Ukraine crisis: Wagner recruits a new twist

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Ukraine crisis: Wagner recruits a new twist

Sunday, 29 January 2023 | Makhan Saikia

Ukraine crisis: Wagner recruits a new twist

The involvement of the Wagner Army by Russia in the Ukraine war fields is again raising eyebrows in the West. According to the US National Security Council, almost 80 per cent of its troops are drawn from prisons all across Russia

The Russia-Ukraine war is just a month away from one year and but there is no sign of resolution as both Kyiv and Moscow are not ready to blink first for a successful negotiation. The top global governance bodies, like the UN, are simply issuing warnings and imposing sanctions on Russia.

But for somebody like the headstrong Vladimir Putin, these sanctions make no sense; what matters to him is nothing but the fulfillment of his agenda: Rewriting the history and redesigning the geography of the Russian Federation.

What has complicated the situation is the world community’s support to Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s military resistance to Russian attacks and the sustained supply of weapons to Ukraine. And the consequence is the war getting bloodier.

With the arrival of the 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, the conflict has taken a new turn for worse. Under pressure from its Western allies, German Chancellor Ola Scholz agreed to send these tanks, considered to be one of the best for the European war fields.

Initially, Berlin was not ready to send such heavy weapons to Ukraine. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), at present it has more than 300 such battle tanks that Kyiv has been repeatedly demanding for.

Meanwhile, the US has announced it will send 30 MI Abrams tanks to the Ukrainian battlefield immediately.

Now, Russia has all the excuses to rant about global conspiracies to hit the nation on all fronts. Sergei Nechayev, the Russian Ambassador to Germany, was among the first one to take on Scholz, saying, “Berlin’s decision signifies the unequivocal refusal of the Federal Republic of Germany to recognise historical responsibility to our people for the terrible, timeless crimes of Nazism.”

The statement coming from the high office also highlighted that the supply of these dangerous battle gears would put an end to post-war reconciliation between the Russians and the Germans. Further, Nechayev stated that this step of Germany would take the conflict to a new level of confrontation.

Now Putin’s new nightmare has just began. Thus he launched a new wave of bombing raids over Ukraine. And surprisingly, this time the bombers have come from Russia’s Arctic bases. The Russian Army has fired more than 30 missiles at various targets across Ukraine.

The latest barrage of Russian drone and missile attacks killed and wounded many. Defence analysts say that Moscow has probably decided to go for spoiling attacks across the frontline war zones as a diversionary tactic. Its main purpose is to disperse Ukrainian defence forces as far as possible. In fact, such war efforts would seriously impair frontline forces in the opposite camp and distract them from the main war zones.

The involvement of the Wagner Army by Russia in the Ukraine war fields is again raising eyebrows in the West. According to the US National Security Council, almost 80 per cent of its troops are drawn from prisons all across Russia.

The Ministry of Defence of the UK reports that the Wagner Group now commands nearly 50,000 troops in Ukraine. These forces have become a key component of the Ukraine invasion. Some other reports say it recruits forces from experienced and retired soldiers. And many of them are from Russia’s special forces and elite regiments. Many say the Wagner Group, though registered as a Private Military Company (PMC) and a Russian paramilitary organisation, in reality is none other than a network of mercenaries and a de facto army of President Putin.

Although mercenary forces are completely illegal in Russia, the Wagner Group recruits openly across the country and currently operates from its new headquarters in St Petersburg.

Meanwhile, the US is planning to designate it as a transnational criminal organisation which will also allow Washington to apply stricter sanctions against the group which is already operating in the Central African Republic, Syria and Libya, to name a few.

Sources say the Wagner soldiers deployed in Ukraine at present are largely taken from prisons. Indeed it is becoming a potential source of tension between the regular Russian Army personnel and the Wagner cadres as they come in conflict with each other during their operations in Ukraine.

Simply, Putin’s own de facto army is fighting against the national forces of Russia. It’s bad news for the Russian Federation as this could mount discord among the regular soldiers who have been fighting and sacrificing their lives in many frontline and covert battles all across Ukrainian battlefields just to secure more lands and bring back glory to their motherland.

Russia can’t come out of the Ukraine imbroglio as Putin is playing on the deeply entrenched imagination that Ukraine is an integral part of their larger empire.

Ukraine is central to Russia’s identity and vision for the nation in the outer world. Russia has deep economic, political and cultural bonds with Ukraine which has been existing for centuries.

Further, Ukraine’s current capital city Kyiv was once termed the “Mother of Russian Cities” on a par with Moscow and St Petersburg.

A survey conducted in 2001 shows that approximately 8 million ethnic Russians are living in Ukraine mostly in South and Eastern oblasts.

Thus Moscow, particularly the regime under Putin, thinks it fit to protect and occupy the entire oil rich Donbas and Crimea (which was taken over by Russia in 2014). So the history and politics of the Ukraine war goes back centuries.

Much more than that Ukraine is a prestige issue for both Russia and NATO led by the US. Since the fall of the USSR, NATO and its eastward expansion has been directly termed as encircling of the Russian Federation by Putin. So why will Putin allow NATO to expand its wing over Ukraine? Instead, he prefers to occupy his neighbour in the name of protecting ethnic Russians and also to propel his global posture as the only leader who could rightly denounce the diktats from Washington and largely, the existing global liberal order.

Finally, what Putin does in the coming months would have a serious impact on the future of the international political order. His bellicosity might prove to be costly for the entire Europe and for the rest of the world.

And the sending of the new weapons to Ukraine by the NATO allies especially by Germany and the US would simply add fuel to the fire.

Knowing fully well that to justify the war, the Russian strongman is already stoking a dark and ugly form of ultra-nationalism, the latest responses from Berlin and Washington should have been very cautious. If the war continues further, we all would be clearly witnessing a ‘Zeitenwende’ that is an epochal tectonic shift in the current global power calculus.

It’s already under way. Be aware!


(The writer is the Head of the Department of Arts and Humanities at Geeta University, Panipat)


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