The rise of Russia’s private army, the Wagner Group, to global prominence since the start of the war in Ukraine could risk other Western adversaries adopting similar mercenary forces, a UN official has warned a committee of MPs.
The Foreign Affairs Committee has released shocking findings following an investigation into Wagner’s activities around the world.
The Chair of the UN Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries has cautioned the MPs that other countries might follow Russia’s lead.
Sorcha MacLeod advised that the UN Working Group has tracked an extremely concerning rise in the use of mercenaries not just by Russia but by other countries too.
The Committee’s report published on Wednesday also pointed out the growing appetite by the Chinese state to deploy private security companies to secure key infrastructure along Beijing’s infamous “Belt and Road” mega project.
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In the report, Ms Maclead said: “We are seeing increasing use of them. We are seeing them being used not just by Russia but also by other countries, and it is extremely concerning to the working group that that trend is emerging.
“We published a report in 2020 that was submitted to the UN General Assembly. We highlighted the new manifestations, the proxy actors.”
She added: “From our perspective, the biggest concern is the insertion and deployment of these types of actors into armed conflicts where they do not help the situation.”
The report entitled ‘Guns for Gold: The Wagner Network Exposed’ also argued that as the fallout from the Wagner Network unfolds, attention should be given to Syria and Iran’s involvement with PMCs.
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The research gives new light on the Wagner Network’s operations and its tight ties with the Russian state, and includes testimony from a former top Wagner fighter who reveals previously unknown facts.
As part of its investigation, the Committee commissioned open-source investigative research for the first time, resulting in the identification of Wagner-connected individuals and organisations.
The report harshly criticises the government’s response to the Wagner Network’s threats and recommends for a drastic shift in strategy to disrupt its operations.
Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns MP, said: “This is a landmark report and exposes the dark underbelly of a network that until recently thrived in the shadows.
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“In the ten years since the Wagner Network’s formation, the UK Government has lacked a coherent strategy and efforts to meaningfully tackle Wagner have been non-existent.
“This has allowed the network to grow, spread its tentacles deep into Africa, and exploit countries on their knees due to conflict or instability.
“Where the West moves out, Wagner moves in, seeing opportunity in suffering and profit in chaos. Today’s report lays bare the activities of the network in seven key countries, where there is clear evidence of Wagner operations.
“The UK must provide an alternative for countries that are struggling; those who feel abandoned by the developed world and see the Wagner Network as a provider of security. Partnership with the Wagner Network is not just beneficial to the Russian Government, it is a foreign policy goal of the Kremlin to force failing states to rely on the Wagner Network.
“We are deeply concerned by the Government’s dismal lack of understanding of Wagner’s hold beyond Europe, in particular their grip on African states. This is a fundamental failing of joined up government; ministers appear to be in denial about the consequences of failing to tackle this malign business model before it takes hold.
“If we are to undermine the operations of the Wagner Network, we need to sever the network’s wealth at its source. We are calling for the Government to sanction organisations and individuals known to prop up Wagner – faster and harder than before. We are unconvinced that the Government’s ‘sanction’ of the group truly captures the complex web of entities beneath it.
“In the wake of the attempted coup last month, the future manifestations of the Wagner Network are uncertain. With the network at its most vulnerable – and the clock ticking – the time for action is now.”
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