What is the Wagner Group, the Russian mercenary entity in Ukraine?

A private security guard from the Russian Wagner Group stands next to a Central African Republic soldier during a rally in Bangui on March 18. (Barbara Debout/AFP/Getty Images)

Mercenaries working for a Kremlin-linked network of private security contractors have taken up arms in Ukraine on Russia’s behalf, U.S. and British officials say, and appear to also be recruiting from inside Russian prisons.

The network, known as the Wagner Group, first worked in Ukraine in 2014 during Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Since then, its fighters have turned up on battlefields from Syria to Mali.

In Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, about 1,000 Wagner mercenaries have been concentrated largely in the country’s east, where Pentagon officials say Russia has refocused its war effort after failing to capture the capital, Kyiv. Germany’s foreign intelligence service claimed in April to have intercepted communications that could link the Wagner Group to indiscriminate killings of Ukrainian civilians. In August, Ukraine said it struck a base used by the shadowy paramilitary fighters in the eastern Luhansk region.

Russian officials have denied ties to the Wagner Group, whose true ownership and funding sources remain unclear. But experts say it has deep links to the Kremlin, serving as a tactical tool for Moscow in hot spots where Russia has political and financial interests. Western intelligence agencies have linked the group to a Russian oligarch and close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As the bloody war in Ukraine drags on, within Russia, the public has increasingly embraced Wagner fighters.

In Ukraine, a Russian mercenary group steps out of the shadows

Here are some facts about the Wagner Group and what it’s doing in Ukraine.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

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