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Brothers In Arms: The Russian Army And The Wagner Group

Russia-backed mercenaries in Ukraine are gunning for Zelensky.

Wagner forces in Syria

As the invasion of Ukraine by Russia continues, reports of brave Ukrainians protecting their cities and civilian casualties are making the headlines.

No one is safe in a warzone, least of all the leaders who remain to fight with their compatriots. Ukrainian President Zelensky, while talking to his EU counterparts as Russian tanks crossed into his country, had said, "...this might be the last time you see me alive." His words were not hyperbole.

Reports have emerged that the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council chief, Oleksiy Danilov, has claimed that President Volodymyr Zelensky was the target of an assassination plot that was foiled.

According to some reports, Kadyrovites, the elite Chechen special forces, were behind the attempt and were "eliminated." In an unexpected, unverified twist, chief Danilov claimed that Ukrainian authorities were tipped off by Russian Federal Security Service members who opposed the war.

Since the outbreak of the war, it has been widely reported that members of the mercenary company, the Wagner Group, were on the ground in Kyiv. There was speculation that the ruthless private military company was entrusted with the task of assassinating Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by the Kremlin.

The Wagner Group, a private militia, is known to carry out covert operations for Moscow. Run by one of President Putin's closest allies, the band of soldiers conducts clandestine operations for the Russian government in places as far as Africa, the Middle East, and South America.

Working as a proxy for Moscow, the group founded by Dmitry Utkin, a veteran of the Russian intelligence agency, GRU, was found to have played a significant role in Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014. Their presence in the breakaway territories of Ukraine, Donetsk, and Luhansk over the years has also been documented.

Intelligence collected does suggest that the Wagner Group moves predominantly according to Moscow's bidding. Russia cannot deny the fact. The group's founder, Dmitry Utkin, was photographed at a Kremlin reception in 2016. A Russian news website reported that he was "decorated with a military honor for his services in Ukraine." The photograph was shared on the social media platform Twitter for the world to see.

As President Zelensky had turned down offers to be evacuated from Ukraine and chosen to stay on in undisclosed locations around Kyiv, it was expected that he would be the target of assassination plots. Many believe that the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is keen to eliminate the popular Ukrainian leader and install a puppet regime aligned to Moscow in his place.

The presence and role of private security companies (PSCs) and private military companies (PMCs), like the Wagner Group, expanded in the post-Cold War era, states a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) report released in September 2020. These 'freelance soldiers' are cheap, easy to deploy on short notice, and less accountable or bound by laws than a regular army.

The "less accountable" aspect leads to such groups committing atrocious war crimes and human rights abuses. In December 2021, the European Union sanctioned the Wagner Group for "serious human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings, and destabilizing activities in countries including Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic, and Ukraine's Donbas region."

The presence of Russian-backed mercenaries in Ukraine adds to the world's concerns. The mercenaries are unlikely to play by international laws, with the Russian military not sparing civilians. Being covert operatives, it is highly likely that these soldiers will continue to remain in Ukraine, threatening its stability even if the Russian army pulls out officially.

With negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow entering the second day, we hope that a ceasefire would soon be declared, granting at least a reprieve to Ukrainians and a cessation of political assassination plots.

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It’s Time To Walk The Talk To Defend Ukraine
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