Russian Mercenaries In Syria And Around The World

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This analysis originally appeared at SouthFront on January 28, 2017

The December 9, 2016 Kremlin celebration of the Fatherland Heroes’ Day brought attention to one of obscure components of Russian clandestine paramilitary capabilities, when a photo featuring President Vladimir Putin and the leadership of the so-called Vagner Private Military Company surfaced on social media.

Vagner is the pseudonym of Dmitriy Utkin, a retired member of the Russian Armed Forces who at the time of his discharge commanded the 700th Special Operations Detachment of the 2nd Separate Special Operations Brigade of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense.  He has gained experience in PMC operations while employed by the Moran Security Group where he participated in Somalia counter-pirate operations. Vagner’s deputy commander is also a Russian military veteran, Vadim Troshev.

Vagner represents Russia’s most ambitious experiment with the PMC concept. Elsewhere in the world, PMCs such as the Executive Outcomes and Erik Prince’s original Blackwater, which began as  corporate security outfits, have evolved into de-facto extensions of national military power, occupying the niche between covert action and the deployment of regular special operations and elite forces.

As of this writing, the Russian government has not yet adopted a clear policy concerning the existence of PMCs in Russia. While a bill was introduced before the State Duma that  would have provided a legal framework for Russian PMCs, it was tabled after some discussion. It would appear that the Russian government is in a “wait and see” mode, and the ultimate decision will depend on a number of factors. The first is the nature of Russia-West relations in the era of Trump, Brexit, and prospective wins by anti-globalist parties in the EU. Should the relationship evolve in the direction of cooperation rather than confrontation, it would reduce the need for PMCs. The second factor is the Syria experience, which is the the largest and most overt demonstration of the Russian PMCs to date, even though PMCs have been employed in achieving Russian state objectives for over a decade. Their usefulness has been demonstrated in Crimea and the Donbass, where a high number of quasi-PMCs were incorporated into the general concept of operation in order to fulfill missions that could not be performed by the Novorossia militias or regular Russian military forces for military or political reasons.

Syria is not only a more protracted and high-intensity operation, but also an opportunity to evaluate the relative advantages and drawbacks of relying on PMCs, as opposed to regular special operations forces and other elite formations. In that respect, Syria shows the evolutionary maturation of the PMC concept that gradually came of age during various operations in Central Asia, Caucasus, Crimea, and Donbass.  In contrast to the US experience which adopted a top-down model of PMC use, the precursors of the current Russian PMCs arose spontaneously, in response to market demands, as it were, both around Russia’s borders and around the world, and which tapped into a large pool of trained veterans of Afghanistan and Chechnya. Ironically, Russian PMCs owe a lot to the United States or other Western powers which used Russian “privateers” in a variety of operations, including in Iraq. Even Vagner’s operations in Syria are the result of Dmitriy Utkin’s initiative. It is only in the last few years that the Russian Ministry of Defense decided to weave PMCs into the broader array of forces at its disposal, and Vagner’s effectiveness has provided an additional stimulus toward formally institutionalizing the relationship between PMCs and the Russian MOD.

Since Vagner’s existence or participation in the Syria operation has not been officially acknowledged, there are no reliable reports on the number of Vagner operators or the functions they perform. Some estimates run into as many as 400 operators in the country where they are more likely to see frontline combat than the active duty Russian troops.  Vagner also suffered an unspecified number of casualties, including fatalities.

Finally, there is the question of what relationship will exist between the PMCs, the covert operations community, and the special operations formations on which the PMCs will naturally rely for recruits. The heavy US reliance on relatively undisciplined security contractors during its infamous Global War on Terror had the effect of increasing the death toll among the Iraqi and Afghan civilians who perished at the hands of PMC operators who were not accountable to either US or local laws, and of provoking an outflow of trained cadres from the US special operations units who opted for the far higher salaries and personal freedom that the US PMCs offer.

What that formalized relationship will look like may never be publicly known, for there are good reasons to maintain a certain level of secrecy surrounding what is, after all, an instrument of clandestine paramilitary action, which may also be a reason why a PMC law has not been formally adopted. However, considering that Vagner operators have received high military decorations for their contributions in Syria, it appears that Russian PMCs are here to say, and that they will enjoy a high level of prominence in the future. The recent talks with Libyan military leaders aboard the Admiral Kuznetsov suggest that Syria is not going to be the last battlefield for Russian PMCs.

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  • Manuel Flores Escobar

    The last US airstrike in Deir Ezzor was aimed to Russian PMC…for two reason..1º to discredit Putin as an strong leader… 2º to response of the twarted Israeli airstrike!…Putin should response with 2 point aimed at his election as a Russian president…1º To deploy S-400 in Deir Ezzor to protect Russian citizens in that area….2º To do the same in Damascus to avoid further Israeli airstrike which can hit Russian military servicemen!

    • Starlight

      The Americans didn’t start the attack until AFTER Putin gave them explicit permission to do so. This has been widely confirmed.

      • Tudor Miron

        confirmed by anti Russia trolls like you? Lol

      • George King

        It has not, link/s please.

    • Samantha Green

      ISIS Hunters had and still have plenty of ISIS to hunt many miles away from SDF and US forces and thus Russian PMC’s had no decent reason to be anywhere near Khasham or even Dier Ezzor.

      • Manuel Flores Escobar

        No troops go to a and oilfield yield without air cover knowing that USAF are going to attack them!…only ISIS or Al Qaeda as both are suicidal foces!…US attacks Russian PMC away of SDF areas!

        • Samantha Green

          The only attack I have heard about was near an SDF area and SDF oil fields. However Isis controls many square miles that are far from both, and can be hunted there.

      • Nosferatu

        First of all US forces have no reason whatsoever to be in any part of Syria.

      • Naija Lolade

        Did you foget U.S is also ISIS.. So PMC’s should be there hunting ISIS/U.S… See both even share S in common. Terrorist(S)

  • Starlight

    Tony Blair, the demon behind 911 and the mastermind of the Iraq invasion, reintroduced the massive use of ‘irregular’ forces in world conflicts- a once favourite method of the British Empire. Most of the boots on the ground, after the intial invasion of Iraq, were ‘mercenaries’- and Russia voted to give these murdering goons TOTAL IMMUNITY at the UN. So even when a bunch of US mercs went buck wild and machine gunned to death a bunch of random civilians, the following (vanishing rare) court case led to ZERO prison time for the murderers.

    Southfront- using usual zionist ingenuity- casts Russia as ‘unusual’ and ‘wrong’ for having its own ‘irregular’ forces. Well these people SAVED Novorussia when spineless Putin refused to officially invade Ukraine, end the neo-nazi regime, and PEACEFULLY help to partition that blighted nation into two new nations.

    The TRUTH is that Putin sold out these murdered Russians – and that Putin’s very public servile loyalty to KSA and Israel always comes first. Egypt, Turkey, KSA and Israel are rotten to the core, but each is 100% part of the Empire of the West. Yet Putin bends the knee to each of these four depraved regimes and ensures they receive every help from Russia to continue on their sick paths.

    Meanwhile ANOTHER jewish terror attack in Iran has just downed a passenger plane, like what happened in Russia a few days back. The Deep State uses the tactic of DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS when it can’t currently do something more directly malicious.

    Anyway its now open season on Russian irregular forces across the globe- thanks to Putin. But the brave Russians who fought and saved Novorussia already know the real nature of Putin- Putin is no ‘peacemaker’ but a zionist loving fool who’ll allow endless sores to fester if that’s what the jews desire.

    • You prefer to see all Europe a wasteland?

    • matt

      ALL empires used mercenaries

  • Ulriuch Schliz

    I am certainly not a defender of mercenary armies. But I have to say something in the defense of Russia. USA permit themselves the luxury to intervene wherever, including and mostly when there is no LEGAL or legitimate interest. If somebody and especially Russia, dares to defend even his legitimates interests they react with hellish condemnation, discriminations , sanctions etc.. If they do something it is good, although it might be a bloodthirsty slaughtering. Anybody else is discriminated for reaction whatever. So mercenaries are a decade old practice of NATO and USA. The most terrorist acts in Europe where the work of the secret army of “Gladio”. Without the Russian military protection the Crimean people would not have could vote peacefully fort there political future. Meanwhile the whole political and military theater is judged so onesidedly, it is logical that Russia has to pay with the same coin. Apart from this, I believe , althouigh both are capitalist powers, that the moral standarts of Russia are incomparably higher than the US ones.

    • matt

      And why would you believe that? They are two sides of the same filthy coin

      • James

        Because Russia has a defensive military policy….whereas the US is offensive. Just look at all the problems the US has caused. But somehow I think you already realise this ;)

        • Huzbin Farteen

          Putin making poop in pants because he so scared after Powerful President Erdogan spanked him! ha ha ha ha

      • Ulriuch Schliz

        I believe that simply by watching the facts. I have ideological differences with Putin and would like to have USSR back. But in the foreighn policy his actions are only consequent. and as a person he is brilliant. And independent from ideology he has high moral standarts. May be with another guy in charge we could have already WW3. HE has the pateince of an elephant. I know that Russia is a capitalist country now and this makes the future of my stement a bit unstable. But for now everybody can see the difference between USA and The Russian FEDERATION. I have contacts in Russia and I have some impressions from my time in Germany. Russian culture is simply very much solid than the obviously decadent US chewing gum culture. It is too easy to judge throwing everybody in the same bag. The rest James said.

        • matt

          The fact is that american culture spread all over the planet, not russian culture.
          As sad as it is to admit, we are ALL a little american. Consumers, individualists, pop music, jeans fashion, personal freedom instead of society deciding what is good or wrong. All these things are still spreading and growing.
          Be honest, would you like to be living in the USSR, where you could sleep all day and still get paid? Paid to buy crappy food and shitty products (bad copies of american products).
          Don’t get me wrong i am not a fan of the USA, but if we start talking facts here, these are FACTS!

          • Ulriuch Schliz

            A minimum of 60 % of Russians included the youth would accept USSR back. this is demonstrated in several polls. Our image about USSR here in the west was intentionally distorted all decades along. In the western picture about USSR practrically nothing is true. It is true that American culture is spread over the planet – unfortunately. I do not see this culture very positively. It is the same culture, which they tried to impose here in nicargua wth theit mercenaries in the 80ties – 55 000 people dead, plus orphants, mutilated and 17 000 000 million dollars in dammage etc.This with personal freedom -what are you talking about. To chose between hamburger and Cheeseburger?? Did the american Citizens decide about he wars, in which USA is involved all the time? does he decide about where his information cames from, which is completely monopolized.? What is it that you can decide in USA , what you couldn´t in USSR. In USA are more people imprisoned, than in USSR in the most troubled and difficult year. USA 2.8% of the adult population, USSR2.4 %. THe year metiones here in USSR was in the thirties. This number of USA is permanent and increasing

          • matt

            Well….except for ALL the people i talked with that grew up in the USSR. I never met one that liked it….I was born in 1966, so i had some time to talk with some people ;)
            The alternatives for american culture??? Tell me wich ones you would prefer?
            Without it there wouldn’t be gay rights, freedom of fashionstyle, thought, feminism and a whole lot of other things that ALL the other cultures condemned!
            You are not sincere here, sorry but Europe lifestyle is VERY much influenced by the USA, and even our little chat here comes DIRECTLY from that culture!
            You can deny the facts, but that would be hypocrisy.
            Sure, since the seventies the USA is in decline, and its getting from bad to worse, but just do NOT deny ALL the good stuff that it brought the planet….

          • Ulriuch Schliz

            Fact is fact and the polls are fact. I am absolutely in no duty to chose and define any special cuture here as an alternative to the US-american one.THe american one is not that impressing The US american – the official one for me is simply underdog – although nothing is just black and white. If you think that USA had brought something especially good to the planet just wake up -they didn´t. The opposite is the case: THe whole US world is a bubble which is to chap soon. USA´ scientific fundament is basically enriched by captured foreighn brains many from third world. The world is paying US wellfare by the Petrodollar. Whatever king Midas touched became gold (what made him starve) in the case of USA it is not gold but blood and suffering. Most American politicians (and not only them) deserve a trial in Nuremberg. I gave you some numbers and the sources. I know only three bigger cutural or political entities, with an openly supremacist concept: The Nazis, the Zionists and the American way of life (exceptional). (Perhaps is there some more) USSR saved world from fascism, meanwhile USA helped German fascism to power – for example. (They did). USSR did not exploit other countries, like USA do. Obviously you have no clue about what USSR was. But I do not blame you for this.I was also completly blinded by the daily and eternal anti- communist brainwashing. I do not say that Europe would be a better alternative -absolutely not, but even Europeans feel something that USA do nor belong precisely to the cultural and intellectual air force. USA needs a complete set back. But I am afraid it will happen the same like in Germany 1945: Only the bleeding snout might make the humbleness possible.

          • matt

            I disagree about polls being a fact and i agree with half of what you say about the USA. Yes they commit a lot of crimes and they helped the Nazis to power. They also helped the soviets building weapon factories to win the war afterwards, so they made profits on all sides!
            I disagree that the soviets did not exploit other countries. This process started under the tsars and went on untill today! Ask the cavcaz people (circassian geocide), the native siberians (several geocides), the central
            asians (afghan invasion) if they were exploited by the russians!!!
            The soviet union was a shithole!!
            You can read soviet propaganda if you like but the fact is that they killed more people then the nazis!!
            You are either a lunatic or a provocator…

          • Ulriuch Schliz

            So tell me why the polls are not a fact. They are!!!. They take place repeatedly. They are even organized with the purpose to to gain results against USSR and always USSR gets positive results. I have a very good contact in Russia, which certainly is not a communist. There is the same narrative – nostagia for USSR. (Similar picture with former GDR) The change in USSR to capitalism was a well organized coup d´état on long hand and had the cost of millions of lives by the falling live expectancy, but this is a mpore complicated case. Before the fall was a general poll where the overwhelming majority claimed for that USSR should persist. USA did not help to build weapon factories in USSR. In this area USSR was good enough by herself. (Compare the shitty SHERMAN with the T-34 ) The western supply to USSR of military material came only to a 4% of the whole miltary material applied by USSR. So tell me, which are the countries, which were exploited by USSR. and how did they do that. There were certain reactionary tendencies beginning in the time of Krushev, but it never came to the mega extensions like the in the western imperialist system. Here in Nicaragua the socialist countries helped a lot and we think always back with great gratitute. What does USA do for others. ?? (The state) Within the USSR it was Russia which subventioned the other republics. This came to the point that these republics even lived better than Russia hjerself and they thought, that it was it was by their own force. Bid error. Now they are all economic underdogs, with the exception of Belo Russia. They could not make it alone. Afghanistan was provoked- CONFESSEDLY – by the same creating terrorist groups like Al qaeda, and Russia did not steel a piece of bread there. I would like to see some evidence for what you say. But not just copy some links- name the facts. The whole information about USSR which came to the west for decades came from one single source – the “stay behind” net left back by the Nazis and coordinated after WW2 by western germany by Genera Rheinhard Gehgelen chief of wetern German secret service. The wise US-americans had for long time not even somebody who understood Russian. In this net were working all kind of fascists and war crimnals and secret service assets. This is where you have your “information” from. THis net nourished the socalled liberationist programm founded initiated by George Kenneth. All these entities overflooded the west with this incredible black propaganda. Later on the same Kenneth warned in times of reagan that there a too much distorted and unrealistic picture of USSR was drawn. USSR – by the way had to recover twice from complete devastation. In the first participated USA directly in the second indirectly. IF you observe the enormous result of crisis, imperial war and misery, that has originated the west and in first palce USA on this planet, then everything what was even invented against USSR remains like sand corn compared to a foot ball. USA is a bloodthirsty rogue state, which attacks its own citizens (9/11 fake – Las Vegas shooting fake – etc.) Get use of it – the USA are the ugly boy of the movie and nobody more than USA. And another fact you can think about : The supposed Ukrainian famine is a hoax, thousand times debunked. But it took place in USA – 7 000 000 died in by hunger in the thirties. So as a result USA is the one who is slaying and exploiting around the globe, fabricating calumies and decptions,slandering against their victims, causing misery and suffering even within its frontiers. The biggest collection of shitholes is USA on this planet – unequaled. and the world will present the bill one day.

          • Angela007

            Matt, a good debate with Ulriuch however, i did not hear any mention about the real threat in the world today which is Islam. You both talked about the death numbers of both the Nazi and Russia, but over the years this Ideology of islam has murdered more than the combined two. This is the biggest threat in today’s world…..

          • matt

            Nonesense!!! Where did you get this??? Soviets killed 20 milion, USA at least 10 milion.
            Islam is far away from these numbers

    • Jaime

      Gℴℴgle giving all people 97 dollars per-hr to complete easy jobs from home .. Labor only for only few peroid of time in a day & have more time together with your own loved ones … Any one can avail this official career!on Tuesday I bought a top of the range Citroën DS just after earnin $20400 last four weeks .without any doubt it is the best work but you can now not forgive yourself if you don’t try this.!re792d:↛↛↛ http://GoogleBrandMakingMoneyFast/make/99$/per/hr ♥i♥♥q♥♥♥r♥u♥♥g♥♥g♥♥q♥♥e♥♥b♥♥♥n♥r♥♥k♥m♥♥t♥♥m♥♥♥n♥♥h♥♥e♥♥h♥♥m♥♥♥q♥♥♥c♥♥♥c♥i♥♥d::::!aw12d:nll

  • Apache

    Russian terrorists

    • Nosferatu

      “We are speeding up training of ISIL forces” Barack Obama

      “Obama and Hillary created ISIL” Donald Trump

      What were you saing about terrorists, again?

  • matt

    Not a good thing, one dirty empire is more then enough…..

  • Private armies are a bad idea and should be illegal under international law – their loyalty is only to the highest bidder.

    • Ronald

      Not true. Blackwater, is intensely loyal to the USA, and Wagner is equally loyal to Russia.

  • RichardD

    A very well written article.

    • Mortal

      Count me in!

  • Bulgarian God

    More accurate – Russian terrorists in Syria and around world! :)

  • Ronald

    I would like to interject my congratulations to the Russian Hockey Team at the Olympics , they trounced the United States of America , 4 to 0 . A very big win .

    • EoF

      Fantastic. Now it’s time to trounce the nazi ukies in Ukiestan. PUTIN. DO IT. LIBERATE UKRAINE.

  • 888mladen .