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The History and the Anatomy of Kremlin’s Private Military Companies

#Ronin about PMCs in the service of the Kremlin. What it is and how Russia uses them in hybrid aggression.

The first public information regarding the private military companies of Russian Federation started to appear long before the aggression against Ukraine and reports on PMC Wagner. All in all, Russians had a somewhat ambiguous situation with private military back then, on the eve of Russian military reform.

On one hand, the strict chain of command was hesitant to allow the non-government structures to “solve particular questions”. What is the PMC, according to the Montreux Document? “… private business entities that provide military and/or security services, irrespective of how they describe themselves.” It is of no matter what is said in your statute, whether you are a pub or seamstress guild, if you guard the buildings, provide services to vehicles or weapon systems, train the fighters, escort the convoys, deliver the cargo to the frontline, escort the vessel — you are a private military company by definition.

It is natural that Russian security considered that after getting some practice in Near East, Asia or in a numerous conflicts on the territory of former USSR, officers and operatives of PMCs can easily join the inter-state fights for power, up to storming the Kremlin. Constitutional crisis of 1993 and Alexander Rutskoy being shot down in his aircraft on the border of Pakistan, together with fighters of Russian National Unity movement were a good arguments towards the Kremlin’s strategy on holding back the centrifugal process of the state losing its monopoly on violence.

On the other hand, the numerous veterans of Tajikistan conflicts, both Chechnya wars, numerous Afghanistan veterans, “cossaks” and GRU operatives checked in Georgia or Moldova, were in need of employment, while the country was in need of the foreign exchange earnings.

The important thing is, the creation of enforcers outside of state monopoly happened in Russian Federation even without the private military companies. Security companies and municipal militias appeared everywhere, and they recruited people with combat experience. Having the completely controlled courts, district attorneys by the phone call, local “wars” for the head of “JSC Rosoboronexport”, where former KGB officers protected the owners of restaurants from gangsters, or “Yukos” expropriation — solving the problem with the brute force never looked as a relic of the past. The dissolution of government institutions always cause the rollback to the centuries-proven feudalism, and the “feudal army” under the protection of Investigative Committee of Russia, Federal Protective Service or Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces can achieve much.

Of course, it all started with The National Wealth — “Gazprom” was allowed to have a strong security, up to helicopters and heavy armaments. Not only beyond the country borders, in the “trouble spots”, but also for protecting the infrastructure in the northern regions. Because there were cases when locals, fed up with the misery of 1990s in the far away taiga, shut down the pipelines or even dismantled the equipment for scrap metal.

The more, the merrier — security departments of “Interenergoservice”, “Lukoil”, Oryol city “Tsentr Antiterror” company signing up contract with “Tatneft” oil company. First Iraq, to provide protection for the oil production and transportation, to guard the perimeter of oil wells, to escort the VIPs or administration convoys. In next ten years Russian PMCs spread from oil and gas production into all sensitive spheres of the market. Humanitarian mine clearance in Serbia. Personnel training in Nigeria. Escorting of convoys and guarding the airports in Sierra Leone. Escorting the vehicles in the Gulf of Aden and Strait of Hormuz. Beside that — intelligence, analytics, consulting services. Back before the war in Syria about a dozen of large private military companies appeared. A support from the state, a lot of people with combat experience, low sensitivity of Russian society to the losses in personnel, a numerous interests of Russian companies abroad — these are the recipes of such rapid growth. “E.N.O.T. Group”, PMC “MAR”, “RSB Group”, “Moran Security Group”, “Redut Antiterror”. Most of them were spotted in the aggression against Ukraine as well.

It’s quite simple actually. Not a single Ukrainian military division defected to the side of separatists and hybrid army structures of Russian Federation. Not a single senior officer. Not a single command center as a whole. Even the border guards and national guard preferred to oppose and leave the occupied territory. The air defense division on “Zenit” position staged a proper Battle of Stalingrad by the scale of this war. Not a single Rear D did not deferred — that’s why special forces of “Donetsk People’s Republic” died and why Russian majors ended up captured while escorting the supplies to the “republicans”, but made a wrong turn.

Not a single civil war had anything similar — in Libya, in Syria, in Yugoslavia, in Lebanon generals, officers and the whole divisions deferred to the rebel side. And only in Ukraine, when the intervention of Russian Federation started, supported by the screaming from TV, military forces (except for few isolated cases) kept their oath and duty.

So, who helped to create this “hybrid army”? Do you think those were little elves who opposed to Ukrainian battalion tactical groups with heavy armament at the early stages of special operation? And When Maksim “Olkhon” Tkhorzhevsky covered with a mask beats to death a supposed drug pusher with a whip, when he takes part in battle for Logvinovo, and then evacuates to Russia, and then surfaces again in Syria — do you think he’s simple tourist who likes to visit the hot spots? And when the 30 or 40 thousands of hybrid army, without any military industry in the region, without any oil refineries in the region, without military schools and without the established supply suddenly turn into corps with hundreds of tanks, artillery, even though they simply cannot cover the 470 kms of the line of contact with their staffing? Who provides them with training, supplies, rotations? The local miners? A brigade in the maneuvering defense covers 20 km of the battle line.

Take a map and measure the distance between Stanytsia Luhanska and Shyrokyne, and try to find an answer to the phenomenon, how — while simultaneously taking care of combat coordination, operations against saboteurs, protecting the bases in the rear, permanent encampments, heavy armaments positions — how the corps of “people’s militia” with 8 brigades and 5 regiments can hold the line?

That’s where all these “Troya”, “Wagner” and other “ENOT” are come to play — as a legend to cover up the actions of Russian Federation state military role in the aggression against Ukraine. Someone is making a photo of himself in the White Guard uniform circa 1918, posts it on the Internet forums, and later visits the TV talk shows. And someone is quietly doing his job. In some cases PMCs supply militants with optics, ammunition and ammo, as “ENOT” does. In some cases they turn the local low-lives turned up to get 16000 rubles per month in the proper army. Someone is escorting the convoys, someone protects Russian “adversaries” and officers, take care of routine Rear D work. And someone is taking care of commander Mozgovoy, sending him up in the air, or disarms the bandits, sending their own comrades to the cemetery or behind the bars, all in the process of brigades creation.

There’s more than enough of photographs, communications intercepted, documents on private military solving “particular tasks”. “InformNapalm”, “CyberAlliance”, “Myrotvorets Center” all have enough of these. Staring with 2014 and up to current date — you can browse through the documents just to feel the scale of it. From the operations of capturing the bases of national guard to the IL76 shot down in Lugansk to fights near Sanzharivka. In this article we do not aim to find new facts of Russian aggression against Ukraine. But we try to assess the degree of danger as a whole.

Long before the war general Sergey Kanchukov, the head of intelligence department of Siberian Military District was promoting the idea of using private military companies by Russian Federation army. Since then he was kicked out from the army, but apparently his case is up and running. The mentioned PMC “Wagner” of Dmitry Utkin, which Russian “Fontanka” media loves so much to write about, didn’t do well in Ukraine. In the time of fights for Debaltseve and the positions of Ukrainian 128th Mountain Assault Brigade, PMC Wagner was caught under the fire of artillery brigade, losing 14 people dead, “Ural” vehicles, two T72 tanks, one fallen from the bridge — this fight is described in detail in the article of Censor.net.ua web site.

“Wagner” still has 2000 of staff, which Ukrainian intelligence knows by names and codenames. Together with artillery group, armoured squadron, supply and commandment — over 3600. Basically, a professional brigade.

So what is the number of troops of Top-15 Russian private military companies, with “operative reserves” which virtually every one of them has? 25 000 people? 40 000 people? This is a tabooed topic in Russia, it is not discussed and spoken by official sources, and it is very hard to understand which is true and which is not in the private media. You cannot estimate the number of troops by the circumstantial evidences — the financing is performed not only through the Ministry of Defense, and the fighters sign the non-disclosure agreements for 5-10 years.

This is cheap. A fighter earns 80-120 thousand rubles per month, while personally acquiring the equipment, the ammunition and medical supplies. Do you want a plate carrier or the media pad? Buy them off your salary and prize money as grown-ups do.

This is indeed much cheaper than to provide for contract soldier with compensations, medical care, providing him with body armor and digital communication systems. The member of PMC may not be trained between the conflicts — he will pay for this training and for shooting range himself, to be competitive on the market. He can be pointed to a vehicle with worn out tires or BRDM with homemade protective cage, and he will have no choice but to go out in the field. He died? It’s easy to shut his family and make them delete accounts in social media, simply threatening to cancel the payments. Does your society stirred because of losses? We didn’t send them there, those are private companies working for Syria government or the unrecognized Donetsk People’s Republic, you can try and appeal to them. Or better be quiet and work for your median average 22000 rubles of monthly income, while members of “Wagner” pay their mortgages for the flat in Moscow. It’s covert — you can inject thousands of trained fighters into any division of regular army, and you don’t need an approval of military operation by the public, you don’t need to care about tears of “Committee of Soldiers' Mothers”, you don’t even need an approval from your pet State Duma. No criticizing of Putin and the government. Were the combatants ambushed, did they wandered onto the minefield, did they get under the air strike as in Syria? Trade secret, no publication of losses. Did anything happened at all? Nothing happened. This is mere business, Russian, nothing to see here, go pay your taxes instead. Using them on call, they come, they do the job on Mozgovoy, the go away. Send your appeals to anywhere you want.

To anyone who is worried by President Poroshenko trying to usurp the power and introducing the military law to “cancel the elections”. To anyone who is so worried with petty squabbles. Raise your eyes from your richest soil in Europe, off your provincial town troubles with paving slabs, drugstores and underground casinos. Look across the border.

The private armies of the size of National Guard of the country with 40 million of populations are developing. Private armies seasoned through fighting for 15 years, from Sri Lanka to Syria. The armies which already tasted Ukrainian blood in 2014, and who are eager to repay for the fails of 2015. Private armies which continue to supply, train, agitate and support the “Hybrid Russian army” of “corps” of Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. Paid fourfold than average Russian is paid, they are ready to kill, to die, to get under USA air strikes, and to never get back home, even in the coffin covered with three-colored flag.

You know yourself what’s up with private military companies in Ukraine. You know just as well how good is our society in sustaining the hardships and losses.

The clocks are ticking. Sooner or later another shelling in the United forces operation zone, or another clash at the sea will lead to another escalation. Do not forget about this, not for a second.

This is the only thing important now.

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