21st Century Privatized Warfare: Will Russia Pay the Price? Part 2


June 4, 2016 – 

Artem Dobrovolsky, PolitRussia – 

Translated by J. Arnoldski 

Continued from Part 1

PMSC’s in the war in Donbass

Since the coup d’etat in Ukraine in 2013, the country has naturally become an arena for the covert conflict between Western states headed by the US, and Russia. During the civil war in Donbass, rumors gradually emerged in the Ukrainian press that Western PMSC’s were participating in the war. Although there is no direct evidence of PMSC employees’ involvement in combat operations, there are grounds to suspect their interest in a particular outcome of the conflict. 

Ukraine long ago attracted the interest of such companies due to its particularities, especially its geographical location. For example, Odessa became one of the largest staging points for the deployment of individuals participating in combat operations. In connection with this, foreign PMSC’s were so active in Odessa that they opened their own representative officers there. But with the beginning of the events of 2013-2014 in Ukraine, Odessa ceased to be just a transit point and became a fertile field for orders from Western agencies and local political and economic elites pursuing their own interests.

An interesting rumor emerged in mid April 2014 when militias in the South-East won a series of military successes. Then, according to unconfirmed reports, 20 US citizens were detained in Donbass.

Of course, these were not American volunteers who believed in the lofty ideals of the Maidan, but PMSC professionals. It was unofficially reported that the return of the detained Americans was one of the topics of CIA Chief John Brennan’s visit.

The hiring of PMSC employees is often mentioned together with the name of the odious Ukrainian oligarch, Igor Kolomoysky. Given his personal armies, it is no surprise to hear about his hiring of Western PMSC employees. The hiring of around 300 specialists from Academi and its affiliate, Greystone Limited, was mentioned in open sources. The main source of this information was a contact from the SBU, so the reliability of checking this information is extremely difficult. However, the fact itself is telling that this was exposed soon after by the most honest and impartial media in the world, “Radio Free Europe.” The counter-arguments put forth were accompanied by broken links and mocking of the narrative, but why it was necessary at all to refute already unsubstantiated information is unclear.

Among the PMSC’s to whom operations in Ukraine have been attributed, there have also been references to the PMSC headed by the Pole, Jerzy Dziewulski. According to reports, he led anti-terrorist training in the US and Israel. According to rumors, his employees participated in the operation of surrounding and policing Slavyansk.

At the end of 2014, mass media reported the possible training of Ukrainian soldiers by specialists from a Western PMSC. Even the specific place where training was to be provided was mentioned: the Yavoriv training center of the UAF in the Lvov region.

After some time, this information was confirmed thanks to documents obtained by the CyberBerkut group which recorded contact between Kiev and the American PMSC Green Group. For now, however, these documents have been withdrawn from public access.

It is important to note that in addition to foreign PMSC’s possessing contracts with state or private structures, there also exist officially registered, national PMSC’s in Ukraine. According to international documents, there are four such. Today it is well known that the Omega Consulting company headed by Andrey Kebkalo participated in the armed conflict in Donbass. In spring of 2014, the company opened a vacant place for a “consultant” to be closed by May 1st, 2014. One of the requirements for candidates was being registered in the Donetsk, Kharkov, or Lugansk regions. The company officially acknowledged its involvement in operations in “emergency extracting customer personnel from the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Donbass.” The department of public relations currently recognizes the existence of contracts linked with operations in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. However, it was alleged that no government orders were realized – all agreements were concluded with private entities or businesses.

According to available data, it can be stated that Western PMSC’s have been active in Ukraine for the last 3 years. However, presenting any reliably data without the help of a new Snowden is virtually impossible.

This, accordingly, is the main advantage of PMSC’s. They are completely anonymous, secret, and there does not have to be any proof of communication with a customer. One can only begin to imagine just how successful the US has promoted its national interests by means of hired specialists.

Even if someone were to catch such a “privateer,” then proving his affiliation with a PMSC would be virtually impossible. They go “to work”, as a rule, without markings and under the cover of employees of unknown civilian companies registered anywhere in the world. They often pretend to be volunteer enthusiasts.

Officially, foreign PMSC’s have only offered consultation or supervisory services for improving the UAF, the National Guard, and other Ukrainian law enforcement agencies. 

Attempts to use PMSC’s in Russia

The issue of utilizing PMSC’s for the accomplishment of similar tasks has remained undecided for Russia, although it is constantly being debated among specialists. One of the main problems of this question is the absence of relevant legislation, the need for which would have to be declared on the highest level. In April 2012, deputy of the State Duma Aleksey  Mitrofanov requested that President Vladimir Putin address the necessity of developing a new sector for Russia consisting of private military companies. He promised to think it over. Projects for such legislation have already been proposed, but they have been rejected for various reasons. In Russia, after all, there is a criminal article which covers acting as a mercenary or training mercenaries on the territory of the Russian Federation, which thereby bans PMSC’s as part of this. 

The necessity of resolving this legal conflict was declared by another deputy of the State Duma, Franz Klintesevich, in his comment on the project of the federal law “On private military companies” from the LDPR faction from the Pskov regional assembly in 2014:

“I am convinced that we need such a law and that we will adopt it. But serious work is needed here and, above all, work with the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Internal Affairs.” 

Nevertheless, PMSC’s in fact exist in Russia but are called under different names such as “security enterprises” or “consulting companies”, and anyone can figure out what exactly their specialists are consulting. The open operating of the “RSB-Group” company is such an example. The press has mentioned other PMSC’s such as “Anti-terror Eagle,” “Tiger Top Rent Security,” “Feraks,” and “Redut-Anti-Terror” which have allegedly “worked” in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Sri Lana, and other hot spots. If something barks like a dog, runs on all fours like a dog, and wags its tail like a dog, then it is most likely a dog. But the lack of suitable laws forbids calling things by their names.

Such a lack of prepared regulatory frameworks and structures gives rise to other problems, such as when Russian military specialists prefer to go to Western companies. Russian “consulting” companies can’t present any formidable competition in terms of material security, salaries, or influence. Thus, almost all contracts on this market come from American agencies, even though relying on orders from them is extremely naive since American officials prefer to launder money between local authorities and private entities in their own organized structures, international organizations, and transnational corporations (for whom the Russian Federation is of no interest). Even Lukoil preferred to pay a foreign company than a Russian one during the Baghdad conference on developing oil fields in Iraq.

Three loopholes remain for Russian PMSC’s. They can work with international organizations, local authorities, or private entities. The main prospect needed by such Russian companies are contracts from at least Russian corporations. 

Nevertheless, attempts to assert themselves on the world stage have already been made. Information, albeit of course unofficial and unreliable, runs through social networks that Russian “consulting” companies are taking part in the military conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. The most frequently mentioned is “Slavic Corps,” later rebranded as “PMSC Wagner.” It is noteworthy that employees of “Slavic Corps” who have returned from Syria, as reported by online media, were welcomed by the FSB upon landing at airports. Leaders of the company were subsequently convicted under article 359 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation as mercenaries. Those fighters who remained at large reorganized the structure and former employees of the corps formed “PMSC Wagner.” 

A minor investigation by the publication “Fontanka” lifted the veil off of such a mysterious organization, but the question remains as to how much this can be trusted. Working in a secret organization requires military training, no criminal record, and a certain level of physical fitness. Salaries are quite impressive, as a month of warfare can earn one around 240,000 rubles. The structure of this is tightly regimented, so finding any traces of its on the internet is extremely problematic, and photos and posts of an impressive paramilitary group of “privateers” in Syria have been refuted by experts.

Today, Russia has the chance to take a worthy place for itself on the market of private military services in Iraq and Afghanistan which have already felt the epitome of the “American dream”, the result of which has been total poverty and ruin. However, first of all it is necessary to decide how acceptable this is. There is still no consensus on this question. The state quite understandably fears the appearance of personal armies such as those belonging to Ukrainian oligarchs. 

The war on outsourcing 

The outsourcing of the state’s military functions to private companies creates entirely new parameters of civil-military relations and conditions in  conflict regions. A number of questions and unclear nuances arise: how can certain PMSC military units be assessed? As auxiliary units of armed forces or as independent groupings not controlled by anyone? How can they be controlled? Who can hold them accountable for war crimes and lawlessness? Where are the guarantees that they will act in the interests of legitimate authorities and not be intercepted by private individuals or big capital?

The involvement of private companies in the adoption of military-security decisions raises questions not only as to legal issues, but also moral ones. How can such companies be allowed to participate when the fate of citizens of the state is at stake? After all, “privateers” are a kind of neutral figures who are not held responsible to anyone. 

Veronika Krasheninnikova openly names what is at the same time the main danger and the main advantage of using PMSC’s in military conflicts:

“In addition to being economical in costs, the privatization of military functions allows responsibility for errors and political costs to be avoided. In the case of failure, the company will be blamed. A soldier firing indiscriminately at regular forces can provoke an international conflict and bring down a wave of indication on the country. The contractor could simply be dismissed and criticized, and his company could risk losing its contract, but the troubles would stop there. The ‘outsourcing of guilty represented by a military contractor is a resource very useful for the state.”

The war on outsourcing allows for the transfer of blame for war crimes from official armed forces to “privateers”, which is extremely convenient and risky at the same time. Over some time, certain abuses could lead to a situation in which military conflicts will be participated in by a mess of militias truly uncontrollable by states or international structures.

Nevertheless, mercenaries are, as can be seen, inevitable in the 21st century, and Russia will have to learn to use them to protect its national interests while at the same time docking all the risks and abuses. 

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