This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.
Date Published: 26 July 2023
Russia’s renewed illegal invasion of Ukraine confirmed long-standing but contested assumptions about the Russian Government’s support, funding and facilitation of the Wagner Network. Recent events in Russia following Prigozhin’s march on Moscow left significant questions over the future of the network and its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin. The UK Government should seize this opportunity to deter countries and individuals from engaging with the Wagner Network, and to marshal Government efforts to monitor and assess the ambitions and impacts of Private Military Companies (PMCs).
Wagner’s activities in Ukraine are not representative of the network’s operations globally. A collection of individuals and entities globally make up the ‘Wagner Network’, engaged in military, economic, political and influencing operations — on several occasions with the consent and invitation of national authorities. The network’s military operations can be mapped in at least seven countries (Ukraine; Syria; the Central African Republic; Sudan; Libya; Mozambique; and Mali), with medium or high confidence that the network has been involved in a non-military capacity in 10 further countries since 2014. There are many more countries where the network’s presence is rumoured. Even when the Wagner Network has not acted as a direct proxy of the Russian Government, the Kremlin is likely to have benefited from its presence. So long as the Wagner Network survives in some form, we believe that countries may still, despite an apparent failure of Wagner to deliver on their commitments, turn to the network for security reasons, despite the high price: atrocities, corruption and the plunder of natural resources. There are serious national security threats to the UK and its allies of allowing malign PMCs to continue to thrive, not to mention devastating human consequences.
The Government counters the Wagner Network primarily via military support for Ukraine, which the Committee fully supports. However, it is a significant failing to see the Wagner Network primarily through the prism of Europe, not least given its geographic spread and the impact of its activities on UK interests further abroad. It is deeply regrettable that it was not until early 2022 that the Government began to invest greater resource in understanding the Wagner Network, despite Wagner fighters having already conducted military operations in at least seven countries for almost a decade. This leaves the Government even less prepared to respond to the network’s evolution. The Government’s failure to address the Wagner Network leads us to conclude a fundamental lack of knowledge of, and policy on, other malign PMCs.
The UK’s efforts to sanction entities and individuals linked to the Wagner Network are underwhelming in the extreme. Beyond these limited sanctions, the Government has not told us anything specific that it is doing to challenge the network’s influence and impunity outside of Ukraine. We received no evidence of any serious effort by the Government to track the Network’s activities in other countries. Ministerial statements also lead us to question whether the Russia Unit provides the necessary join-up between the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and Treasury on sanctions, let alone wider Government departments.
To challenge the mystique cultivated by the Wagner Network, deter involvement, and enable the Government to improve its apparently limited understanding, we are publishing Wagner-linked names, as identified via open-source research and with the legal protection of parliamentary privilege. The Government should urgently assess these to consider whether the threshold for sanctions is met. We also recommend that the Government: