Founded in 2011 by Ukrainian and Russian ex-military personnel, Vega Strategic Services (Vega) has acted in ways more akin to a conventional Private Military Company (PMC) than other so-called ‘Russian PMCs’. Whilst providing a range of services commonly offered by most PMCs, Vega maintains a murky association with the Russian state.
2.0 Motto, Symbols, Patches
Vega Strategic Services (hereinafter referred to as Vega) borrows elements of Russian military imagery whilst still catering to a foreign market base.
Vega’s motto might be ‘Global Reach, Local Knowledge’. These are the words found on the borders of Vega’s patch which were identified years ago. It is equally possible that this is more of a business slogan than an actual motto. However, whether Vega in its present form uses such a motto or business slogan could not be confirmed.
An alternative explanation for the choice of this motto was given by an undisclosed source. According to them, the motto may have been stolen from the company slogan of Anham FZCO, an unrelated company to Vega. Interestingly, the rationale for this was suggested to be a lack of originality when it came to marketing. (Source)
Strikingly, there is an array potential of influences when it comes to the symbolism surrounding Vega’s symbology. Its company logo incorporates a big V letter on a shield in front of a sword and a globe on its background.
2.2.2 V On Sword In Front of A Shield
The V letter on the shield on Vega’s logo is also worth noting. This aspect of the logo has some resemblance to the emblem used by KGB Directorate “V” Vega Group (possibly explaining where Vega got its name from), now known as FSB Vympel.
However, a source close to Vega has stated that the V on the logo stands for “Victory”. In their own words, the V has “nothing to do with Vega”. Moreover, they mentioned that Vega personnel conducting land operations have swords on their chevrons, whilst those conducting sea-based ones have tridents on them.
The globe on the background of the logo is also meaningful. The globe potentially represents the desire of Vega to appeal to provide services to an international market rather than just within the vicinity of Eastern Europe.
This is further evidenced when taken in conjunction with the ‘Global Reach, Local Knowledge’ motto, which shows a potential desire to signal to external audiences that whilst the organisation is of Russo-Ukrainian origin, it aims to operate beyond that client base.
Vega’s organisational logo
The emblem of the Special Forces unit FSB Vympel. (Source)
Limited information exists about the patches that are worn by Vega personnel. Pictures taken by Russian military blogger Oleg Blokhin of Vega personnel in Syria show them wearing a patch that looks almost identical to the logo of the company. (Source)
Notably, two variations of the patch either say ‘Vega’ or ‘Vegacy’ (an organisation formed in Cyprus two years after Vega). On both variations, the motto of the organisation is often included on the borders of the patch. It is unclear whether personnel operating within Vega in its current form still use the same patch or not.
As will be shown, Vega is an elusive organisation that diverges from the traditional structure of other so-called Russian PMCs. Unlike organisations like Wagner or Veterans, Vega seems to share an organisational structure and practices that make it more akin to a conventional PMC.
3.1 Relationship To The Russian State
Intriguingly, Vega has a connection to the Russian state that is far looser than those of most so-called Russian PMCs. Existing information shows it has not undertaken clandestine combat operations on behalf of the Russian state for instance. However, it has also ensured its provision of services has not counter-acted Russian state interests.
3.1.1 Indications Of Vega’s Ties To The Russian State
On the one hand, much of the company’s presence is documented to have been in Russia. Vega’s headquarters was located to have been at Moscow, with branch offices in other Russian areas such as Irktusk. Its founder, Antoli Smolin, is also believed to reside in Russia. Furthermore, many of his security and pharmacy businesses are also located in Russia.
Additionally, the vast majority of the actors it has provided services to have been those aligned with the Russian state. For instance, Vega provided training services to Liwa-Al-Quds personnel fighting on the side of Syria, as well as training Venezuelan security personnel. (Source) (Source)
In turn, this shows that Vega has been careful to only work with customers with whom Russia has an incentive in getting stronger.
3.1.2 The Limits Of Vega’s Ties To The Russian State
On the other hand, Vega has shown significant autonomy in how it operates compared to other Russian PMCs. An undisclosed source stated that since its inception, Vega’s market orientation was for the most part focused on Africa and the Middle East. Moreover, there is no available evidence to indicate it has engaged in covert combat operations on behalf of Russia.
It is also worth noting that it is not uncommon for conventional PMCs to align their interests to their state of origin. For one, a positive relationship with a PMC’s host state is essential for business viability. Moreover, unlike with other Russian PMCs, there seems to be no proof of Vega using Russian MoD resources to sustain itself.
3.1.3 Exploring Deleted SBU Assessments
Notably, a now-deleted publicly released Security Services of Ukraine (SBU) assessment on Vega provides an alternative picture of Vega’s ties to the Russian state. According to it, key figures in Vega such as Anatolii Smolin and Dmitry Dzhinkshavilli were working directly with Russian military intelligence since 2014.
Additionally, the SBU claimed that Smolin sold his real estate and moved to Russia in 2012. An undisclosed source has corroborated this particular aspect of information. Two years later in 2014, the SBU claims Smolin began to reach out to Ukrainians in Mykolaiv with questionnaires.
Markedly, these questionnaires gauged the respondents’ support for the annexation of Crimea and their willingness to participate in combat against Ukraine in the Donbas. This was allegedly done as part of a recruitment effort done on behalf of the GRU for Wagner by Smolin and Dzhinikashvili starting in 2016.
The SBU has also claimed that Vega acted as a cover for much of Wagner’s activities. However, no other sources of information seem to confirm this claim.
3.1.4 Scrutinising The SBU’s Assessments
Understandably, the SBU’s assessment concerning Vega and its key figures deserves scrutiny. For one, it was released at a time that Ukrainian security services were keen to downplay the Ukrainian origins of Vega. This helps explain why so much emphasis in its publicly released assessments was placed on Smolin’s and Dzhinkashivili’s ties to the Russian GRU.
Additionally, a source close to Vega was keen to emphasise that the organisation had no involvement in what transpired in the Donbas or Crimea. As was also stated by them, no Vega questionnaires ever inquired about or encouraged any support for activities in those regions.
They also clarified that Smolin took permanent residence in Cyprus in 2012, not Russia. Cyprus was stated to be the same place where a legal branch was set up after the obtainment of an armed maritime security license by Smolin. It was noted that Smolin lived and worked in Cyprus for 5 years by the source.
Notably, the source was keen to emphasise that Vega had no formal connection to the Wagner Group. Furthermore, the organisation did not coordinate for the mutual attainment of any objectives according to them. However, they were clear to note that it is not uncommon for personnel in one PMC to go on to work in another one.
Despite all the media coverage on Vega, limited information has surfaced concerning its financing. This could be the case because there’s nothing particularly unique about Vega’s financing compared to another PMC. Normally, this would involve using revenue to cover operational costs and reinvesting it into market expansion.
3.3 Business Structure
Vega’s sister organisation, Vegacy Strategic Services, could provide further insights into Vega’s business structure. Vegacy Strategic Services was set up in Cyprus by Anatolii Smolin alongside Draugas Consulting Ltd. It is plausible that to expand into new markets, Smolin sets up new business entities with partners in customer states. (Source)
Potential evidence of this could include the existence of a now likely defunct business connected to Smolin in Malta. A ‘Vega Strategic Limited’ whose director is ‘Anatolli Smolin’ was registered at 171 Old Bakery Street, Valletta. Founded in 2013, it was likely it was one of many business entities designed to enable the expansion of Vega’s commercial operations. (Source)
Interestingly, information from an undisclosed source seems to give weight to this theory. According to them, Smolin has a pattern of travelling frequently to establish new businesses and client bases. Indeed, the practice of establishing new subsidiaries and entities to expand operations is not uncommon for PMCs.
3.4 Key Figures
As was mentioned earlier, two figures stand out as central to Vega Strategic Services, Anatolii Smolin and Dmitry Dzhinikashivilli. Interestingly, both are connected to an array of other Russian PMCs and the Russian state.
3.4.1 Anatolii Smolin
As mentioned, Anatolii Smolin is the co-founder of Vega and its sister organisation Vegacy. Smolin’s background includes service in the KGB, Soviet special forces and the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs (1993-1997). During his time in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Smolin served in the Berkut and the Special Response Unit ‘Sokol’ (Falcon). (Source)
Unsurprisingly, Smolin has also got an extensive background in private security. As well as providing training services, he has also been involved in the following security businesses:
- Providing security to banking Institutions
- Working under the ‘Kolchuga’ security agency
- Working under the ‘Alpha-Shield’ security agency
- Doing security consulting under a legal firm
- Starting up Vega Strategic Services in 2011
- Starting up Vegacy Security Services in 2012
- Founding Vega Strategic Limited in 2013
- Involvement in Legat Security Corps, founded in 2015. (Source)
Strikingly, very little information exists concerning Smolin’s present activities. According to business records, he is the general director of numerous pharmaceutical companies. Additionally, the recent Pentagon leaks suggested Smolin was involved in the coordination of destabilisation operations in Moldova alongside Wagner. (Source) (Source)
It should be stated that a source close to Vega has denied that Smolin or Vega had any involvement in Moldova. Moreover, Vega is claimed by them to run its business legally and has no interest in involving itself in destabilisation operations. The source made it clear that violating international PMC regulation is of no interest to Vega, even if handsomely rewarded.
3.4.2 Dmitry Dzhinikashvili
Whilst not as high ranking as Smolin, Dmitry Dzhinikashivili is also a notable figure with ties to Vega. A CV of his suggests he was an instructor of special tactical readiness in Vega from 2011-2012. However, he has also been involved in numerous other conventional Russian PMCs and semi-state security formations. (Source)
Dzhinkashivilli’s past involvement in other organisations are the following:
- Serving within the Slavonic Corps in 2013. One of his responsibilities involved the provision of VIP protection in Syria
- Serving as an instructor at Seaguard Security LLC in 2012. This mainly involved the provision of maritime security training
- Involvement in the Wagner Group’s combat operations within Ukraine since 2014. It is unlikely he was deployed there for more than 2 years
- Serving in Wagner’s operation in the Central African Republic since 2018.
Allegedly, Dzhinikashvili has been an instructor at the International Training Centre ‘Wolf’ (ITCW) since 2017. The SBU has claimed ITCW has direct ties to the GRU and has been used to recruit foreign agents in European subsidiaries. Currently, ITCW may be contributing to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine through the provision of military training. (Source) (Source) (Source)
However, Dzhinikashvili may have already undertaken a new role since his employment at ITCW. Currently, no visual evidence ties Dzhinikashvili to any organisation at this time. Moreover, Dzhinikashvili has shown a pattern of moving dynamically across various roles in differing PMCs. It is therefore not implausible that Dzhinikashvili is active in a new organisation.
Regretfully, limited openly available information exists on how Vega has recruited its personnel in the past. However, information on a related company, Vegacy Strategic Services, could help assess how Vega may have recruited its personnel.
It must be noted that no openly available information shows any medium used by Vegacy for recruiting personnel other than its website. Vegacy’s now-defunct website included an ‘Our Vacancies’ section. Moreover, this section of the website stipulates that all necessary documentation for those applying is sent to an email account belonging to Vegacy.
A screenshot of Vegacy’s now-defunct website
The following appear to be the criteria for becoming employed at Vegacy based on the contents of its website:
- Past military experience
- Experience in handling a range of domestic and foreign weapons small arms
- Competence in handling domestic and foreign special protective equipment, tactical equipment and security equipment
- Experience in managing divisions and groups of personnel. This includes doing so in a special mission setting abroad
- A background in a specific military speciality
- Proficiency in English and your native language
- Experience in protecting and managing convoys if applying for a convoy security role.
126.96.36.199 Specific Requirements For Maritime Security Roles
Unsurprisingly, for those applying to maritime security roles, requirements are even more specific. They include the following:
- At least 2 years experience on naval or coast guard ships. Without such experience, those with at least three years operating on a well-reviewed civilian vessel will also be accepted
- Certification proving the completion of specialised training in maritime security
- Proof of first aid training
- Having a valid foreign passport
- Having a valid seaman’s passport
- Possession of a seaman’s service record book.
188.8.131.52 More General Requirements
Markedly, the website also includes more general requirements for those interested in working for Vegacy. These include:
- Being from the ages of 25 to 45
- Being in good physical shape
- The absence of serious medical issues such as mental health problems, HIV and drug addiction
- No prior convictions and misdemeanours
- Successful completion of a psychological evaluation
- Passing a lie detection test
Unfortunately, no openly available information exists regarding the rate of pay received by Vegacy Strategic Services personnel. However, an undisclosed source has stated that pay was below industry standard. Moreover, they also said that the relatively low wages provided to personnel reflected a broader pattern of Vega expecting high returns for insufficient investments.
As with many aspects of Vega, information on equipment is difficult to find. However, existing open-source information does suggest Vega has possessed the following in its arsenal:
- QBZ-97A rifles
- AKS-74U rifles
- Type 3 AKS-47 rifles.
- Various other AK rifle variants. Some fitted with Trijicon optics
- PKP Pecheneg light machine guns
- Sniper rifles. Most are hard to identify.
Whilst it is likely Vega has utilised an array of vehicles, none could be identified based on existing information.
4.4 Armor and Kit
- LSHZ-1 Helmets
- Other military helmets
- Ear defenders
- Tactical and army vests
- Ballistic eyewear.
A Vega operator with a Type 3 AKS-47 (Source)
5.0 Operational Information
Unlike in the case of other Russian PMCs, no evidence suggests Vega has been involved in any combat operations. Nonetheless, Vega has been documented to be involved in the provision of services to numerous actors whom Russia’s interests are aligned with.
5.1 Notable Contracts
5.1.1 Training Services For Venezuelan Internal Security Forces
Most recently, Vega was sighted in Venezuela in 2021. In a now-deleted image, the Venezuelan military posted images of Vega personnel training the National Bolivarian Guard’s Rapid Reaction Units. It is alleged that this was part of Vega’s contract with either the Russian state to train Venezuelan personnel or directly with the Venezuelan state.
As is worth stating, Vega was not the only Russian PMC element to get involved in Venezuela. The Wagner Group is also commonly agreed to have undertaken operations in Venezuela, alongside other Russian elements. Therefore, it is feasible that Vega was one of many Russian organisations providing services to the Maduro government.
Given the political environment in Venezuela at the time, Vega’s services were likely tailored to strengthen its internal security forces. By bolstering the training of many of Venezuela’s key security elements, Vega may have been providing services intended to reduce the risks of his ousting. An attempted overthrow of Maduro by the US in 2020 likely compounded the demand for these services. (Source)
However, a source close to the organisation has stated that Vega had no pronounced involvement in Venezuela at all. Whilst Vega has provided services to a range of governments, the Venezuelan state was not one of them.
5.1.2 Training Liwa Al-Quds In Syria
Two years before surfacing in Venezuela, Vega was identified as training pro-Syrian Liwa al-Quds Palestinian personnel in 2019. According to investigative researchers, Liwa al-Quds coordinated effectively with the Russian military during operations in Syria. It is, therefore, likely that Vega’s role in training Liwa al-Quds was done with the blessing of the Russian state. (Source) (Source)
Interestingly, Vega allowed Russian military blogger Oleg Blokhin to capture pictures of them fulfilling these services. Based on them, it appears that Vega’s training may have included the following:
- The use of sniper rifles
- Close-Quarter Battle (CQB) training within urban areas
- Assembling and maintaining small arms
- Clearing buildings
- Combat medicine training
- Marksmanship training
It is unclear who exactly paid Vega for its services. On the one hand, Liwa al-Quds was already coordinating closely with the Russian military and providing it with combat support. This may have incentivised the Russian state to pay for the provision of training to Liwa-al-Quds by Vega.
On the other hand, no evidence has yet surfaced of any payments made by any Russian government entity to Vega for these services. Additionally, whilst the training of Liwa-al-Quds may have been done with Russia’s blessing, it does not necessarily mean that it was paying Vega for these services.
5.1.3 Other Notable Contracts
As is noted by a source, Vega’s legal branch in Greece, Vegacy, was involved in numerous anti-piracy operations near the following regions:
- The Bab-el-Mandeb Strait
- The Gulf of Guinea
- The Persian Gulf
- The Coast of Africa
- The Coast of Somalia
- Sri Lanka
Alternatively, another source stated that Vega’s main focus has always been in Africa and the Middle East. It is therefore highly likely that Vega or branches related are providing services to governments in those regions. Unfortunately, which ones they are exactly could not be determined.
5.2 Core Services
Sadly, there is limited information on the full range of services that Vega provides. However, the defunct website of its sister organisation ‘Vegacy’ does include a list of its services. They include the following that were not previously mentioned:
5.2.1 Land Operations
- Cargo protection
- Site Security
- Executive protection
- Delivery and utilisation of advanced unmanned systems and services
5.2.2 Integrated Systems And Security Technologies
- Provision of security and fire-protection systems
- Establishing transport security complexes for various logistical hubs
- Provision of unmanned aerial and marine vehicles
- Provision of communication systems
5.2.3 Analytical Services
- Risk analysis for unstable regions
- Collection and instrumentalisation of open-source intelligence
- Language services
- Geopolitical analysis
- Creation of 3D models, mapping and orthophotos through the use of UAVs
- Geospatial services
5.2.4 Psychodiagnostic Services
- Psychological rehabilitation of individuals with PTSD
- Identifying hidden information of employees. This includes their motives, mental health issues, drug addiction issues and any prior criminal activities
- Psychometric evaluations.
5.3 Personnel Size
No openly available information provides an accurate number regarding Vega’s present or past personnel size. What is known is that Vega personnel were recruited from countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Greece and France. The personnel recruited were chosen depending on their skillset and utility when working in a given region.
6.0 Vega’s Future Outlook
Principally, Vega’s future outlook is dependent on whether it presently exists as an organisation in its current form. Many of its key figures have shown a pattern of moving dynamically between roles and business ventures. It is therefore not implausible that the organisation could have already been dissolved since 2021, or undergone a significant restructuring which has included a change in the name of the organisation.
As is worth stating, it appears Vega still exists as an organisation per a source. Despite its orientation towards the Middle East and Africa since 2011, there is only one publically known instance of its conducting operations in those regions. This suggests that Vega may have shown a pattern of obscuring its operations successfully that could be continuing to this day.
Overall, Vega is unique in its ability to adhere to many of the practices conventional PMCs adhere to whilst still having an opaque connection to the Russian state. Despite no clear involvement in clandestine combat operations on behalf of the Russian state, Vega has a record of providing its training services to some of Russia’s allies.
Whether Vega exists and what form it is currently in remains challenging to assess. This is either testament to its elusiveness or an exemplar of its key figures’ track record of dynamic movements between organisations.
Weapons IDing support by @WarNoir