Non-State Actors

The Wagner Group: Russia’s Fascist Mercenaries?

June 11, 2020

Insider Expert


This article seeks to offer an assessment on the link between the Wagner Group, and Far-Right National Socialist Fascist Ideology.





The Wagner Group is a Russian private military company, known best for its role in supporting Russian Foreign Policy in Ukraine and Syria. Founded by Dimitry Utkin, a former GRU officer, and veteran of other Private Military Companies, the Wagner Group came to the fore in 2014 in Ukraine, supporting the “little green men” in a manner that provided some level of deniability to the Russian Government. It uses mostly former or serving Russian military personnel, on international missions ranging from delivering training to local forces, to taking an active role in fighting and directing air and artillery assets. While the Russian government denies the existence of the Wagner Group, and no such company is registered in Russia, its links to the Russian Government and siloviki have been repeatedly demonstrated in numerous conflict areas in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.



Wagner Group in Libya


According to a classified UN Report seen by (among others)the BBC, there are between 800 and 1000 Wagner Group mercenaries fighting for the Libyan National Army (LNA) in Libya, against the Government of National Accord (GNA). The Wagner Group represents the personnel committed by the Russian Government in order to support the LNA. This personnel play an important role, directing artillery and air assets, acting as snipers, and conducting electronic warfare. They will almost certainly help the LNA to fully exploit the capabilities of the 14 combat aircraft recently sent by Russia to Libya.



The Right-Wing Connection


The Wagner Group itself is named after Richard Wagner, an infamous German composer with anti-Semitic views whose music and opera was famously favoured personally by Adolf Hitler. This name was picked by the founder Dimitry Utkin, according to Russian news website Fontanka. There is also evidence to suggest that the Wagner Group is not shy about using personnel with extreme right-wing views: if they can do the military aspects of the job, then working with mercenaries with fascist or even Nazi ideology is no problem. This has come to light recently in Libya, where retreating Wagner Group soldiers reportedly left behind Nazi graffiti on the walls, including a Swastika, 14/88, and a message stating that “I see mosques on Russian soil, but it would be better to see them in hellfire” (see Figures 1,2,3).




Figure 1: Tweet from @Kyruer



Figure 2: Photo was taken of Islamophobic Message left by Wagner Group soldiers



Figure 3: Swastika left by retreating Wagner Group soldiers


While it is possible that the GNA drew this Nazi graffiti to discredit the Wagner Group (and by extension the LNA), it is on more likely that these symbols are the work of Wagner Group soldiers with Nazi sympathies, not unlike those of the founder, Dmitry Utkin. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest there were members of the Wagner Group with Nazi views, who were deployed to Syria. With this evidence in mind, it should come as no surprise that the Wagner Group employed soldiers with Nazi views in Libya, who went on to do the graffiti seen in the above images.



So What?


The recent evidence emerging from Libya of Wagner Group soldiers with extreme Nazi, or far-right views should come as no surprise, given the previously existing evidence of Wagner Group soldiers with similar views working in Syria or Ukraine. While it may not be indicative of wider Nazi attitudes in the group as a whole, the willingness to accept soldiers regardless of their political beliefs could almost certainly have unintended consequences in the future, when those soldiers return home to Russia. It also indicates that there is a certain level of tolerance for far-right, extremist views in the Russian Government, which is undoubtedly the sponsor of the Wagner Group.



[ICOD 10/06/2020]


Image: Screen Capture of Russian CCO Video

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