Since 2014, the Russian Federation has seen an increase in the number of operations performed by private military contractors. Those who are de facto Moscow’s mercenaries are committed to carrying out a series of tasks, as they offer support for Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas or guard military and oil infrastructure in Syria. Also, their position is used to extend Russia’s influence on African soil while safeguarding Moscow’s allied regimes in Latin America.
- In addition to being an export product, military services have emerged for Russia as a strategic tool for building up its strength in Asia and Africa. By grating support to local regimes and their armed forces, Moscow seeks to install its military facilities and create favorable conditions for both armaments deals and long-term mining investments.
- Private military companies are technically illegal in light of the Russian law, which serves as a convenient excuse for the Kremlin elites to deny any connection with “contractors” in a bid to diminish both political and reputational costs of breaching international law. But the activities of Russia’s Wagner Group in Syria show that an ability to plausibly deny one’s actions is limited in times of ubiquitous digitalization and open-source intelligence (OSIT) methods while falling back to hire ChVK’s (Частная Военная Компания, Chastnaya Voennaya Kompaniya), defined as private military companies, may eventually become a double-edged sword.
- Their operating in the legal gray zone emerges as an element of rivalry between Russian special forces that seek to win control over the sector of private military firms. This generates a set of specific forms of exerting operational control over “contractors”.
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