“Today, the entire planet has to pay the price for the ambitions of the West, for its attempts by any means to maintain its crumbling dominance,” Vladimir Putin
“So now I warn everyone who will try to join the occupiers on our Ukrainian land. This will be the worst decision of your life.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
“Whoever wants to understand National Socialist Germany must know Wagner.” — Adolf Hitler
“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.” Sun Tzu, The Art of War
I continue to be struck by the imaginative ways that mankind devises to destroy itself. What’s more, I am struck by the naiveté by which people hear words that come from national leaders’ mouths and accept some of them as truth and others as false, with absolutely no context or evidence for that analysis. This week I have been analyzing many of President Putin’s recent statements and how a select group of people has either chosen to believe what he is saying or elected to accept it in support of their already-formed presuppositions.
Please hear me when I say this: Putin is not the only world leader who spews lies and looks into the camera and says “trust me, it’s true. when he says a bald-faced lie.” To me, it seems like a pandemic among world leaders. Sometimes it feels as if people are no longer interested in the truth and leaders just give them when they want. However, I will save this topic for another day.
This week I want to discuss two things: One, President Putin’s penchant for unclever lying and, two, a specific lie he has told and continues to tell regarding, for all practical purposes, the deployment of government-trained and -funded mercenaries into Ukraine to hunt and kill Ukrainian President Velenskyy, his family members, and his senior cabinet. How do we discern if what is being said is true or false? It is not an easy exercise, but a necessary one.
The day before the invasion, Putin gave a speech in which he declared that Ukraine was actually a fake country, that it was really part of Russia if you thought about it, and that it was currently being manipulated by the West via neo-Nazi leaders with the avowed intention of destroying Russia. This being the case, a Russian incursion would be a war of self-defense and a war of liberation. This pseudo-history was delusional on any number of levels and was promptly refuted in practical terms by the stiff resistance mounted by Ukrainians across the board. The Ukrainians are not behaving as though they desire to be liberated.
On the other hand (and this is important), while there is absolutely no moral basis for the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, it is important in one’s support of Ukraine not to be ignorant. I believe sometimes, like now, we must take sides, but we should always do so in a way that allows for the expression of ideas and opinions by others. I say this because I understand that deception is a serious part of warfare. It always is. Knowing that truth will serve you well.
Many of the reports coming out of Ukraine have been pretty ludicrous. Here is just one example to give you a sense of what I am referring to. There was a Ukrainian pilot who purportedly shot down 6 Russian planes in the early hours of the war. This was not a story that could be verified and was almost certainly a manufactured morale booster. But the fact remains that it worked. Morale was boosted, and the Russians have yet to establish uncontested air superiority or to capture Kyiv. So mission accomplished, ghost pilot or no. As a result, Russians do not yet have a puppet government set up in Kyiv, with some Slavic stooge with Brezhnev eyebrows waving at all of us from some balcony.
“Lovers of Ukraine who simply buy this story or any others like it are perhaps being too gullible. And others who start jeering when it is revealed to be false, and who then start claiming that the CIA is therefore making up all of these stories are also being gullible, and in exactly the same way. Blind partisan allegiances always makes you stupid.”
It is my hope that as readers of More than Meets the Eye, we all become a part of the solution and not simply another piece of the problem. Let’s turn our attention to a very real lie that Putin is peddling now and has been for years: the problem of The Wagner Group and their deployment into Ukraine and Putin’s denial that he knows anything about it.
In 36 days of fighting on Iwo Jima during World War II, nearly 7,000 Marines were killed. Now, 26 days after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia invaded Ukraine, his military has already lost more soldiers, according to American intelligence estimates.
The conservative side of the estimate, at more than 7,000 Russian troop deaths, is greater than the number of American troops killed over 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. This is causing a host of problems for the Putin Regime and is putting a major crimp in the Russian military strategy. Clearly, President Putin and his leaders believed that the combat phase would be completed within a week and that the death toll would be a fraction of what is mounting daily.
It is this reality that is causing President Putin to mobilize an elite Russian military force, an entity that he claims does not exist, into the mainstream of the Ukrainian invasion plan. He is bringing in a mercenary company that, up until now, has been fighting in Africa and Syria. The name of this group is known now as Liga (in english “League”). It was formerly known as a company named The Wagner Group. I want to discuss this group in some detail as they could represent a model that has the potential to seriously commercialize the activity of warfare in the 21st century.
Because it is a private company, it supposedly has no ties to the Russian government, affording President Putin plausible deniability as to any actions that they might take. President Putin has gone to great lengths to distance himself from the day to day activities of The Wagner Group. I will use Liga and The Wagner Group interchangeably, as they are one and the same.
Who is The Wagner Group and Why are we talking about them?
The Wagner Group started as a contractor company of the lowest level. Until 2011, the company’s founder, Dmitry Utkin, served in Russia’s special forces, and, after retiring, became part of the private security company Moran Security Group, which protects commercial vessels against pirates. In 2013, MSG organized the Slavic Corps, a 267-strong unit that was sent to Syria following a contract with the regime to protect key energy sites, first in Latakia and then in Deir Ez-Zor and Shukhna. The Slavic Corps was ambushed by Islamic State in October 2013 and fought a single battle in which six of the mercenaries were wounded and the rest were withdrawn to Russia.
Dmitry Utkin used his connections and financial security opportunities to form a new squad around himself, then served successively in Ukraine in 2014 and again in Syria in 2015. This is how the Wagner PMC emerged.
Over time and with the accumulation of experience and capital, the organization increased its scale and became an independent unit to provide a wide range of military services. In just two years, Utkin managed to recruit ten times more people to Syria than he had in the beginning. The organization has its own training camp in Molkino, Krasnodar, and has had a Serbian unit since 2014, led by Bosnian Serb Davor Savicic-Elvis, who has been a close friend of Utkin since Ukraine. Due to the fact that, according to Russian law, citizens of the country have no right to have private military forces in it, Russia does not keep any documentation on the actions of the PMC. The company itself is registered in Argentina and, logically, Moscow denies any direct connection with it.
“From a legal perspective, Wagner doesn’t exist,” says Sorcha MacLeod, who heads the UN’s working group on the use of mercenaries. Instead of a single entity, Wagner is a network of companies and groups. According to a European Union regulation last December, implementing sanctions against the group and certain people, it was founded by Dmitry Utkin, a former Russian soldier adorned with Nazi tattoos. It was reportedly named after Hitler’s favorite composer.
In December 2016, Mr. Utkin was photographed alongside Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, at a Kremlin event, hinting at the group’s powerful ties. Wagner is thought to be funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman who is also alleged to run the Internet Research Agency, Russia’s “troll farm”. The Russian armed forces work closely with the group, reportedly providing it with munitions and transport aircraft. The head of Ukraine’s security services has likened Wagner to “a private army of Putin”.
So how effective is The Wagner Group? Note that this might not be a fair illustration, but I want to point out the significant shortcomings of a private military company (PMC) engaged in direct combat with an organized and well resourced, well-led, and well-trained fighting force. For now, these kinds of groups will probably be limited to lower intensity conflict scenarios such as counter-guerrilla and counter-insurgency operations.
First U.S. introduction to the Wagner Group in Syria
The clash on February 7, 2018, was sparked by a pro-Assad regime force, including mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group, advancing on an outpost manned by US special operators and their Kurdish partners.
That night, the pro-regime force opened fire on the outpost with a mix of tanks and large artillery and mortars, according to documents seen by The New York Times. The US forces at the outpost — made up of US Army Delta Force, Special Forces, and Rangers — took cover and returned fire with anti-tank missiles and machine guns.
The US and Russia had used a deconfliction line to avoid encounters as they operated in Syria, and US officials used it again at the outset of the attack, asking Russian officials to stop the attack without success.
When Wagner personnel began to bracket the US position, firing artillery on either side to pinpoint their aim, other US forces were “cleared hot” and opened fire, an official told Aaron Stein, director of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
The strikes by US drones, fighter jets, bombers, gunships, attack helicopters, and artillery that followed are believed to have killed 200 to 300 pro-regime fighters, including many Russians. Russian jets were in the air but were held at bay by US aircraft, according to Stein’s account.
“The Russian high command in Syria assured us it was not their people,” then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senators in April 2018. “My direction to the Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs] was that the force then was to be annihilated. And it was.” “The Russians claimed they weren’t theirs, and so those guys got lit up and lit up badly,” Aaron Stein, director of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said.
Once again, I bring up this engagement for two reasons. Though I am sure that many of the Wagner Group operatives are fine soldiers and mostly former Spetnatz operatives in it for the money. When pitted against a regular army special operations unit, they will find themselves outgunned most every time. US Special Forces, SEALS and Rangers, British SAS, Australian SAS, Burmese Gurkhas, German Command Spezialkräfte (KSK), Canadian Joint Military Task Force 2 (JTF2), French Commandement des Opérations Spécialesor the COS are just a few of the elite units around the world that would have little trouble handling the operators of The Wagner Group. The primary advantage of the Wagner Group Operatives is their age. They are usually retired from active duty Russian military and are between ages 35-55.
In modern warfare, experience, knowledge, and “old man strength” can take you a lot further on the battlefield than simple brute strength and physical endurance. Wagner’s Operatives have a lot of experience.
I am going to finish this edition with this cursory look at The Wagner Group. Next week I will finish it by discussing why I think the commercialization of warfare may be the way of the future in armed conflict. I will also discuss how the US, China, and the British use PMCs and how it differs significantly from how the Russians do.
I started this edition by discussing the notion that the use of the lie as a strategic weapon, though not a new strategy, seems to be growing egregiously among the world’s leaders. I quickly shifted to address the way that lies can be used to deny the undeniable and to become a major piece of foreign diplomacy.
The use of PMCs to carry out overt combat on behalf of a state with plausible deniability is something we should all be concerned about. The lack of accountability, the ability for world leaders to be able to carry out a foreign policy with no checks and balances, and the unbridled distribution of power to men driven by money and power are simply not a good thing. It is a worse scenario than what already exists.
De discerning about what you read, hear and see. Be careful to not form ignorant conclusions without validating what you are reading. Ignorance leads to unfettered passion and that leads to radicalization of the bad kind. It causes people to stop listening and to think even less than they already are. This leads to violence and anarchy. Don’t allow yourself to be attracted to radical messages without mining for truth first.
Read this article to see how China is already getting in on etc Private Military Company action globally. They May be leading the pack. I wrote an article last August 3rd, 2021 describing how they are fielding a private Army globally. Example as Deterrent… https://www.morethanmeets.co/example-as-deterrent/
For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org