Does Putin Have a ‘Shadow Army’?

Yevgeny Prigozhin in Saint Petersburg, Russia, 2016. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

The White House on Friday designated Russia’s Wagner Group a “significant transnational criminal organization,” which gives Washington “additional avenues” to crack down on its global network. The label was accompanied by new sanctions to “identify, disrupt, expose, and target” Wagner’s funders and supply lines.

The new restrictions, along with Wagner’s role in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine, have brought the group unprecedented attention. Yet Wagner—sometimes described as “Putin’s Shadow Army”—has already spent nearly a decade operating around the world. 

What is the Wagner Group?

The mercenaries first appeared nine years ago in Ukraine, where they worked alongside conventional Russian forces and proxy militias to capture Crimea and wage war in the Donbas. While Wagner isn’t officially part of the Russian government, the organization carries out campaigns to advance Moscow’s military, economic, and political interests in countries across the globe. Wagner is reported to have close ties to Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency, the defense ministry, and Putin himself.

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