The notorious Wager mercenary group registered as a joint-stock company on December 27. The group, which has not been an official legal entity until now, registered under the name “PMC Wagner Centre” at the address of the Wagner Technology Centre that opened in St. Petersburg last year. The registration documents describe the group as being involved in “business and management consulting, publishing, media, scientific development, and the leasing of ships and airplanes.” Shareholders of the company were not disclosed.
Despite the description on their registration, Wagner is known for privately contracting soldiers, including prisoners, to fight in the war in Ukraine. As of late October, Wagner had recruited over 20,000 inmates to fight in the war in exchange for monthly payments and presidential pardons, according to the NGO Russia Behind Bars.
This is despite the fact that private military companies are illegal in Russia and Russian law does not allow prisoners to be released in exchange for military service. However, the Kremlin turning a blind eye toward Wagner is nothing new; since its founding in 2014, the group has been illicitly involved in conflicts in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.
On January 13, the Russian Ministry of Defence announced that Russian forces had taken control of the Ukrainian city of Soledar. Although the ministry did not mention the Wagner group in their initial press release, oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin (who admitted in September to founding Wagner PMC) claimed that Wagner fighters were responsible for the victory.
“Wagner units took control of the entire territory of Soledar…No units other than Wagner PMC fighters were involved in the storming of Soledar,” Prigozhin said.
The Ministry of Defence later published a new press release acknowledging Wagner’s role. “As for the direct assault on the city blocks of Soledar…this combat mission was successfully carried out by the courageous and selfless actions of the volunteers of the Wagner assault squads,” it said.
This is the first mention of the Wagner PMC in any of the Ministry of Defence’s press releases on the war. There continue to be rumours of conflict between the Ministry of Defence and Wagner, which Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called “information speculation.” Peskov also remarked: “sometimes our friends behave in such a way that we don’t need enemies.” Since the takeover of Soledar, Prigozhin claims that Wagner forces have also taken control of the village of Klishchiivka near Bakhmut.
An ex-Wagner commander is now seeking asylum after fleeing to the Norwegian border last Friday. Andrei Medvedev claims to have witnessed the extrajudicial killings of several Wagner soldiers who refused to fight in Ukraine. Medvedev was in the same unit as Yevgeny Nuzhin, who was notoriously killed for deserting in a gruesome bludgeoning that was caught on video. According to the NGO Gulagu.net, Medvedev is already testifying against Prigozhin with regard to these extrajudicial killings. Prigozhin has denied Wagner’s involvement in Nuzhin’s killing, but also called the video “magnificent work.” “A dog should have a dog’s death,” he said.