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What in the World?

Say goodbye to Russia’s Wagner Group within year


Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist


When Russia was struggling to find new recruits last year to fight its war in Ukraine, the Wagner Group, a private paramilitary organization, stepped in. A group of bipartisan Senators wants to designate the group as a terrorist organization for its ruthless tactics on the battlefield. According to the White House, more than 30,000 members of the group—mostly recruited from prisons to serve on the front lines—have been injured or killed in Ukraine.

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan believes there’s little chance the group will be able to find fresh recruits, which puts the very existence of the Wagner Group at risk.

Excerpted from Peter’s Feb. 21 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

There are very few instances when a prisoner would refuse a chance to get out of jail… In Russia, convicts have the opportunity to join the Wagner Group in exchange for a get-out-of-jail card.

If you’re not familiar with the Wagner Group, they’re the militant group that commits war crimes on behalf of the Russian government. Or, if you ask the Russian government, they’re an independent mercenary group that just so happens to support Russian national interests while having zero ties to the government. I’ll let you choose your preferred narrative.

Regardless of who is pulling the strings, the Wagner Group is working against the clock. They’ve depleted their supply of new recruits (ex-military and convicts being the two sources), and if they continue to incur such high casualties, they won’t be around for much longer.

Hey everybody, Peter Zion here coming to you from Palm Beach. Today I wanted to take a minute to talk about Wagner. Now Wagner is the Russian paramilitary group that is controlled by a guy named Yevgeny Prigozhin. And it has served the Russians in any number of ways in doing military things that they would rather not be officially associated with. 

And that has been the appeal from the Russian government’s point of view – that this is not a state company. This is not a branch of the military. This is a dude who honestly was just a caterer who decided that he was going to form a militant group to serve Russian national interests. And in doing so the Russians have had a lot of pseudo plausible deniability. And it’s involved in a lot of war crime activities in Africa, and in the Ukraine war, it’s been heavily involved in the Battle of Bakhmut, which is where they’ve been basically throwing people after people after people into the grinder. A minimum of 10,000 deaths there, perhaps as many as 30, or 40,000 – just an obscene numbers of casualties. 

Now, the Russians have used things like Wagner starting in the last Ukraine war. In 2014, they said that Wagner, because it is not the Russian government, was actually acting on the interests of the local Russians in eastern Ukraine, and therefore they were part of a rebellion against Ukraine as opposed to some sort of imperialistic war. 

Well, now, several years on, it’s obvious that Wagar is just an arm of the Russian state. But that doesn’t mean that we need to get used to it. And I’m not advocating for any sort of strike against Wagner. Wagner is taking care of this itself. You see, Wagner recruits its forces from two groups. The first are former military officers and Russia. But now that Russia is in an act of war, there’s no such thing as a former military officer. Everyone is being re-upped and kept within the system because the Russians are going from having 100,000 men in Ukraine to 700,000 in the not-too-distant future, and probably more they’re on. So there is no longer a pool of skilled military recruits for Prigozhin and Wagner to pull from because they’re all going to be in the military. 

The second big source of troops that they’ve had during Ukraine is prisons. They basically go to prisons, say for a six month stint, you will get out, but then they proceed to use the people like cannon fodder, and very few of them survive the next six months. So number one, Wagner’s almost emptied the prisons of the people who might qualify, and two, the people who haven’t left, you’re like, holy crap, six months serving Wagner as cannon fodder? I’ll take my chances in prison, thank you very much. So one way or another, this is probably the final campaign – forget the final war, final campaign – that Wagner will be part of. They’re just not going to be able to maintain their numbers. And so any talk of a palace coup with Prigozhin trying to get some official position within the government, honestly, I think is kind of pointless, because he’s not going to be able to replicate what he’s done. Moving forward, the implications for the Ukraine war are limited, because, you know, it’s still a war, the Russian military is fully engaged. But elsewhere in the world, the implications are significant, because the Kremlin has been using Wagner to send forces to do unsavory things and generate influence all around the world, most notably in Africa. And if Wagner cannot maintain its current staffing levels, much less expand in the future, it’s only a matter of time before one country somewhere decides that Wagner is  more trouble than it’s worth and either sends it home or starts shooting at it. And when that happens, we’ll have a cascade of effects around the world as basically Wagner gets rolled up because they no longer have any recruitment capacity. They no longer have staff in reserve, they can’t surge anywhere, and they’re not an official arm of the Russian government so they can be cleared out with minimal diplomatic fallout. So it’s been fun while it lasted, but this is Wagner’s last year. Until next time.

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