Of all the shadowy and ‘grey’ areas of Russia’s foreign engagements, the matter of its’ use of PMCs - Private Military Companies, might just be the shadowiest of all!
Officially illegal, but nevertheless quite visible, to those who know were to look, companies which are Russias’ equivalent to Blackwater and other private military ‘contractors’ continue to operate - registered in offshore jurisdictions, on missions which the Russian states wishes to be disassociated from direct connection to. Both inside Russia and without, the fighters who perform ‘special tasks’ on behalf of entities such as Russia’s GRU, but on the payrolls of companies such as Wagner PV.
As with the current spate of official hemming and hawing about the latters’ now known disaster in eastern Syria, the Russian State has consistently made apoint of denying any knowledge of the existence of these private contractors; yet the game has been goıng on for years now, in much the same way that American foreign interventions in places like Afghanistan have grown to include ‘black budget’ ops with little accountability to public elements of its’ administration.
As far back as 2015, when Russia starting bringing ‘special advisors’ into its Syrian bases, the work of these companies was being privately acknowledged, while officially denied. Between one and two thousand of them were present there by 2016, and their numbers might have grown substantially since then! Wagners’ fighters are said to have been present at the battle to liberate Palmyra from the jihadist forces, and to have sustained the bulk of the losses suffered by Russian personnel in Syria well before this last debacle. All those personnel are former military soldiers with skills for hire that fit with the low profile Russia seeks in its Syrian mission.
But Wagner, unlike its American counterparts is not really a ‘for profit’ entity. The interests of the State - in this case, the Russian one, are its’ affair, and liaison with that guiding hand occurs through channels best described as ‘the old boys’ club networks of retired servicemen come businessmen, politicians, and ‘agents of the state.’
or the Wagner group, the interests of the state, which required forces to tackle sensitive tasks in Syria, coincided with the desire of some former servicemen to make some money while performing tasks in the country’s interests, said an RBK source close to the FSB leadership.
The subject was broached back in 2012, shortly after Putins’ election. The possibility of using private military companies (PMCs) as a tool of Russian influence abroad was raised by A Just Russia deputy Alexei Mitrofanov.
“I believe that such companies are a way of implementing national interests without the direct involvement of the state,” Putin replied. “Yes, I think we could consider this option.”
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, offered a similar reason in autumn 2012.
“We are thinking whether our money will be used to finance foreign private military companies or whether we shall consider the expediency of setting up companies like that inside Russia and make a step in that direction,”Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who supervises the military-defence complex, offered a similar reason in autumn 2012.
“We are thinking whether our money will be used to finance foreign private military companies or whether we shall consider the expediency of setting up companies like that inside Russia and make a step in that direction,” Rogozin said.
Yet, three years later, as Russian ‘special advisors’ were flooding in to the air bases Russia had moved into for its’ expanded role in the Syrian conflict, the subject was off the radar again. In the fall of 2015, just as those forces were arriving, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters
"This issue is not on the current agenda of the administration," Peskov said, adding that he could not speak for other departments and the Cabinet of Ministers. Interesting it was the same Kremlin spokesman who this very day told reporters
“One cannot rule out that Russian citizens can be on Syria’s soil. They are not Russian military servicemen, that’s all we can say, but, anyway, our citizens remain Russian citizens, whatever happens”
Due to the lack of specific data on the issue, Peskov said he did not understand a question from a reporter
who asked whether or not it was possible to declare mourning over a great number of Russians allegedly killed in Syria on February 7. He noted that the Kremlin had no specific information, which would make it possible to draw conclusions as to the number of Russians in Syria. A source in the Russian Foreign Ministry earlier told TASS that reports on dozens and hundreds of Russian citizens allegedly killed in Syria were misinformation.
So here we are. The bodies are of real Russian servicemen, killed in real battle in Syria, but due to the rather inconvenient purpose of their being there... unfortunately... we know nothing. Nothing at all~!
And now, in what were supposed to be the waning moments of a conflict almost over, suddenly the topic is on everyones’ lips, as the bodies of dead Russian serviceman arrive back home - to official silence, but very public mourning, it’s fair to ask if the role of ‘contractors’ in a war which threatens to reignite on a much greater level, has only begun to make its presence felt, in the Syrian Endgame!