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What in the World?

Wagner Group deploying in Ukraine signals trouble for Russia

Mar 30, 2022

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A large force of Russia’s Wagner Group is heading to Ukraine, leaving the Russians vulnerable in other parts of the world as negotiations over the entire conflict continue. Before we go any further, you should understand that the Wagner Group purports to be a “private security organization”–what you and I might otherwise call mercenaries. Plenty of groups like this exist around the world, but with an emphasis on private.

The Wagner Group has many ties to Russian military intelligence (still known by its former acronym GRU) and tends to pop up in places where Russian interests are best served by individuals with some degree of plausible deniability of links to Russian national leadership. We’ve seen them most notably in Ukraine’s Donbas region, Syria, and Libya, but they’ve been active everywhere from Venezuela to the Central African Republic to Mozambique. And now they’re operating in Ukraine.

It looks like they’re gonna be concentrated in moving forward in places like Mariupol specifically so that the Russians can kill as many people as possible, especially civilians, while also saying that these folks are not part of the Russian government. 

The Wagner Group affords Vladimir Putin the flexibility to pursue Russian interests without attracting too much pushback, both from the international community and from within the Russian state. As a result, Russia’s been able to play in a wide range of theaters far from the immediate realm of Russia’s borders.

At least, they used to be able to do so. With the recalling and redeployment of Wagner Group forces back to the Ukrainian theater, we’re seeing a reduction of resources the Russian state has to pursue multiple national policy objectives.

So as the war continues to grind on, and as Russia’s expeditionary capabilities focus more and more and more on Ukraine, Russia’s ability to intervene decisively or even marginally in large parts of the world is going to zero.

It’s also another sign that Russia massively miscalculated how quickly it could engineer a total capitulation of the Ukrainian state and its people.

Hi everyone, Peter Zeihan here coming to you from America’s Pacific coast.

The new news in Ukraine is that the Russians are redeploying a large force of Wagner Organization peacekeepers. Now Wagner’s kind of an interesting group. They were formed originally, roughly about nine years ago for the Ukraine war. And they serve as sort of a paramilitary arm of the Kremlin that reports directly to cronies who are in Putin’s inner circle.

Now they are usually used in places where the Russians would like a degree of separation between formal Russian forces and where they know they’re going to have to be particularly brutal. So Wagner was used extensively in Syria, as well as a number of conflicts throughout the Middle East, and especially in Africa. They do very well in places where central control is thin and reporters are hard to find. As a result they’ve been implicated in any number of war crimes.

And so far Wagner has been involved in the Ukraine conflict already, and there it looks like they’re gonna be concentrated in moving forward in places like Mariupol specifically so that the Russians can kill as many people as possible, especially civilians while also saying that these folks are not part of the Russian government. 

I’m not quite sure why the window dressing is continuing, but I guess it helps with propaganda at home.

The bigger point from my, from the angle that I’m seeing, however, is every time that the Russians pull forces like Wagner from other theaters to throw into Ukraine, it means that there’s fewer Russian theaters, that I’m sorry, there’s fewer theaters that have enough Russian troops to achieve Russian goals. So at first, the Russians were pulling troops from the Far East because they didn’t believe that they needed to guard against the Chinese, so Far East pretty much open right now.

But we also know that the Russians have pulled forces from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, which is a country that they threw troops into in a 2004 war. And those Russian troops have been largely responsible for keeping a couple of semi-independent enclaves under the Russian thumb.

By pulling Wagner, it’s going to be much more difficult for the Russians to control or even contribute to any sort of Russian goals, throughout the overall spaces where Wagner normally works, especially Sub-Saharan Africa.

So as the war continues to grind on, and as Russia’s expeditionary capabilities focus more and more and more on Ukraine, Russia’s ability to intervene decisively or even marginally in large parts of the world is going to zero.

So a few months from now, I can see it being very feasible for countries who are on the other side of the Russians everywhere to be able to move and roll up any Russian games.

So this war is still big. This war is still hot. This war is still ongoing.

This war is going to last months, but every decision that the Russians make is now coming at a cost and the strategic implications of that are gonna vary region by region, decade by decade.

But it does mean the large scale melon-scooping of Russian power out of large portions of the world, this general expansion of Russian reach that we have seen under Vladimir Putin is now in screaming retreat.

Okay. That’s it for now. Until next time.

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