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Private Military Companies (PMCs) - New "Corsairs," an Instrument of Hybrid Warfare?

For eighteen months now, Russia has been conducting a special military operation (SMO) in Ukraine. However, what Russia refers to as an "SMO," which involves a full-scale armed invasion and active combat actions on the territory of a neighboring sovereign state, is considered by the rest of the world as a full-fledged war initiated by Kremlin policymakers in pursuit of their geopolitical ambitions.

At the outset, Russia's political and military leadership relied on "blitzkrieg" tactics. Yet, due to a series of military and political miscalculations, persistence, and, it must be acknowledged, Ukrainian successes, the potential of the Russian offensive dwindled, and the war took on a positional character. Here, credit must be given to the Ukrainian army, its resilience, and professionalism. Without any inherent advantage, Ukrainians managed to halt the Russian onslaught, push Russian forces back from Kyiv, Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, and Kherson, and are currently engaged in a fairly successful counteroffensive. While not as dynamic as desired, this counteroffensive is systematic and progressive. It must be recognized that without the diverse support of the entire Ukrainian nation, for whom this war has become truly patriotic, the global civil community, and, importantly, the assistance of the collective West, which provided military, technical, and financial aid to Ukraine, the Ukrainian achievements on the battlefield and in ensuring stability within the country would have been much more modest.

And war, like a capricious child, demands more and more attention: financial resources, various kinds of assets, including human ones. And sacrifices… Human sacrifices. And not insignificant ones! According to official statements from the Ukrainian side, the losses among Russian military personnel amount to over 250,000 individuals. Obviously, such a scenario was not in the plans of the Russian leadership.

Unmet geopolitical ambitions, unresolved political tasks, as well as significant personnel losses, actively contributed to the reformatting of foreign policy and economic relations (as well as domestic and other ones, by the way), and... the implementation of mobilization in Russia. According to some sources, the prospective numerical indicators of the Russian Armed Forces are expected to reach three million. One of the arguments being used is that the military confrontation in Ukraine is being waged against NATO forces. The conclusion becomes apparent: the Kremlin is not at all seeking any reconciliation, but rather, Russia aims to escalate its aggression against Ukraine and engage the West in direct confrontation. So, discussions about peace are completely off the table here, despite all the "peaceful" statements from Kremlin propagandists, including Mr. Lavrov.

There are more than enough pieces of evidence to support this conclusion.

It must be acknowledged that in terms of military-industrial and financial resources for war, Russia is not doing as poorly today. The imposed global economic sanctions against Russia are gradually yielding results, but not as swiftly as desired. According to Putin's assurances, the country has enough resources to provide for and modernize the Russian military. The Russian military-industrial complex is gaining momentum. Enterprises are operating in three shifts! They are producing missiles, tanks, airplanes, not to mention smaller weaponry. There are also "partners" who are supplying ammunition, components, and weapon samples to Russia, bypassing the sanctions.

We've already mentioned the process of mobilization. Another wave of it is expected in the coming fall. However, it's crucial to emphasize another aspect that significantly characterizes this war – the activities of private military companies, PMCs. Specifically, the Wagner PMC.

Of course, Russia isn't a pioneer when it comes to creating and utilizing PMCs (there are about 20 of them in Russia!). They are prevalent around the world. However, in Russia, PMCs, particularly Wagner, are financed from the state budget and possess a wide range of military equipment and weaponry, including heavy weaponry. Such an "arsenal" is rare to come by. Similarly, it's hard to recall instances where non-Russian PMCs have been used in inter-state conflicts, effectively replacing regular armed forces. The Russians have managed to achieve this. The Ukrainian city of Bakhmut serves as a clear example!

Nonetheless, Russia has been practicing the use of PMCs for such purposes since 2014 when it captured the eastern regions of Ukraine, the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts. The "legend" was quite straightforward: claiming that these were miners defending their interests who took up arms, while tanks and armored vehicles were supposedly purchased from military surplus stores. Ukraine's own experience demonstrates that such actions, carried out by "non-uniformed" forces, can also constitute aggression, as they involve the annexation of one state's territory by another. It's hard to doubt that this is the case here.

The concept of the "mysterious Russian soul" is well-known. Perhaps this "mystery" influenced the unique composition of the Wagner PMC. It's intriguing to understand the weighty arguments that were presented when the PMC's leadership (most likely with Kremlin approval) decided to recruit convicted individuals serving sentences to join the Wagner ranks. The conditions within correctional facilities are known. It's not difficult to imagine what kind of "wealth" these incarcerated individuals might bring to their military service if they signed contracts with PMCs. And more than 25,000 individuals have been recruited in this manner!

But beyond this aspect of the "mysterious" Russian soul, the Kremlin's natural tendencies of negligence, irresponsibility, and lack of professionalism have also come to light. This is particularly evident in the Russian military. The consequences were not long in coming. The "Wagner" PMC, armed to the teeth and not bound by allegiance to the state, but led by their own leader, revolted. Under the guise of noble slogans about the necessity of saving Russia, they advanced from Rostov-on-Don almost to Moscow! These events became highly significant for Europe and perhaps beyond. We won't delve into all the details of what transpired, and it's acknowledged that everyone was waiting for a radical resolution involving the overthrow of the Kremlin leadership. However, no miracle occurred…

Miraculously, the leader of the revolt is alive and well, receiving new contracts in his business, while the Wagner participants in the rebellion were amnestied and redistributed. Some went into the Russian army (after all, why should a trained and battle-tested soldier go to waste), and some ended up in military camps in Belarus. And it appears that this was not just a coincidence.

Belarus, although not a direct participant in the war, has long been utilized by Russia, with the endorsement of Lukashenko, as a territory – and speaking in military terms, as a foothold – to exert influence on Ukraine and the Baltic states. The events of February 2022 vividly illustrated the fact that Russian troops entered Ukraine from Belarus, where they had previously conducted extensive "exercises."

And now, the Wagner PMC in Belarus… According to Lukashenko's statements, they are there to pass on combat experience to the Belarusian army. Once again, why let a good opportunity go to waste? And they are facilitating it! With the arrival of Wagner personnel in the Belarusian army, a prolonged "training process" began. Furthermore, as Lukashenko informed Putin, these Wagner "instructors" are very eager for a field trip to Poland! He is struggling to contain their enthusiasm.

What is this? It's a direct threat! And it's also a clear indication that the dictatorial regimes in Moscow and Minsk have already begun a hybrid war against the West. The military situation in the region is destabilizing, and new participants are being drawn into the war. This situation is also a significant challenge for the economy and social sphere. Recent events indicate preparations in Russia for a new phase of confrontation. In Ukraine. In Europe. In the world!

When it comes to various provocations involving Russian or Belarusian PMCs against European countries, there should be only one conclusion – it's aggression. NATO must respond to such provocations precisely as aggression! Excuse me, but in this matter, the "Russian tales" about the "statelessness" of PMCs and their non-affiliation with state regular military formations are inappropriate!

It's tempting to ask a rhetorical question: "What to do?" The answer is simple to the point of being banal: "Be prepared for anything!" And to begin with, it seems that NATO countries need to fully isolate and close their airspace and borders with Belarus and Russia.

Historical experience shows that the Kremlin understands only the "language of force." Many doubted that Ukraine could do it, but it is precisely Ukraine that is now the force influencing and restraining Russia. Yes, of course, not on its own! The consistent and comprehensive support of the collective West allowed Ukraine to withstand the pressure of the "second?" world army. Therefore, providing Ukraine with all necessary military equipment and arms, including long-range weapons and modern fighters, which are currently being widely discussed, will not only prevent Russian leadership from even dreaming of expanding the war's territory but even any provocations whatsoever.

The question of intensifying assistance to Ukraine is becoming increasingly relevant. And here, there's no need to mention the well-known proverb about how Russians take a long time to harness, but they travel fast... And time is "working" in their favor...

Source: 24Brussels

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