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The complicated use of mercenary troops and the Wagner Group

A retired U.S. Army officer explains the use of mercenaries in war.
The complicated use of mercenary troops and the Wagner Group
Posted at 12:30 PM, Jun 27, 2023

The rebellious mercenary soldiers who briefly took over a Russian military headquarters on a march toward Moscow have subsided, but how the revolt of the mercenaries impacted Russian President Vladimir Putin remains to be seen. 

Yevgeny Prigozhin, who led the Wagner Group, will go into exile in Belarus but will not face prosecution, under an agreement reached with the Kremlin. It’s unclear what would ultimately happen to him and his mercenary forces. Few details of the deal were released by the Kremlin or Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who brokered it. 

“Mercenary groups like Wagner are a necessary evil,” said retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Vasili Karatzas. “They fill in the gaps that the army can’t do.”

Karatzas was a chemical biological radioactive nuclear officer and an Iraq War veteran who led troops and now serves as a consultant for a United States defense contractor. Mercenaries can do things that uniformed soldiers representing their countries cannot, Karatzas said. But their loyalty could waver. 

“Their loyalty is with their paymaster,” Karatzas said. 

The United States military does not engage in the use of mercenaries, Karatzas said. It may hire contractors, but not soldiers who will fight, Karatzas said, noting he has worked as a Department of Defense contractor after his military retirement to consult. 

In Iraq, some of the security officers were contractors, he added.

 “We have a lot more rules when our contractor does bad stuff,” he said.

SEE MORE: Biden, world leaders reaffirm support for Ukraine amid Wagner revolt

 Whether the incident was a true coup attempt remains to be seen, Karatzas said. The incident could have been orchestrated by the Kremlin, he said.

“If this is a true challenge to Putin, Prigozhin’s days are numbered,” Karatzas said.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Eugene Sydor in Walworth, New York, agrees.

“Unexpected coup leaders in Russia have virtually no life expectancy,” said Sydor, who is an American born in Ukraine. He and his wife have been assisting with settling a humanitarian parolee from Ukraine. 

Calling the Wagner Group incident a coup attempt is premature, Sydor said.

The Wagner Group only became known last year, Karatzas said. He noted there are three to four other mercenary groups fighting for Russia that will likely take on more significant roles. 

Karatzas was with 74 Alpha Army, the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear officers group providing the U.S. Army with highly trained and technically proficient experts. The officers command, direct and control the activities of chemical units.

He served two tours in Iraq. In his work as a consultant with the Department of Defense, Karatzas said he is able to provide training and advice, but the U.S. military would never engage in the employment of mercenaries in ground combat, he said. 

As the world keeps its eye on what happens next in Russia, Karatzas said the Kremlin will play the long game.

“This is far from over,” he said.”  

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