The Wagner Group and its mercenaries currently play a key role in Russia’s 2022 War in Ukraine. The Wagner Group now employs over 50,000 people in its ranks.

Seal of the Wagner Group, Image Source:

Introduction to the Wagner Group

The Wagner Group (also known as Private Military Company/PMC Wagner) is a Russian paramilitary organisation, which is headquartered in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Wagner Group was founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin in 2014 and is led by Dmitry Utkin, who goes by the codename Wagner.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, Founder of Wagner Group , Image Source: RNZ News

While the Wagner Group is a paramilitary organisation, and paramilitaries are illegal in Russia, it has a special status. The Wagner Group operates in close proximity with the Russian Armed Forces, and has full Russian state support. Wagner employees use Russian Transport vehicles, are treated in Russian Military Hospitals, and are supplied by the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Russia often uses the Wagner Group as a way to extend their foreign influence, while at the same time maintaining plausible deniability. Wagner forces have fought for Russia in several conflicts like in Libya, Syria, in various African civil wars, and most recently in the Russia-Ukraine War. Wagner Group contractors have also received Russian military honours for these services.

The Wagner has grown exponentially in size, from 1,000 employees in 2016, to over 6,000 by 2018, and now has over 50,000 employees. Similarly, due to its large-scale overseas deployments, it has over 20 offices in African countries. The Wagner Group recruits mostly from Russia, although some Ukrainians, Kazakhs and Armenians also work for it.

Wagner Group’s Role In the 2022 Ukraine War

The Wagner Group has been involved in the conflict in Ukraine since its beginning in 2014. Their role started with providing unmarked soldiers (Little Green Men), which facilitated the bloodless takeover of Crimea and helped maintain Russian cover. Afterwards, several Wagner Group contractors went into the Donbass region to support the Russian-backed separatist groups there (LPR and DPR).

With the start of the Russian Invasion from February 24th 2022, the role of the Wagner Group grew massively. Wagner troops took part in several battles in the Donbas region. 

Starting July onwards, Wagner began increasing its recruits by offering amnesty to convicts. The recruited convicts were given 100-200,000 Rubles along with amnesty for their crimes, if they volunteered to fight for six months. In case of deaths during the fighting, they were promised that their families would be given 5 million Rubles as compensation.

This strategy worked, as the number of Wagner Group recruits rose drastically, reaching its peak of an estimated 50,000 soldiers. In January 2023, the first group of convicts fighting for the Wagner group were granted amnesty.  

With its increased strength, Wagner troops have fought in several important battles, especially the battles of Soledar and Bakhmut. However during the fighting, Wagner soldiers suffered heavy losses, with several Wagner group generals being killed. 

Wagner Group Soldiers, Image Source: The Guardian

Similarly, the group has been accused of using convict recruits for human-wave attacks. Convict soldiers have disproportionately high casualty rates, and that the overwhelming majority (some sources say up to 90%) of Wagner soldiers killed were convicts.

Disagreements with Russia 

The leader of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozin, has made several criticisms of the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and General Valery Gerasimov, over lack of ammunition and support. There are also disagreements over sharing of glory in the war in Ukraine between the Wagner Group and the Russian army.

Funeral for a Wagner Group Contractor, Image Source: KTVZ

The most recent example is a video where Prigozhin is critical of the Russian Ministry of Defense, saying that they are responsible for the deaths of thousands of soldiers due to a lack of ammunition. 

He issued a threat, by saying that the Wagner Group would withdraw from Bakhmut by May 10th if they did not receive ammunition. Similar threats were also made in February, for the same reasons as well. Although in both cases ammunition was promised, and the situation was placated.


The rise in power and influence of the Wagner Group showcases the growing importance of PMC’s in modern warfare. Yet as was shown earlier, Private Military Contractors come with their own set of problems, such as pay, loyalty and power struggles. Yet PMC’s are now a very important tool for every nation in proxy wars and conflicts.

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