The Wagner Group private military company (PMC) operated without drawing much attention to itself, often conducting clandestine operations to advance the Kremlin’s foreign policy.
The controversy surrounding the Wagner Group begins with its obscure and legally dubious origins. An opaque network of private security groups, the Wagner PMC first emerged in 2014, during the Russian annexation of Crimea, and has since expanded its operations
Utkin’s and Putin Nazi sympathies are especially egregious in the context of the current Russian war in Ukraine, given that the official Russian narrative at the outset justified the “special military operation” as a campaign to supposedly liberate Ukrainians from neo-Nazis.
This legal loophole gives the Russian government a mechanism to exercise plausible deniability for any Russian mercenary activity and hide accurate casualty numbers in conflict zones, giving the false impression of greater success in potentially unpopular interventions abroad. Effectively, these mercenary forces — many of them backed by influential oligarchs with close ties to the Kremlin — have become a paramilitary arm of the Russian government.