Feb. 9, 2023

What Is The Wagner Group?

We Americans are captivated by the latest new technology. Announce a new iPhone, and thousands will line up to purchase it. Give us a new fitness gadget, and half the country will work out with it; our appliances are becoming "smart," and our automobiles are high-tech and electric.

But the place where technology has most influenced how we see the world is at War. For many, perhaps most of us, the Obama Administration transformed a bloody and viscous activity into a computer terminal activity. Sitting in an isolated bunker, miles from the actual fighting, computer operators could initiate Drone Strikes, eliminating the enemy.

Those drones that Obama liked to use removed the soldier and, by extension, the American public from the battle. We were told that President Obama preferred this kind of warfare, as he ordered over 500 of these antiseptic air strikes.

Today, in so many ways, the War in Ukraine has brought us back to the ugly, on-the-ground reality of War the way it used to be. Although drones are used in Ukraine, the primary fighting is mano-a-mano, the kind of mortal combat not so much removed from the way Wars have been fought since the Middle Ages.

Standing at the center of this transition Ukrainian Battle Front is Yevgeny Prigozhin. Prigozhin is head of the Wagner Group, one of the most fearsome fighting groups in the world.

But as you see here, Prigozhin is equally at home in a Chef's Coat, as in battle fatigues. And that's only natural; before Prigozhin became head of the Wagner Group, he was famous as one of the best caterers and Restaurant owners in Moscow. He was known as the "Chef to the President" as he catered many dinners for President Putin and foreign dignitaries.

With the Wagner Group, Prigozhin has been at the tip of the spear in leading Russia's Urban Warfare in the Donbas Region. In many respects, the troubles in the Donbas ignited the Ukraine conflict.

When the old Soviet Union fell, the Donbas region was incorporated into the Southeast portion of Ukraine. But the population there was not Ukrainian. It was and is ethnic Russian. They speak the Russian language, uphold Russian traditions and support the Russian Orthodox Church.

For years, the Russians in Donbas have been subject to Ukrainian discrimination and regular military incursions, especially the Azov Battalion and regular Ukraine Military.

For years, the Ethnic Russians of Donbas sought relief. In 2014 the first of two Minsk Conferences were convened. Unfortunately, the two Minsk Agreements of 2014 and 2015 were total failures. Neither agreement stopped the fighting in Donbas. And recent comments by German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated that her objective, at least, was not to stop the battle, as much as to prepare Ukraine for a wider conflict including Russia.

Be that as it may, just after the 2014 Agreement, Prigozhin created the Wagner Group to aid the local Russian population. So for nine long years, the Wagner Group has been fighting on Donbas soil in an ongoing struggle that began well before Russia entered this War.

Today, the Wagner Private Military Company may seem like any of the numerous mercenary groups operating worldwide. Much like the former Black Water Group or certain of the CIA operations. But what makes Wagner so different is that they lead the fight in Donbas.

Unlike the covert operations of most paramilitaries, Wagner is at the front of all these battles. The Wagner leadership in Donbas allows Russian forces to take the support role and prepare for other actions ahead.

Recently it was Wagner who secured the victory in Soledar, Ukraine. One of the key strategic locations in controlling the entire region. And in a political concession of their importance, Prigozhin got the Russian Ministry of Defense to acknowledge that fact.

As we are speaking, the battle continues for the capstone city in Donbas, Bakhmut. A city of more than 70k when the War began. Should Bakhmut fall, it would mean that the entire Donbas would come under fire from Russia and the Wagner Group, as Bakhmut lies on high ground.

Recent reports from Bakhmut indicated that as much as a third of the city may now be under the Wagner Group's control as they advance.

Should Russia go on to victory in Ukraine, a not-impossible outcome, then much of the credit must go to a rag-tag paramilitary operation called the Wagner Group. And their Chef turned Warrior, Yevgeny Prigozhin.