Do Not Allow Outlaw Organization to Support Invasion

Russian private military company Wagner Group has been recruiting convicts from the country’s prisons as combatants and sending them to Ukraine to join the invasion.

The current situation in which illegal and unorthodox acts are allowed to continue cannot be left unchecked.

Private military companies have proliferated since the end of the Cold War, mainly in the United States and Europe. In many cases, veterans and others are hired to undertake procurement and transportation of military supplies, security, military training and other services. U.S. private military companies were engaged to provide security in Baghdad after the Iraq War.

The hiring of mercenaries is prohibited by international law. Although the distinction between employees of private military companies and mercenaries has generally been considered ambiguous, the abnormality of Wagner’s activities stands out.

Some 50,000 Wagner combatants have been sent to the front lines in Ukraine. Of these, about 40,000 are said to be convicts. Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has reportedly visited prisons in person and recruited convicts by offering them amnesty and rewards.

Russian domestic law also prohibits the recruitment of mercenaries. The head of a private company does not have the authority to grant pardons. Prigozhin is known for his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is clear that Putin is allowing Wagner’s illegal activities. The situation is inexcusable.

The Russian military has been unable to expand the areas it occupies in Ukraine, and Moscow is struggling to mobilize troops, as such efforts could provoke a public outcry. The fact that Wagner is sending villains to the front lines and achieving a certain level of success is likely a major source of support for the Kremlin.

The problem is that the presence of Wagner combatants is shrouded in secrecy and little is known about their affairs.

It has been claimed that Wagner combatants are killing and torturing civilians in occupied areas, but it is not easy to hold them accountable for their actions. When combatants are killed or wounded, Wagner does not announce it. Their treatment as effectively disposable resources is inhumane.

Since the Russian government and Wagner are dependent on each other and cannot be expected to correct the situation on their own, the international community needs to step up its monitoring and sanctions.

The U.S. government has designated Wagner as a “significant transnational criminal organization” and has begun stepping up pressure. A Chinese company that has been providing satellite imagery to Wagner is among companies that have been sanctioned, and firms in other countries have been urged not to engage in business with those companies.

Wagner has sent combatants to Syria and the Central African Republic, and it has obtained concessions to mine such natural sources as oil, gold and diamonds in return for supporting authoritarian regimes. These sources of funding must be cut off to curtail Russia’s ability to continue the war.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 4, 2023)