What is the Wagner Group?

RUSSIA — The Wagner Group is a mercenary group that has been fighting with the regular Russian army in Ukraine.

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The Wagner Group was founded in 2014 with close ties to Russian President Putin, according to NBC News. It was founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, 62. The United States last January called the Wagner Group “a transnational criminal organization.

Since 2014, the Wagner Group has operated in Syria, Mali, Central African Republic, and other countries, NBC News reported. Private military groups are somewhat illegal in Russia, but in Nov. of last year, the group opened offices in St. Petersburg.

It was previously formed to back pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, the BBC reported.

It is a group of private mercenaries that have worked to fight with the Russian army in Ukraine, the BBC reported. It is believed that there are thousands of Wagner troops in the Ukraine.

Around 80% of the group’s troops came from prisons, the U.S. National Security Council said earlier this year, according to the BBC.

“Wagner almost certainly now commands 50,000 fighters in Ukraine and has become a key component of the Ukraine campaign,” the UK Ministry of Defense said in January, the BBC reported.

The group began recruiting huge numbers of people in 2022 after Russia was having difficulty getting people for its regular army. According to the BBC, in the last few months, the Wagner Group and Russia’s military officials have been clashing. Prigozhan claimed that Defense Minister Shoigu and the head of the army in Ukraine, Valery Gerasimov of being incompetent and that they purposefully undersupplied its group.

Prigozhin was nicknamed “Putin’s chef” because he provided catering, food for the Kremlin, according to the BBC.

The name of the Wagner Group came from the nom de guerre of its leader, Dmitry Utkin. Utkin was a retired Russian military officer and is believed to have chosen Wagner as a way to honor the composer that is said to be a favorite of Hitler’s, according to The New York Times.

“It operates in a situation of opacity, there’s a real lack of transparency and that’s the whole point,” said Sorcha MacLeod, chair of the United Nations Working Group, according to the Times.

Russia has denied ties to Wagner but MacLeod says that has helped Russia and Wagner Group to create some distance. It also has helped Russia to “downplay its battlefield casualties and distance itself from atrocities committed by Wagner fighters, observers say,” the Times reported.

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