What is Russia’s Wagner Group and why they are fighting? Explained

The head of Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has vowed to topple the country's military leadership, accusing them of launching strikes on his men. Prigozhin, who is under investigation for 'armed rebellion', made the comments in an audio message.

Edited By Alka Jain
First Published24 Jun 2023
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner Group military company. (AP)
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner Group military company. (AP)

The head of the Wagner mercenary group on Saturday vowed to topple the Russian military leadership, whom he accused of launching strikes on his men, while the country's prosecutor general said he was under investigation for "armed rebellion".

In an audio message, Yevgeny Prigozhin, 62, said, “We are going onwards and we will go to the end. We will destroy everything that stands in our way.” This came as the most audacious challenge to President Vladimir Putin since the start of the offensive in Ukraine last year.

Russian authorities have tightened security measures in several regions, after the chief of the mercenary group Wagner's warning to the country. 

“Law enforcement agencies are doing everything necessary to ensure the safety of residents. I ask everyone to stay calm,” Rostov governor Vasily Golubev said on social media.

What is the Wagner Group? 

The Wagner Group, officially called PMC Wagner, is a Russian paramilitary organization that operates beyond the law in Russia. It is basically a private military company and a network of mercenaries. The group was first identified in 2014 while backing pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.

In 2014, it was a secretive organization that was mostly operating in Africa and the Middle East. Media reports stated that the group was thought to have had about 5,000 fighters from Russia's elite regiments and special forces.

However, in January, the UK Ministry of Defence informed that the Wagner Group now consists of 50,000 fighters in Ukraine and has become a key component of the Ukraine campaign, according to BBC reports.

It is said that the Wagner Group was involved in Russia's capture of Bakhmut city which is situated in eastern Ukraine.

Prigozhin’s company was called Wagner after the nickname of its first commander, Dmitry Utkin, a retired lieutenant colonel of the Russian military’s special forces. It soon established a reputation for brutality and ruthlessness.

Western countries and UN experts have accused Wagner mercenaries of human rights abuses throughout Africa, including in Central African Republic, Libya, and Mali.

Why the Wagner Group and Russia are fighting? 

In January this year, Prigozhin claimed full credit for capturing the Donetsk region salt-mining town of Soledar in Ukraine and accused the Russian Defense Ministry of trying to steal Wagner’s glory. 

He has repeatedly complained the Russian military failed to supply Wagner with sufficient ammunition to capture Bakhmut and threatened to pull out his men, according to The Associated Press reports. 

Troops purported to be Wagner contractors in Ukraine recorded a video in which they showered the chief of the Russian military’s General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, with curses and accusations of failing to provide ammunition.

He has also singled out Shoigu for withering criticism while accusing Russian military leaders of incompetence. His frequent complaints are unprecedented for Russia’s tightly controlled political system, in which only Putin could air such criticism.

 

(With inputs from agencies)

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