WRITTEN EVIDENCE TO FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE INQUIRY INTO WAGNER GROUP - ANSWERS PROVIDED BY ANONYMOUS SOURCE TO COMMMITTEE QUESTIONS (WGN0026)
[Note: This evidence has been redacted by the Committee. “[…]” represents redacted text.]
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 any grounds arising from the fact that they have provided such material.
Source information: This information has been provided via a third party by a former senior Russian army officer and Wagner operative who fought in several theatres, now living in the West. He remains in contact with his former colleagues.
1.What is the Relationship Between Wagner Group and the Russian Ministry of Defence?
The first detachments of (Wagner Group) mercenaries, one of which was commanded by Dmitry Utkin in 2014, were created under the leadership of representatives of the Russian Ministry of Defence at a military training ground near Rostov-on-Don. All that is necessary for combat- uniforms, equipment, weapons and ammunition, was received from Ministry of Defence stocks. PMC Wagner still uses the logistics of the Russian Ministry of Defence. The Ministry of Defence, through its logistics network, provides PMC Wagner with ammunition and weapons.
The transfer of PMC Wagner operatives to Syria and Africa also has been facilitated by the Ministry of Defence. Military transport aircraft of the Russian Armed Forces deliver mercenaries and small dimension/weight cargo to the Khmeimim air base (Syria) and further to Africa. Air bases in the city of Chkalovsk (Moscow Region) and Krymsk (Krasnodar Territory) are used to transport operatives of PMC Wagner. Heavy duty cargo, equipment and ammunition for PMC Wagner are delivered to Syria by the Russian Navy.
PMC Wagner has always been provisioned according to the standards of the Russian armed forces, so as not to complicate the specification of supplies and to exclude any attempts at obtaining independent supplies of weapons and ammunition. For example, the personal weapon of the Wagner PMC fighters has always been a 5.45 mm machine gun. Only the Russian state, through the Ministry of Defence, could provide the PMC Wagner with the required amount of ammunition for this weapon. In the Middle East and Africa, the standard for the army is a 7.62 mm assault rifle and these countries do not produce/have ammunition for a 5.45 mm rifle.
In 2017, before the start of the operation to seize oil fields in Syria, Prigozhin tried to organise the deployment of combat units of the PMC Wagner to Syria and the supply of weapons and ammunition, bypassing the Ministry of Defence. On account of this, Prigozhin's relations with Shoigu deteriorated further and the Russian Minister of Defence sabotaged
implementation of the agreed plan of co-operation between PMCs and the military department. The military refused to transport PMC Wagner units on board their aircraft or by the navy’s ships. In addition, the military, under various pretexts, did not supply weapons and ammunition from their warehouses to PMC Wagner. So Prigozhin organised the delivery of combat units of the PMC Wagner to Syria by charter flights of Syrian Airlines, and purchased a small batch of weapons and ammunition from Hezbollah. In doping this however, the rules of conspiracy were violated. Charter flights are not allowed to use military airbases, and so boarding was done at the passenger terminal of Rostov-on-Don airport. This meant opposition journalists were able to record all the teams of mercenaries sent to Syria. […]
After Putin intervened in this conflict between Shoigu and Prigozhin, the previous scheme of liaison between PMCs and military departments was restored. The mercenaries were delivered on military transport aircraft, and the PMC was again integrated with the Ministry of Defence, and received weapons and ammunition in the required quantities, although not of the latest designs.
The base camp of PMC Wagner is located on a military training ground of the Russian Ministry of Defence. The military training ground for PMC Wagner is both a training base for conducting combat training classes and a space within which they are allowed to own weapons and use them while deployed within the Russian Federation. Outside the military training ground, Wagner PMC operatives can move with weapons only if they are being transferred to Ukraine. Otherwise, PMC Wagner operatives do not have the right to leave the military training ground armed. Also, at the military training grounds of the Russian Federation there are warehouses for the material support of reservists in the event of a mobilisation announcement. PMC Wagner has received tents, field camp equipment, uniforms and equipment from these warehouses. At the moment, PMC Wagner uses the logistics of the Ministry of Defence only for the supply of weapons and ammunition. The Prigozhin corporation purchases uniforms and equipment from other commercial structures specialising in this type of business.
During military combat Wagner PMCs perform the functions of assault squads i.e. units that carry out frontal attack manoeuvres, while the regular armed forces remain behind the assault squads in a layered battle formation. PMC Wagner assault units should be thought of as light infantry units in front of a ‘Macedonian phalanx’ (a phalanx is a regular armed force). Although such an MO does not entirely suit the regular military, these combat plans have been implemented, allowing the regular army to preserve its combat force.
(Russian Defence Minister) Shoigu, with his incompetent interference, has constantly hampered the effective interaction between the regular army and the Wagner PMC. […]
[…] Personal contacts helped Prigozhin to carry out significant operations. The attempt to seize the Konik plant on the east bank of the Euphrates on February 8, 2018 was Prigozhin's personal initiative. He (Prigozhin) convinced Surovikin that he would be able quickly and painlessly to seize the plant and asked him to help ensure that the commander of the Russian troops on the ground did not interfere with the actions of the PMC assault squads. Neither Shoigu nor the president knew about Prigozhin's moves here and when this military debacle unfolded (in which up to 200 Wagner fighters were killed by US forces), Surovikin was in serious trouble. […]
2. What Changes Have There Been In Russian Army-Wagner Group Relations Since February 2022?
Evolution in relations between the Wagner Group and Russian Ministry of Defence since the beginning of the war in Ukraine (February 2022) have not fundamentally changed the system of liaison on the battlefield or the organisation of material supply but have aggravated personal rivalries between Prigozhin and Shoigu. Overall, the scale and volume of deliveries to PMC Wagner from the Russian Ministry of Defence has increased significantly. Moreover, the regular forces have provided Prigozhin with combat aircraft and the opportunity to use airfields and the air traffic control service of the Russian Aerospace
Forces. Shoigu's interference to increase his own powers and Gerasimov's succumbing to the influence of the Minister of Defence ultimately resulted in the army being ill-prepared for war. The shortcomings of the army became so acute that Prigozhin decided to exploit this in order to try to remove Shoigu from his post. Prigozhin launched an information campaign to discredit the Minister of Defence and his team, which greatly vexed Shoigu. Otherwise, as before, Wagner Group used the logistics of the Ministry of Defence and liaised with the Russian armed forces at the level of group commanders.
3. How Does Wagner Group Prioritise Foreign Countries For Its Operations?
PMC Wagner is not a truly independent commercial structure and does not determine the location of operations or where it operates abroad. PMC Wagner follows the instructions of its founder, Prigozhin, who, in turn, implements the escalation programme developed by the Kremlin for foreign operations. The Wagner Group follows the agreements concluded at the highest intergovernmental level (in Libya, an agreement between General Havtar and the head of the official delegation of Russia, in Sudan between General Burhan and the head of the official delegation, and similar in the Central African Republic and in Mali.) Countries are selected to promote the influence of Russia's top political leadership on the principle of filling political vacuums and principally where there are deposits of minerals, the extraction of which for Russia is of high value. Wherever Western countries leave, Prigozhin's emissaries immediately arrive and conduct preliminary negotiations and consultations with the leaders of these countries. In no country does PMC Wagner operate independently, but rather only by agreement with the current government of the country concerned. Ukraine is an exception of course, as Russia is already at war with this country.
4. What Is the Relationship Between Redut And Wagner Group And The Russian MOD?
Redut was created to protect the factories transferred to the management of (Gennadiy)Timchenko (a Russian oligarch and former KGB officer close to Putin)’s structures. The godfather for this project, Timchenko, was proposed by the Russian military. The head of the Redut, K. Merzoyants, has maintained close friendly relations with some high-ranking officers of the Russian General Staff. In Syria, Redut is represented by two detachments of 55 and 65 men each (depending on the circumstances, the number of fighters may vary from time to time). Redut receives weapons, military equipment and ammunition from the stocks of the Russian forces in Syria.
[…]. Redut, like PMC Wagner, was included in the general system of liaison between different Russian combat formations in Syria. In operational reports it was designated as STG SHIELD. The deployment of Redut operatives was carried out by Russian military transport aircraft via the air base in Chkalovsk (Moscow Region).
6. How Does Wagner Group Differ From Other Russian PMCs?
Unlike all other similar Russian paramilitary structures, the Wagner Group has real autonomy and, in my view, has earnt its well-developed brand. All other such military entities (Gazprom, forces under the governor of the Crimean peninsula Aksenov etc) are just pools for replenishing Russian regular forces with manpower, effectively a hidden form of mobilisation. PMC Wagner is fully supported by the state, directly from the country's budget. PMC Wagner is involved in promoting the interests of the political elite of Russia outside the countries of the former Soviet Union and the implementation of large-scale business projects under intergovernmental agreements. No other Russian paramilitary structure operates in this way. Wagner has a complete monopoly in this field. Only Wagner PMCs have the combat capability that allows them to carry out offensive operations in front of the battle units of the regular army.
7. How Fluid Is Membership Of Redut And Wagner Group?
Any employee of PMC Wagner or Redut may voluntarily leave these structures without negative consequences for him as long as he does not make public details of these structures’ activities. If an employee expressed a desire to quit or committed an offence during the mission, then he may be subjected to punishment or a fine (in Redut) or in addition to this, beating and imprisonment for up to a month until the consequences of his physical punishment are healed.
8. Are There Direct Links Between Prigozhin’s Financing Of Wagner Group And The Russian State?
The Wagner Group is financed by the Russian state, Prigozhin acts as manager of the allocated budget funds. In my opinion, he really does spend all the money allocated for the maintenance of PMCs on PMCs, which thus benefit from high quality project support, for example, in Africa. Cash remuneration to PMC employees and payment of bills for ensuring the successful functioning of the PMC infrastructure are made exclusively in cash. Such cash is held in banks in the accounts of gasket (cover/front) companies. […] Bank employees transfer money at the request of the director of the company or his representatives. The management of the bank branches involved do not ask unnecessary questions because they have received appropriate instructions from their superiors.
9. Do You Have Any Information On How The Serbs In Your Platoon Were Recruited?
The first groups of Serb mercenaries began arriving in Russia in 2014. Some joined the ranks of the militia whilst others, as soon as they learned about the formation of mercenary detachments near Rostov-on-Don, enrolled in these formations. The leader of the group of Serbs who joined the mercenary units was […]. He was a cowboy and a schemer, a cowardly opportunist, an amateur in military affairs, but a man who knew how to make an impression and to create the appearance that he is a good military professional. […] convinced Andrei Troshev that he could create a viable unit from the Serbs. After Troshev promised […] that he would appoint him as commander of a separate platoon of Serbs, […], through his acquaintances in Serbia, began the recruitment of operatives into this. In
addition to those Serbs who became mercenaries in 2014 (4 people including himself), he was able to recruit five more, but he was still appointed commander of a separate platoon.
10. Can You Provide More Intelligence On The Relationship Between Wagner Group, Hezbollah and ISIS?
Prigozhin did not have any contacts with ISIS. PMC Wagner only fought against ISIS. In 2017, when the transfer of PMC operatives into theatre was carried out by charter flights of Syrian and Lebanese airlines, some of the aircraft landed at Beirut airport. PMC employees were then transported from Lebanon to Syria by bus. Prigozhin’s representatives have been in Beirut since 2015 and, through their contacts in Hezbollah, ensured the unhindered crossing of the border between Lebanon and Syria by Russian mercenaries. Also in 2017, Prigozhin bought a small consignment of weapons from Hezbollah. Since the Syrian government in 2017 had access to oil only through intermediaries collaborating with ISIS, there was an acute shortage of fuel in the country. Fuel was purchased by Prigozhin’s representatives in Lebanon and, bypassing border posts, with the assistance of Hezbollah, was delivered in Syria to the bases used by Russian mercenaries. The Syrian clan of Qatarji did collaborate with ISIS, and they supplied oil to a refinery in the city of Homs.
11. What More Can You Tell Us About Prigozhin’s Corporate Network?
In addition to being engaged in the implementation of business projects for profit, Prigozhin’s corporate network functions as an instrument of information warfare. Discrediting the Russian opposition, spreading disinformation and deep fakes in various Internet fora, aimed at destabilising the situation in Western democracies.
12. What Is The Significance Of Wagner Purchasing Ammunition In Middle East Countries? Does Wagner Group Facilitate The Arms Trade There Or In Other Regions?
[…] Russia is preoccupied with the war in Ukraine, where all resources are used to support combat operations. So Prigozhin has been buying small quantities of ammunition in Africa and the Middle East. These purchases are made only where he has the opportunity to procure ammunition of high quality and the appropriate standard. […] ISIS bought a lot of weapons and ammunition from arms dealers selling weapons taken from the stocks of former Warsaw Pact countries. There is no need to look for these dealers as they find their customers themselves. Prigozhin does not have the authority to trade weapons himself and he does not own any military-industrial complex enterprises. He is allowed however, to provide some of the weapons and ammunition supplied to him by the Kremlin, at the direction of the political leadership, to Russia’s allies.
13. How Does This Activity (Weapons Trading?) Facilitate Wagner’s Destabilising Activities In The Region?
I do not agree with your premise. Since the suppression of rebel activity in the Central African Republic by the PMC Wagner detachments, the level of violence in this country has significantly decreased and the situation has stabilised. At the moment, there is no movement back to escalating tension or exacerbated civil conflict. The civil war subsided. This is a fact. PMC Wagner, as a result of assisting expansion of the zone of control of the central government in parallel with the displacement of rebel (in other words, criminal) formations in the interior, has contributed to stabilisation of this country. In Mali, Russian mercenaries are fighting against al-Qaeda and anti-government groups, erroneously implementing the same gameplan, but nevertheless without negative consequences for the civilian population. (All evidence of crimes allegedly committed by mercenaries comes from one side of the conflict and is not confirmed by independent sources.) (You and I have business-like cooperation and I am simply being honest and trying to be objective about the above).
14. How Great Is The Political, Financial And Administrative Influence Of The Russian MOD Over The Wagner Group?
The Russian Ministry of Defence does not actually finance PMC Wagner, rather the funds come from the state budget. The Ministry of Defence supplies ammunition to PMC Wagner through its logistics infrastructure. Ammunition and weapons for PMC Wagner are supplied from state warehouses.
15. Have There Been Any Changes In The Funding Of Wagner Group Since Russia’s 2022 Invasion Of Ukraine?
For PMC Wagner the Russian MOD remains its main supply hub for weapons and ammunition. If this artery is blocked, then PMC Wagner, having used up the available
ammunition, will simply lose its ability to conduct combat operations. The base camp of PMC Wagner is located on a Russian military training ground i.e. land belonging to the Ministry of Defence. The PMC base camp is essentially the property of the Russian state represented by the Ministry of Defence.
16. Is There any Direct Evidence Of Wagner Group Resources Being Used By Russia To Circumvent International Sanctions?
PMC Wagner cannot evade international sanctions by using its ‘resources’ as it does not have its own resources. Wagner is primarily a military formation, a part of Prigozhin's corporation transferred to him but ultimately under state control. Prigozhin's businesses use the same methods of circumventing sanctions as all other Russian corporate structures operate. PMC Wagner is a consumer of state resources, like an army, so while factories producing weapons and ammunition are working, they will have something to fight with. Whilst enterprises for tailoring uniforms and equipment are working, they will also have something to fight in. Western sanctions are being circumvented mainly by others, including those who provide PMC Wagner with the materiel and supplies necessary for fighting in the field.
10 July 2023