Wagner Group: Making Sense of Prigozhin's Alliances and Tensions with Russian MoD
The Wagner Group semi-state security formation is commonly agreed to have started operating in 2014 on behalf of Russia when it participated in the annexation of Crimea and operations in Eastern Ukraine alongside other Russian-aligned forces. Wagner’s activities later extended into expeditionary missions in Syria, Libya, The Central African Republic, Mali, Mozambique and elsewhere. Interest in the Wagner Group (which will be referred to as just ‘Wagner’ in this article) grew due to its overt involvement in the widened Russian invasion of Ukraine since February 24th, 2022.
Analysis of Prigozhin’s Standing in Russia And Background On Wagner
Self-reported founder and current head of Wagner PMC, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has an influential status within the Russian state, which by no means puts him into the highest echelon of the Russian ‘Silvoki’ as many Western analysts assume. In his younger years, Prigozhin was actively involved in organised crime, a lifestyle choice that eventually landed him in a Soviet prison. After finishing his sentence in the early 1990s, Prigozhin got involved in the catering industry, including in St. Petersburg (likely requiring the direct permission of President Putin). Success in this area over time—alongside a relentless drive to ascend in society—led to the accumulation of powerful friends, with him eventually being responsible for catering within the Kremlin and contracts to provide services for the Russian Ministry of Defence (hereinafter referred to as the MoD).
The narrative Prigozhin has tried to sell to the public is that he founded Wagner as an owner in 2014 to aid Russia in Eastern Ukraine. Information exists which raises doubt about this story, however. According to an account given by former Wagner soldier Alexander Zlodeev who joined near its inception, Wagner’s formation was a joint project of the Russian Ministry of Defence and GRU Military Intelligence. According to Zlodeev, Prigozhin’s involvement within Wagner started later and accompanied structural and bureaucratic changes at the administrative and military levels.