The Wagner Group, the Russian private military company that is effectively Putin’s personal army, has long operated in the shadows to do Putin’s dirty work, such as stealing gold from Sudan. However, the group apparently has had so many casualties in Ukraine that it’s now recruiting in public.

In “Russia’s private military contractor Wagner comes out of the shadows in Ukraine war”, the Guardian’s Pjotr Sauer reported yesterday that the Wagner Group has put up billboards in Yekaterinburg, a city of about 1.5 million in Russia’s Ural district. One billboard features three shadowy soldiers with the words “Orchestra Wagner waiting for you” along with a telephone number and the name of a recruiting website. A website blurb said:

They have already liberated Popasna, join us to liberate the entire Donbas! Go on your first combat campaign with living industry legends!

(The recruiting website has since been taken down because Hostinger, its Internet domain provider based in Lithuania, said that the website was “cloaking” itself with VPNs, crypto payments and fake IDs.)

Similar ads have appeared in other Russian cities, some saying that Wagner pays a monthly salary of over 240,000 rubles (about $4,000) — several times what Russian soldiers are paid. The idea is to attract 24-year-olds who are down and out in Yekaterinburg and don’t know how bad things are for the Wagner Group’s mercenaries in Ukraine.

Sauer writes:

Wagner is often referred to by its supporters and members as the “orchestra”, a reference to the German composer Richard Wagner. The group’s alleged founder, Dmitry Utkin, has been linked to the far right and is believed to have named it after Hitler’s favourite composer.

The Wagner Group has never been a match for a real army, as witness the outcome of a 2018 firefight in Syria when about 500 Wagner group mercenaries and pro-Syrian government forces with three T-72 tanks attacked about 40 US Delta Force soldiers and Rangers with air support. In that firefight the attacking force suffered about 50% casualties; the defenders, zero.

Now, however, the Wagner Group’s effectiveness may be so low that Putin may be wondering what he’s spending his money on. Sauer quotes Marat Gabidullin, a former Wagner commander, as saying:

Even before the conflict, less than 30% of the soldiers in Wagner were actual professionals…. Now, the group will mostly consist of a bunch of amateurs.… The circus that is Russia continues.

“Circus” is not the word I’d have chosen.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.

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