Russia is likely seeking to sponsor and develop alternative private military companies (PMCs) to eventually replace the Wagner Group PMC in its significant combat role in Ukraine, the British Intelligence posted in its daily update:
- This takes place in the context of the high-profile feud between the Russian Ministry of Defence and Wagner Group. Russia’s military leadership likely wants a replacement PMC that it has more control over.
- However, no other known Russian PMC currently approaches Wagner’s size or combat power.
- Russia likely sees continued utility for PMCs in Ukraine because they are less constrained by the limited pay levels and inefficiency which hamper the effectiveness of the regular army.
- Russia’s leadership probably believes heavy casualties amongst PMCs will be better tolerated by Russian society compared to regular military losses.
Signs that the Russian establishment is aiming to create a structure to rival Wagner appeared in November 2022, when Ukrainian intelligence reported that Armen Sarkisyan, a criminal figure linked to fugitive ex-president Yanukovych, was tasked with setting up the new group and planned to many of his recruits from among the prison population to the structure. The PMC is designed to create internal competition among existing Russian PMCs, as well as strengthen Russian occupation formations, the intelligence reported, adding that its creation indicates an attempt to counterbalance the de facto monopoly over the field of PMCs held by the Wagner Group’s financier, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Currently, political analysts are closely watching the conflict between Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group’s private military company, and the Russian General Staff, while the group’s fighters, which now include some Russian prisoners recruited in exchange for amnesty, are playing a key role in the assault on Bakhmut, according to the Institute for Study of War. Prigozhin has repeatedly complained about a lack of ammunition and accused the Russian Ministry of Defense of mistreating the mercenaries and causing their deaths. The Institute for the Study of War believes that the infighting between the Russian Ministry of Defense and Prigozhin is being used to destroy the Wagner Group and weaken Prigozhin’s position. While the conflict is not expected to be a major factor in ending the war, it is viewed as beneficial for Ukraine, as it limits Russia’s ability to effectively use its resources to achieve its military objectives in Ukraine, ISW member George Barros explained in an interview.