”I am a representative of a private military company—you may have heard of it, it’s called Wagner.” A man paced in front of a group of prisoners in black prison uniforms, and said in a calm Russian, “I will take You get out of here alive, but there’s no guarantee you’ll come back alive.”
The video, which has been circulating on social media since September, shows Russia’s largest private mercenary organization, the Wagner Group, recruiting prisoners from the country’s prisons . The contract is attractive: half a year of combat service can be exchanged for 600,000 rubles (about 70,000 yuan) and a pardon for the rest of the sentence. The man who gave the speech was Yevgeny Prigozin, the founder of the Wagner Group.
Mercenaries, a special and ancient warrior class. Its English “mercenary” comes from the Latin “merces (salary or salary)”, which also means that their combat motivation is profit rather than politics, just as the United Nations’ first criterion for its judgment: “mainly out of great interest Participate with desire, and accept the promise or payment of material compensation.”
In the modern military market with diverse supply and demand, mercenaries include experienced combat elites and shadow killers who exchange their lives for money. They went to the front line of the conflict on company orders to perform covert missions for clients in various countries, but they have always been notorious for their ethical and legal disputes.
Faced with criticism of the prisoner recruitment, Prigozin responded in a statement: “Those who don’t want mercenaries or prisoners to fight … please send your children to the front.”
Music, Film, and the Sledgehammer
Since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in February this year, both countries have been mobilizing round after round of conscription to replenish their troops. As Russia’s alternative strategic resource, the Wagner Group has gradually stepped out of the gray area and played an increasingly important and public role on the Ukrainian battlefield.
In May of this year, the results of Wagner’s mercenaries in Popasna, Ukraine, were broadcast for the first time by the All-Russia State Television Broadcasting Company. Russian journalist Sergei Zenin said: “This front has its own military ‘orchestra’, which is always deployed where the fighting is intense but not mentioned.” The
Wagner Group takes its name from German Romanticism Composer Richard Wagner. This famous figure in the history of classical music was once favored by Hitler because of his anti-Semitic thoughts, and was revered by the Nazi party as the “spiritual godfather” of the theory of racial superiority and inferiority. As a musical symbol of Nazi Germany, his works are still boycotted by Israel.
For this reason, Wagnerian mercenaries called themselves “musicians” in “orchestras” and “tours” in foreign battles. Music elements can always be seen in their publicity posters: for example, a soldier in camouflage uniform is intoxicated playing the violin in the center of the screen; or in the silhouette of the poster, a soldier with a gun kneels on one knee, and a Young boys play the piano together—“Just for the good music,” the tagline reads succinctly. The
Wagner Group has also begun to wrap itself in the narrative framework of heroic adventure films, forming a “Wagnerian universe,” as it were. The three war films “Coup Passengers”, “Sunshine” and “Granite” funded and shot by him will be released in 2021. They all tell the story of Russian military advisers who have gone through twists and turns to protect local residents after being sent to Africa and other regions. The main character of the instructor in the film is based on the Wagner mercenaries who are frequently active in the local area, and even the group performances are filmed by real mercenaries.
The Wagner Group takes its name from the German Romantic composer Richard Wagner.
Promotional poster for Wagner’s mercenaries, with the slogan: “Only for the beautiful music”
In October this year, the first war movie “Hell’s Edge” that directly reflects the situation in Russia and Ukraine was released in Russia. The film is based on the siege of Mariupol between Wagner mercenaries and the Ukrainian army. It has won the love of military fans with its extremely realistic combat techniques and fighting scenes. The soldiers in the film are still played by Wagner mercenaries, and the commander Alexei Nagin also served as the screenwriter, but he was killed two weeks before the film was released.
In addition, group messages and social media advertisements have also become important sources of influence. An advertisement on Russia’s largest social networking site VK reads: “Want to spend an unforgettable summer with new friends and earn money? Wagner offers you travel projects in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
” It is unbelievable that a mercenary organization in a gray space can make such dazzling propaganda. But now, the accessibility of Wagner’s recruitment network seems to be no different from that of shopping mall security: men aged 24 to 50, citizens of any country except the European Union, NATO and Ukraine, $4,000 a month, working for a minimum of four months, Criminals are welcome…
This series of metaphors and beautification of military operations, on the one hand, reflects Wagner’s brand ambitions as an important Russian armed force, and on the other hand, it also reflects his anxiety in reality-they have to expand their recruitment scope to supplement front-line troops . As for deserters who were more likely to appear, they would be executed extrajudicially with a sledgehammer in accordance with Wagner’s “tradition”.
In a promotional photo of Wagner, a soldier sits on the ruins and plays an accordion, while another stands next to him and carries a long sledgehammer. For these “employees”, it seems that they have no choice but to join this dangerous ensemble.
Wagner’s image publicity photo
Prior to this, Prigozin had a better reputation as “Putin’s chef”.
A businessman who doesn’t want to wear camouflage is not a good cook
On the morning of November 4, Prigozin walked out of a newly completed building in St. Petersburg, Russia, wearing a camouflage uniform. The exterior of the building is dominated by silver gray, and the white “Wagner” logo can be seen at the entrance and on the top of the building. This is the first official headquarters and military technology center established by the Wagner Group.
Prigozin said that in order to help the development of Russia’s military industry, the headquarters will provide free accommodation for inventors, designers and IT experts, as well as experimental production and entrepreneurial space to support the most promising and effective ideas.
This is seen as another important step in Prigozin’s high-profile involvement in defense since he first admitted in late September that he was indeed the founder of the group. Prior to this, Prigozin had a better reputation as “Putin’s chef”.
Prigozin was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1961, a fellow villager with Putin. As an adult, he was imprisoned for 9 years for theft, robbery and other crimes. After he was released after serving his sentence in 1990, he started selling hot dogs on the street, and became the owner of a high-end floating restaurant on the Neva River in just a few years. Here he had the honor of serving Putin.
A few years later, Prigozin’s company was awarded lucrative government contracts to provide long-term catering services to senior Russian officials. In a classic photo taken in 2011, Prigozin stood behind Putin to the right, slightly sideways and lifted the cover of the dinner plate for him. Putin, on the other hand, sat on a chair, pouted while looking at the dishes in front of him.
According to Prigozin himself, the Wagner Group was established on May 1, 2014. “I took an inventory of my old weapons and body armor and brought in some military experts (veterans). From that day on, a group of patriots was born, who later became Wagner.”
The Crimean crisis that year was The organization’s first move. For this mission, Prigozin received three Gold Star medals including the “Hero of the Russian Federation”, which is the highest honor Russia bestows on citizens.
In 2011, Prigozin stood behind Putin on the right, slightly sideways and lifted the cover of the dinner plate for him. And Putin sat on a chair, looked at the dishes in front of him and curled his lips
Then, the Wagner mercenaries, known as “little green men” because they did not wear any logo, traveled all over Central Africa, Sudan, Libya, Venezuela, Syria and other areas related to Russia’s political and economic interests, and their influence continued to expand.
Given Prigozin’s close ties to senior Russian officials, it’s hard to say that Wagner’s high-profile actions since the Russia-Ukraine conflict have not greeted relevant parties. However, according to Reuters, Prigozin had clashed with the top defense officials of the Russian government over Ukraine in October. And on November 7, he publicly admitted for the first time that he had interfered in the 2016 US election and promised to continue to do so in the future.
The Security Dilemma of Hybrid Warfare
Although the Russian government has not acknowledged any connection with the Wagner Group, it is undeniable that the latter’s line between public and private ownership is being deliberately blurred.
”Right now it’s just an extension of the military, another source of combat manpower,” Russian security expert Mark Galeotti told Al Jazeera. In the Ukrainian crisis, there was some kind of cooperation between the two sides , the army commandeered the Wagner Group’s recruitment network and provided infrastructure and armaments.
However, the client did not change the nature of the mercenaries. The Wagner Group has no official protection of rights and interests, and has no right to be a prisoner of war. The nature of the task is even more cruel.
In fact, the entire private force market is difficult to be effectively regulated by law. In Russia, private military companies are contrary to the national constitution. The Russian government believes that national authorities should be solely responsible for national defense and security, and private armies may undermine national stability.
But the Wagner Group is not a real commercial entity operating in the market, and is not even registered or taxed. Socha McGraw, head of the United Nations Working Group on Mercenaries, said: “From a legal point of view, Wagner does not exist.
” led this trend. On the Ukrainian battlefield, more organizations still choose to remain mysterious, and it is difficult for both the government and the media to investigate the truth.
The “hybrid war” of security outsourcing is one of the most dangerous trends of our time. If force is not constrained by geopolitics and patriotism, conflicts and security dilemmas where interests are directly linked will only fuel more wars and suffering.