In theory, private military companies [SMP] have no citizenship in Russia, under the Penal Code, article 359 of which prohibits military activities abroad other than those carried out by the regular forces. And those who dare to derogate from it risk sentences ranging from 7 to 15 years in prison. And this, it had been explained, because the Ministry of Defense and the Russian security services [dont le FSB] wanted to avoid the appearance of armed organizations which, financed by oligarchs, were likely to end up harming the interests of the State.
On the other hand, in practice, it is different since the Kremin tolerates paramilitary groups, as long as they serve its interests. Several have therefore emerged, including Slavonic Corps [immatriculuée à Hong Kong]RSB Group [établi à Moscou] and, of course, Wagner, which recently inaugurated its headquarters in Saint-Petersburg.
Founded by Dmitri Utkin, a former member of the GRU [renseignement militaire] and by Evgueni Prigojine, nicknamed “Putin’s cook”, the Wagner group allows Russia to extend its influence in Africa, as we have seen in Libya, Mozambique [mais sans réel succès] in the Central African Republic and Mali. And Burkina Faso could soon be added to this list. He was also engaged in Syria… And, currently, he takes part in the war in Ukraine, where he would be engaged in the battles of Bakhmout.
His involvement is difficult to pinpoint. In April, a European official, quoted by AFP, said that 10,000 to 20,000 mercenaries or Syrian and Libyan fighters were engaged alongside Russian forces. It is not easy “to estimate exactly how many of these 10 to 20,000 men belong to the Wagner group”, he admitted.
However, a month earlier, British intelligence had published a more “reasonable” estimate, saying that just over a thousand Wagner employees had been deployed in the Donbass. [sud-est de l’Ukraine]. And he stuck to that assessment until December 23. In effect, according to the BBC, the numbers of the paramilitary group would have increased significantly to reach 20,000 fighters. Or 10% of the total Russian forces on the ground.
“The group is now playing a much more visible role in the war in Ukraine” and, having “traded off quality for quantity”, it now faces the same challenges and battlefield casualties as the Russian army in broad sense,” British officials told the BBC.
To expand his ranks, Wagner would have massively recruited in prisons. At least that’s what open-source intelligence suggests, with the number of detainees dropping by 23,000 between September and November, when the group was looking for fighters.
Anyway, recruiting is one thing… But equipping recruits is another. However, according to the National Security Council of the White House, North Korea would have delivered a large batch of weapons to the Wagner group.
“North Korea made a first delivery to Wagner, who paid for this equipment. Last month, [elle] delivered shells and missiles to Russia for Wagner,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. And to specify that the paramilitary group spends “100 million dollars each month for its operations in Ukraine”.
Note that American intelligence does not make the same assessment as that of its British counterpart about Wagner’s involvement in Ukraine…. Since he estimates that the group would have 50,000 fighters there…
“There has been no arms transaction with Russia,” denied North Korean diplomacy. Which is correct in theory… since Wagner is not an emanation of the Russian government stricto sensu. As for Mr. Prigojine, he likened John Kirby’s remarks to “gossip”. “Everyone knows that North Korea has not supplied weapons to Russia for a long time. And no such action has been taken,” he said in a statement.
Be that as it may, for Washington, “it is obvious […] that Wagner is on the way to becoming a rival power to the regular Russian army and other Russian ministries”. What’s more, Mr. Kirby explained, “For months, the Russian military has relied on Wagner to lead the fight in certain areas of Donbass and in some cases, Russian officers are actually subject to Wagner’s orders.”
However, the troops of this paramilitary group are “poorly equipped and badly trained”, which would explain their “heavy losses”, especially in Bakhmout. As for Mr. Prigozhin, Mr. Kirby continued, he “has no regard for human life” and “seems much more interested in his influence in the Kremlin than in the men he recruits to fight in Ukraine.” . All that matters to him is to look good with [de Vladimir] Poutine ».
Moreover, Iran intends to continue its arms deliveries to Russia. This is indeed what David Barnea, the head of the Mossad said. [renseignement extérieur israélien], during a speech delivered on December 22. Which, by the way, confirms the suspicions of the United States, which said it was worried, on December 10, about the “large-scale military partnership” and “ever deeper” between Moscow and Tehran.
“We warn of Iran’s future intentions, which it is trying to keep secret, which is to deepen and expand its supply of advanced weapons to Russia,” he said. Barnea. “We had already shone the spotlight on arms deliveries to Russia, despite Iran’s lies […] familiar to us,” he recalled.
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