Wagner, run by the businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin seen as close to President Vladimir Putin, is playing an increasingly important role in Moscow’s war on Ukraine as Russia seeks to reverse recent battlefield setbacks.
It has employed unorthodox tactics including a campaign to find new recruits in Russia’s prison system, but is also accused of committing serial abuses on the battlefield.
“They (Wagner) are sending us a message that when we have to face these militias elsewhere, they are able to pay a very high price in blood to achieve their objectives and will be a formidable opponent,” said General Pierre Schill, chief of staff of the French army.
He said mercenary groups like Wagner would develop in importance in the future.
But he said not all were as effective as Wagner, which enjoyed a “degree of state support behind it” due to Prigozhin’s ties with Putin.
Analysts also see Prigozhin and Wagner playing a key role in Kremlin politics, underpinning a hawkish faction pressing for the war to continue.
“Wagner, because it is fighting to get its place in the Kremlin one way or another, and paying a huge price in doing so, is asking us questions and telling us that it is a formidable adversary,” Schill told reporters in Paris.
French President Emmanuel Macron has long insisted France is not a cobelligerent in the war sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year, although Paris is supplying arms to Kyiv.
But Wagner is also increasingly present in francophone Africa, where Western countries say it has deployed in Burkina Faso, Central African Republic and Mali.
Its presence has been one factor behind French military pullouts from all three countries and a resulting weakening for France of its strategic influence in the region.
Prigozhin said Sunday his troops had taken the eastern Ukrainian village of Krasna Hora, a few kilometres from the key city of Bakhmut which Moscow has been trying to capture for months.
The Ukrainian presidency said the situation was “difficult” in the area.
Looking at the world as a whole, with China and Iran increasingly cracking down on dissent, Schill said: “We are probably at a change of era of the same magnitude as that of the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
Pooliekev | 15 February 2023 - 18:58:36