The Wagner Group, or Wagner Private Military Contractor (PMC), is a name that has been gaining notoriety worldwide in recent years. The organization is a private military contracting company but works directly for the Kremlin. Many Americans first learned of Wagner’s name in 2018, when reports estimated that a few hundred pro-Assad forces and Wagner contractors attacked American Special Operators in Syria. The ensuing battle resulted in many dead or wounded on the Assad/Wagner side, with no Americans killed. Wagner Group is currently involved in the war in Ukraine and has personnel in Syria and several African countries. Wagner personnel are responsible for several executions on video in both Syria and Ukraine. They are accused of carrying out mass executions in Africa.
Russian billionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin is the current face and leader of the PMC; although he was suspected of involvement, Prigozhin denied ties to the Wagner Group until last year. Dmitry Utkin, a Russian Special Forces commander, founded Wagner Group. Uktin’s radio call sign in the Special Forces was “Wagner,” reportedly after the German composer Richard Wagner, Adolf Hitler’s favorite composer. Vkontakte (VK) is a popular Russian social media platform. On Wagner’s official VK page, they openly refer to the company as an “Orchestra,” the header image on the page shows Wagner members holding instruments in a nod to the company founder. Unverified reports of Westerners serving alongside Russian forces inside Ukraine have been circulating online. We will look at Wagner’s recruiting efforts in Russia and the West.
Wagner In Russian Prisons
Before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022, it is believed that Wagner had 5,000 fighters deployed in Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Ukraine. According to the UK Ministry of Defense, Wagner now “commands 50,000 fighters in Ukraine.” Recently Wagner announced they would no longer recruit out of prisons. According to reports from Russian independent media, this is due to prisoners’ refusal to join, realizing they are being used as cannon fodder and sent to the front lines with little to no training. It is believed that the majority of prisoners who went to fight for the PMC died on the battlefield.
Attempts To Recruit In The West
On January 26th, the US Treasury Department designated Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organization. In February, a video appeared on social media attempting to recruit Americans to fight for Wagner in Ukraine. In a post on Telegram, Prigozhin’s press service acknowledged the video aimed at Americans and falsely claimed they received more than 10 million applications from U.S. citizens.
Earlier this year, while conducting an open source intelligence investigation, Strike Source discovered a former member of the U.S. military very clearly stating his intentions on social media to join Wagner in its war against Ukraine.
The Wagner recruitment post pictured above lists 14 African countries, Syria, and Ukraine as places recruits would be deployed to. They also provide Whatsapp and Telegram contact and salary information. The information is listed on Wagner’s official VK page. Moving the search for Wagner recruitment to American social media platforms has also yielded results.
The screenshot above was pulled from the Twitter account @DevendraGanesh1. The Telegram channel @Wagner_Employment listed in the tweet appears to be an official recruitment portal for Wagner, and has over 9,000 subscribers. It’s worth noting this tweet is written in English.
Taking a look at the @WagnerMedicalBot on Telegram provides some detail on the process of contacting Wagner for employment. You are asked to complete a questionnaire, and the above message states, “we will immediately receive and read it!” The bot streamlines the process of applying for positions at Wagner and provides a newsletter for open vacancies within the company.
In the tweet pictured here, we have what appears to be an American retweeting a Russian language Wagner recruitment post. He translated the tweet into English for Americans to see. The listed information once again leads back to Wagner recruitment portals.
This post in the screenshot above is from a Brazilian page sharing military-themed content on Facebook. Written in Portuguese like previous recruitment posts, the same verbiage explains benefits and pay and leads to WhatsApp and Telegram recruitment portals.
Wagner Group, at the moment, remains a vital part of Russia’s strategic plans on the battlefield and its information operations. Most in the West can see them for what they are. The organization has been able to persuade some towards sympathizing with Russia. The U.S. government designates them as a transnational criminal organization, making it highly likely that any American found to be working for Wagner will face serious legal consequences.
The recruitment posts on Western social media use the same words and contact information as the official Wagner page on Russian social media. Wagner has a huge online following and will continue to make headlines as the War in Ukraine continues. We will continue to monitor recruitment activity in the West.