The Kremlin said on Friday that it is considering granting legal personality to some of the more than two dozen private military companies active in Russia. Legally, these shadowy paramilitary groups do not exist, allowing them to operate parallel to the Russian armed forces, sometimes doing high-risk “dirty” jobs for the military, while giving Moscow a measure of denial.
The Kremlin has announced that it could give legal status to some of the many private military companies (PMCs) active in Russia, notably the Wagner Group, but also lesser-known militias such as Convoy, Patriot, Moran Security Group and Shchit (Shield). .
“Legally, the Wagner private military group does not exist and has never existed,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, noting that the situation for companies like Wagner remains “quite complicated.”
The statement came a day after a similar statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the “Kommersant” business daily. “The (Wagner) group is here, but it doesn’t exist legally,” he declared. Putin stated that its eventual legalization was a matter to be debated in the Duma (Lower House) and within the Government.
However, the number of private military companies active in Russia has not stopped growing in recent years, driven by the need to recruit soldiers to fight the war in Ukraine, as well as the Kremlin’s willingness to make these armies in the shadow an instrument of Russian foreign policy.
Weakened by sanctions and increasingly isolated on the international scene since its illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia has sought ways to boost its geopolitical influence – above all in Syria and on the African continent – especially through the Wagner Group. .
The Blackwater Model
Washington’s use of the Blackwater mercenary group in Iraq became an international symbol of the increasing privatization of warfare. Following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine in 2014, Yevgeny Prigozhin co-founded the Wagner paramilitary group, whose members were made up mostly of former Special Forces members and prison recruits. Prigozhin, once a close ally of Putin, has been missing since his men briefly marched on Moscow in a failed rebellion on June 24.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu controls and finances several shadow armies and is affiliated with the Patriot paramilitary group. Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-appointed head of the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula, has been playing warlord since late 2022 with Convoy, a private militia that has carried out several operations in the Kherson region of Ukraine.
divide to conquer
“The elites have realized that by having a PMC they can get the benefits of the Kremlin. Because if you contribute to the war effort [en Ucrania]you will be rewarded,” Anton Shekhovtsov, director of the Center for Democratic Integrity, said in an interview with Euronews.
According to Delle Fave, this “almost feudal” system serves to consolidate Putin’s power. The multiplicity of centers of power, all in competition with each other, prevents alliances from being created and turned against him.
However, according to Plichta, this fragmentation ends up weakening the Kremlin, and Wagner’s abortive rebellion reveals its fragility. “There has been a fragmentation of security missions in Russia: the Defense Ministry, the PMCs, the National Guard, which is almost Vladimir Putin’s personal security service. All this has led to the weakening of the state,” Plichta said. .
After the Wagner rebellion, the Kremlin seems to consider that the time has come for the state to regain control of its nebulous armed groups.
Since July 1, private military companies are required to sign a contract with the Ministry of Defense. Moscow last month released a video showing the Chechen Akhmat paramilitary group signing the contract to show how the paramilitary groups were adapting to the new law.
Wagner, for his part, is still experiencing the aftermath of his short-lived insurrection last month. The Russian military announced on July 12 that it had received more than 2,000 pieces of military hardware from the group, adding that it had also received 2,500 tons of ammunition and some 20,000 light weapons.
The Pentagon stated Friday that Wagner’s mercenaries are no longer involved in “any significant capacity” in combat operations in Ukraine.
Original note in French