Written Evidence Submission from Democracy and Human Rights Foundation (WGN0011)

This submission reflects the views of the contributor, who is responsible for the accuracy of all claims made in the submission. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Foreign Affairs Committee. As a written submission accepted by a parliamentary committee, it is protected in the usual way by parliamentary privilege. No legal or other action may be taken against any person on ay grounds arising from the fact that they have provided such material.


  1. This submission addresses the Foreign Affairs Committee’s request for information regarding the activities and nature of the Russian private military company known as the Wagner Group and what responses the government of the United Kingdom needs to adopt to adequately address the key threat posed by the Wagner Group. Our submission focuses in particular on the presence of the Wagner Group in Libya and answers specific questions identified in the Committee’s call for evidence.
  2. This information has been submitted by Democracy and Human Rights Foundation, an independent foundation focused on promoting robust and sustainable democracies throughout the North Africa and Middle East region, with a particular focus on Libya. The mission of the foundation is to advance democracy, freedom, human rights, rule of law, free press, good governance, transparency, civic  responsibility & free market economics in the Middle East and North Africa. The Foundation advocates for legal  accountability of those accused of human rights violations or sabotaging the democratic process and aiding victims of  such crimes as well as working with governmental and civic institutions to develop systems, materials, media, and  training to combat corruption and extremism.


       Russia seeks to build a long-term military and economic presence in Libya through the use of the Wagner Group, economic expansion, and political subversion.

       Libya serves as a key hub for the Wagner Group on the African continent, allowing the Russian government to move supplies and troops through its supposedly deniable partners.

       Wagner Group forces have built a network of support in Libya, both as military support for Khalifa Haftar’s forces and as political kingmakers within the country.

       Countering the Wagner Groups Forces will best be accomplished through allies on the ground with proven military experience, such as Turkish forces already in the country and the military of the internationally-recognized Government of National Unity (GNU).

       Sanctions against those funding the Wagner Group, from the individual to state level, need to be expanded, with secondary sanctions necessary to prevent the continued funding of the Wagner Group.



What is known about the Wagner Group’s operations, including its size, recruitment process, countries of operation (past, current and potential) and the nature of its partnerships with ‘host states’?

  1. The Wagner Group maintains a large garrison in Libya. The BBC reported that about 1000 fighters served in a 2019-2020 offense against the seat of the internationally recognized Libyan Government in Tripoli.[1] Libyan security analyst Abdel Kafi estimated that this grew to an estimated 2200 at its peak, though 1300 fighters have transferred from Libya to Ukraine to support the Russian invasion.[2]
  2. In addition to Wagner Group forces, Democracy and Human Rights Foundation has received information from a member of the Libyan Defense Ministry, outlining the presence of regular Russian military forces in Libya.[3] 
  3. Wagner Group and regular Russian forces maintain control of several key sites throughout the country, most notably at the Al-Jufra Airfield where Russian attack aircraft have been based. Sites such as these serve as hubs to transfer Russian and Wagner Group troops and supplies across Africa and to its bases in Syria and Russia. Further details were submitted to the UK government in a report that can be found in the footnote below.[4]
  4. Wagner Group soldiers, along with another Russian PMC known as the RSB Group have also deployed to key oil, gas, infrastructure, and port facilities to ensure the security of Russian firms operating in these areas.
  5. Wagner partners closely with the armed forces of Khalifa Haftar, a Libyan-American military officer who commands the Libyan National Army (LNA) and controls eastern portions of the country. Russian military aircraft, anti-air systems, land mines, and small arms were all used by or in support of his forces during the 2019 offensive against Tripoli. In addition, Wagner Group forces provided training and intelligence to the soldiers of the LNA to allow them to effectively use these systems.
  6. The United Nations reports that landmines used by Russian were illegally brought into the country in the midst of an arms embargo against the country as well.[5]
  7. Russian-linked landmines and boobytrapped explosives were subsequently left in civilian homes and areas after Wagner and LNA forces retreated from their offensive against Tripoli.[6] These weapons continue to kill well after the retreat of the Wagner forces and their allies, with two young children in Tripoli recently killed by an undiscovered landmine.[7]
  8. In addition to a military presence, Russian forces in the country exert major political influence. As noted in Democracy and Human Rights Foundation’s white paper on countering Russia’s presence in Libya, Ahmed Maiteeq, a member of the presidential council, lobbied hard to become the new Prime Minister by claiming that he would secure Russian support for the new government.[8] In addition, Russia is prepared to reconcile and pivot towards a new administration in Tripoli should their allies in eastern Libya no longer serve their interests.[9]  In short, the Russians have become kingmakers in Libya and will continue to expand influence if not checked.

How are these companies financed? Where does their support really come from?

  1. The Wagner Group is deeply financially tied to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of Vladimir Putin and the architect of Russian attempts to meddle in the 2016 United States elections. Operating through an elaborate series of shell companies and subsidiaries, Russian groups tied to Prigozhin offer a package of services offered to African leaders, including political and media consulting on elections, and long-term military assistance in the form of training and equipment. In return Russia benefits from oil, gas and mineral contracts, as well as infrastructure projects involving roads and railways. Mineral rights include gold in Sudan, oil contracts in Libya, phosphates and other minerals in Mauritania, and diamonds in the DRC.
  2. The Wagner Group is also reported to have received funding from third parties during the conflict in Libya. The United Arab Emirates has built an elaborate financial and logistical network with Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian defense firms, and the LNA forces in Libya to fund and arm those driving the conflict in the country.[10] Clearly documented instances exist of Western-made aircraft being used to ferry arms from the UAE to Wagner Group allies in Libya. Any attempt to cut the funds the Wagner Group relies upon must recognize that third parties are key to their continued operations and implement sanctions appropriately.

Further Recommendations

  1. Confronting Wagner Group forces in Libya through allies, such as Turkish forces already in the country and the military of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), needs to be considered. As demonstrated by their defense of Tripoli during the 2019 offensive, Turkey has already proven itself capable militarily in its confrontation of Haftar and his Wagner supporters. Pushing Russian and Wagner Group forces out of Libya would strain their supply lines for their other missions in Africa, deprive them of resources that could otherwise be committed to missions in Ukraine or across Africa, and further undermine the notion of Russia as a modern military power.

1.1.            This effort will also have the capability to enhance and fast track the process of creating a national Libyan military force, offering the opportunity to thousands of professional Libyan soldiers and officers who have been sidelined to rejoin the military. According to Major General Ahmad Abushahma, head of the Tripoli Military Operations Command, and chief ceasefire negotiator, these military personnel would provide a potent force if given enough resources, and especially if they are asked to confront a “foreign” enemy. This professional force would become the nucleus for the new, unified Libyan military.


  1. Continued support for the government of the GNU is another factor in countering the Russian presence in Libya. Deepening diplomatic, military, and economic collaboration between the United Kingdom and the GNU will help build legitimacy and resilience for Libyan political and military institutions and the Libyan economy.

2.1.            Continued pressure and support for efforts to restart the stalled electoral processes in Libya is key in order to build a unified and legitimate government. An administration elected through free and fair elections will be much more difficult for Russia to subvert and to manipulate, rather than the status quo of splinter groups, warlords, and parallel administrations.


  1. Sanction individuals and nations that are continuing to arm and fund the Wagner Group.

3.1.            Methods to prevent Russia from abusing its veto power in order to protect the Wagner Group and its allies from the United Nations need to be explored as well. Groups such as the Al-Kaniyat militia, strongly considered to be responsible for war crimes during the Tripoli Offensive, have already benefited from Russian protection at the United Nations.[11]

3.2.            Secondary sanctions should also be implemented on those willing to work with shell companies and subsidiaries that financiers such as Prigozhin continue to use to fund Wagner operations.










May 2022


[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-58009514

[2] https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20220326-russias-wagner-group-withdraws-fighters-in-libya-to-fight-in-ukraine/

[3] https://docs.google.com/document/d/1vn_PZ_GouGhNPq87ktdjHg8FRa6O8YNGtz0r9zGqkuo/edit?usp=sharing

[4]https://docs.google.com/document/d/1LeoD1PcPhGvmh4VbW0n8HJimJkthXGKV/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=1046217    88351252395792&rtpof=true&sd=true

[5] https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N21/037/72/PDF/N2103772.pdf?OpenElement

[6] https://www.hrw.org/sitesearch?search=libya+land+mines&sort_by=created

[7] https://www.libyaobserver.ly/news/two-children-killed-landmine-explosion-tripoli

[8] https://drive.google.com/file/d/1xQaZhDswQzpuyAYD6KJgJ8iJAVJQ9Oga/view?usp=sharing


[10] https://www.newamerica.org/future-frontlines/reports/the-abu-dhabi-express/executive-summary/