These are the countries where Russia's shadowy Wagner Group mercenaries operate

RamiroWTF/YouTubeScreenshot of Russian soldiers in the Syrian desert.
  • Two members of the Wagner Group were arrested in November on allegations of spying. The two men were reportedly meeting with Saif Gaddafi, the son of ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi, in an effort to bring the younger Gaddafi back to power in Libya.
  • The Wagner Group is a mercenary group that’s been closely linked to supporting Russian objectives in conflict zones.

In April 2018, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo confirmed that the US killed hundreds of Russians during a large firefight in Syria in early February.

“In Syria now, a handful of weeks ago, the Russians met their match,” Pompeo said. “A couple hundred Russians were killed.”

The Russians were part of Wagner Group, or Vagner Group, a private mercenary group reportedly contracted by the Syrian government to capture and secure oil and gas fields from ISIS.

The Wagner Group started getting attention in 2014 when its mercenaries fought alongside Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine, before moving to Syria.

Here’s what we know about the areas where these mercenaries are operating, and what they’re doing there.


1. Libya

Baderkhan Ahmad / Associated PressRussian forces patrol near the city of Qamishli, north Syria, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. Syrian forces, Russian military advisers and military police are being deployed in a zone 30 kilometers (19 miles) deep along much of the northeastern border, under an agreement reached Tuesday by Russia and Turkey.

Washington Post reporters Missy Ryan and Sudarsan Rhagavan reported on Nov. 18 that two Russian nationals accused of spying in Libya are believed to be part of the Wagner Group.

Fathi Bashagha, the interior minister of Libya’s UN-backed government, the Government of National Accord (GNA) said that the two Russian nationals were arrested on suspicion of attempting to influence local elections and trying to gather intelligence on some of the GNA’s military operations.

A Wagner commander told RFERL in March 2018 that Wagner would be operating in Libya in the near future; Libyan and US officials believe that time has arrived, with Wagner mercenaries fighting on the side of Khalifa Haf­ter, a rebel commander fighting against the GNA.

The Washington Post, citing a US official with knowledge of the incident, said the Russian government was putting “a lot of pressure” on the GNA to release the two Russians, saying the two men were part of a Russian project to expand influence in Libya.

The two men were reportedly meeting with Saif Gaddafi, the son of ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi, in an effort to bring the younger Gaddafi back to power in Libya. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity committed while his father was in power.


2. Syria

RamiroWTF/YouTubeScreenshot of Russian soldiers in the Syrian desert.

In 2018, there were about 2,500 Wagner mercenaries in Syria,according to the BBC, but the figures have varied.

In 2015-2016, Wagner mercenaries moved from Ukraine to Syria, Sergey Sukhankin, an associate expert at the International Centre for Policy Studies in Kyiv and Jamestown Foundation fellow, told Business Insider in an email.

The mercenary group was contracted by Syria’s state-owned General Petroleum Corp to capture and secure gas and oil fields by ISIS, reportedly being given 25% of the proceeds, according to the Associated Press.

A Russian journalist who helped break the story about the mercenaries killed by the US military in February died in April 2018 after mysteriously falling from a balcony.


3. Sudan

ReutersRussian soldiers, on armoured vehicles, patrol a street in Aleppo, Syria February 2, 2017

Wagner mercenaries were sent to Sudan in January 2018,according to Stratfor.

The Wagner mercenaries were sent to Sudan “in a conflict against the South Sudan” to back up Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s government “militarily and hammer out beneficial conditions for the Russian companies,” Sukhankin said.

The mercenaries are also protecting gold, uranium and diamond mines, Sukhankin said, adding that the latter is the “most essential commodity.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has a cosy relationship with al-Bashir. The two leaders met in Moscow in late 2017, where al-Bashir asked Putin for protection from the US.

The Hague has had an arrest warrant out for al-Bashir since 2009 for crimes against humanity.


4. Central African Republic

ReutersRussian marines, who guarded Russia’s Hmeymim air base in Syria, disembark from a plane as they arrive at the Belbek military airport near the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, Crimea, December 28, 2015.

In January 2018, Stratfor reported that Wagner mercenaries might soon be sent to CAR, and Sukhankin said that there are now about 370 mercenaries in CAR and Sudan.

Sukhankin said that Wagner mercenaries have the same general mission in CAR – protecting lucrative mines and propping up the government regime.

In December 2017, the UN allowed Russia to begin selling weapons to the CAR, one of the many ways Moscow is trying to influence the continent. The CAR government is trying to combat violence being perpetrated by multiple armed groups along ethnic and religious lines.

“Russian instructors training our armed forces will greatly strengthen their effectiveness in combating plunderers,” President Faustin-Archange Touadera said in April 2018, according to RT, a Russian state-owned media outlet.

“The Russian private sector is also seeking to invest in the country’s infrastructure and education,” RT reported.

“Moscow seems more interested in filling its coffers through the Wagner deals than in preparing for a massive investment drive [in Africa],” Stratfor reported.


The Wagner Group is likely operating in other countries.

Vesti News/YouTubeA screenshot from a Vesti News segment showing a Russian soldier looking at the aftermath of an airstrike.

“Potentially, the Balkans if any conflict erupts,” Sukhankin said. “The Russians had sent PMC’s in 1992 to Bosnia. In case something occurs, this might happen once again.”

Daniel Brown wrote an earlier version of this post.

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