CIA Reports That It’s Secretly Fighting Wagner Group Abroad

CIA Reports That It's Secretly Fighting Wagner Group Abroad

( – The CIA says it’s waging a covert war against the Wagner Group, the shadowy mercenary company helping fight Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. The private military company has hit the headlines over the last year after moving in to back Russia’s struggling regular army, but in fact, it’s been working in the shadows for almost a decade. It’s a powerful tool for the Putin regime, but US agents are working to defeat it.

The Wagner Group appeared, apparently out of nowhere, during Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea. It was founded by a former Russian special forces officer, Lt. Col. Dmitry Utkin, who used the callsign “Wagner,” and is now led by Col. Konstantin Pikalov. Unlike a western private military company (PMC), the Wagner Group is equipped by Russia’s defense ministry and has access to military training facilities. There are serious questions about whether it’s a genuine PMC at all; in many ways, it acts as a deniable Russian state asset.

Besides Crimea, Wagner troops fought in Ukraine’s Donbas region in 2014. Since then, it’s been active in Syria, fighting for the Russian-backed Assad government and several African and Middle Eastern conflicts. Last February’s invasion of Ukraine sparked a huge increase in the group’s profile, and probably its size. Up to 9,000 Wagner mercenaries are believed to have been killed in the war, including hundreds of convicts recruited from Russian prisons.

According to Vice, on March 8, CIA Director William Burns told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Agency is doing all it can to counter the Wagner Group. He told senators that Wagner is a “vicious, aggressive organization” that has a “deeply destabilizing” influence in many countries. He said the CIA is working with France and other allies to help governments threatened by Wagner operations.

The Biden Administration is also considering designating the PMC as a terrorist group. Some experts say the US isn’t doing enough, though. Military analyst Colin P. Clarke says the administration “has not been nimble” in its response to Wagner, and needs to take stronger action.

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