of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin have once again fallen into media disfavor – I am, of course, talking about the Wagner Group. Some of the Kremlin’s mercenaries were thirsty for some fun, so they decided to mangle a Syrian man and set his headless body on fire. As Putin’s friend – the late Gaddafi – would say: “War is war, and all methods are justified ….” however, there is one but – the Earth is round and the boomerang almost always comes back!
I already wrote that the predecessor of Putin’s Russia, the USSR, often used special forces to engage in different provocative activities that sooner or later resulted in a wider military conflict. For instance, the Winter War between Finland and the USSR: NKVD units provocatively fired at a border post of the USSR, which resulted in the USSR’s aggression.
In the recent past, we can recall Russia’s military aggression against Moldova and Georgia in 1991-1993, the 2008 war in Georgia and the recent events in Ukraine.
In a sense, the Kremlin’s unsuccessful offensive against Georgia in 2008 gave a powerful impetus to form an army of mercenaries to serve the interests of Putin’s regime – because, as it turns out, those damned shoes, the bike and the golden fork were stolen by a soldier of the Russian Armed Forces, not some mercenary. Back then, the uniform of the Russian Army was badly tarnished. After the events of August 8, 2008, the Russian Armed Forces officially acquired the status of an army of thieves and marauders. After the Russo-Georgian war, markets in North Ossetia were filled with everyday items stolen during the war!
There is something else quite interesting. Considering Putin’s recent geopolitical actions that concern the expansion of his “Russian world”, one can conclude that there is absolutely no difference between Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008, those polite green men in Crimea in 2014, the pro-Kremlin militants in Donbass and now also Wagner mercenaries in Africa and South America. An army of mercenaries is excellent for supporting like-minded regimes around the globe, be it Syria, Central African Republic, Libya or Venezuela, and it would not be possible to do so officially in accordance with international law by engaging the Russian Armed Forces. It is much easier done using janitors and coalminers who were able to buy assault rifles in the local household goods store.
Putin has essentially succeeded in creating an army of cutthroats funded from Russia’s defense budget. In the conflict areas, Putin’s men are permitted to do anything – you can rape, kill and steal because you are not wearing a Russian army uniform, so the poor Syrian man should not have been surprised that his arms and head ended up being cut off.
Additionally, these mercenaries are not subject to any international law, including the Geneva Convention. Putin’s mercenaries themselves are not aware that even if they are currently alive, they are already Putin’s victims, because he can spill their blood as he wishes. If they were to fall on the battlefield somewhere in the deserts of Africa, Putin’s regime will not be obliged to inform anyone – neither their families, nor the Russian public, and especially not the media!
In the circumstances of modern hybrid warfare, mercenaries are essential for Putin to carry out provocations and engage in wider military activities that do not have to be explained to the public. So Russia’s private mercenary armies are in essence executing the same tasks that were previously given to special forces.
Consequently, if Putin does not have to explain anything, he can – at just the right moments – completely forget about his mercenaries, even allowing the Americans from time to time to hug them like some stray dogs. So a real Wagner mercenary must be willing to die like a fool in the name of Putin, because it definitely is not – and even could not legally be – in the name of Russia. One can assume that the majority of these adventure seekers are not even aware that by signing a mercenary contract with Putin they simultaneously become the doers of his dirty work, as well as scapegoats. Mercenary armies like Wagner engage in dirty work abroad in the interests of Putin’s regime, just as Soviet special forces did in Africa under the guise of military advisors.
Whenever I hear or read that peace in Syria is ensured by Russian private security companies, an ironic smirk creeps over my face as I remember the video where one such fake security officer is using a shovel to cut off the arm of a live Syrian… those are some impressive security companies the Russians have established! There is another benefit to mercenary armies, namely that any savage can apply and be accepted, as long as they can carry a gun. And if you have already been convicted of murder – excellent, welcome to the Wagner family!
It may be that the poor Russian boy, the blasted mercenary, was turned into a psycho because the service conditions offered by Wagner were not the best and most likely correspond to the best practices of the USSR. It is also possible that he did not receive the promised payment, as often is the case in Donbass. But if you start complaining, you will be sent to welcome a Ukrainian, American or even an ISIS bullet! You also should not be surprised if on the day of payment you get a bullet to the head from your own commander.
What can we learn from all this? One thing – there is no reason to believe that Russia is any different from the USSR. The latter no longer exists, but its modus operandi is still being held in high regard in Russia. There is no doubt that Russia’s mercenary armies are carrying out the Kremlin’s policies and operate with its support. Otherwise, these establishments would not be able to legally exist, and it would be unprecedented naivety if law enforcement institutions would be unaware that there are organizations within Russia that engage in criminal activities and are armed with weapons available only to the army.
*Independent investigative journalist Zintis Znotiņš