Seven of the best English-language articles on Russian and Eurasian private military companies

13 July 2023: What to read if you want to learn more about PMCs


The last week has been relatively quiet in terms of significant developments around terrorism and insurgency, private military companies (PMCs), and semi-state security services. There have been a few things that are worth noting and are covered in the ‘Other Stories’ section, but nothing deserving of a deep dive. So, instead, in this week’s Threatologist Eurasia I’m going to offer some recommended reading for the next time you want to learn more about PMCs in Russia and Eurasia. Here are seven publications that I think are the best material available in English.

Arguably, some of the best work on the topic was produced by Norwegian researchers Åse Gilje Østensen and Tor Bukkvoll, well before PMCs became the hot topic they are today. My first two recommendations are authored by them. Their 2020 paper The Emergence of Russian Private Military Companies: A New Tool of Clandestine Warfare provides a thorough overview of the landscape and issues surrounding Russian PMCs. The second paper — Private military companies – Russian great power politics on the cheap? — was published in 2022, covers some of the same ground, but focuses more on the rationale behind the Russian state using them. If you only read two papers on the topic, then you could do worse than picking these two.


Much better known in Western policy circles is the work of Kimberley Marten — another scholar whose research precedes the contemporary media circus around the topic. Her 2019 paper Russia’s use of semi-state security forces: the case of the Wagner Group focuses (as the title suggests!) more specifically on Wagner. It is a little bit more descriptive than the work of Østensen and Bukkvoll, but no less worth your time as a result, and goes into depth on Wagner operations up to that point in Nigeria, Ukraine, Syria, Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Her 2018 article The Puzzle of Russian Behavior in Deir Al-Zour for War on the Rocks is also valuable for shedding light on how PMCs and formal parts of the Russian state do not exactly work in perfect harmony all the time. 


Another article to consider the question of Russia’s motivations is the 2019 Carnegie publication Mercenaries: Patronage, Geopolitics, and the Wagner Group. I’m not entirely persuaded by the anti-comparison with Western PMCs — which are much more closely linked to Western states than the article implies — but there are plenty of valuable points that warrant consideration in the article. 


A more recent publication is one that I’ve featured previously in this newsletter (see the 23 February 2023 edition of Threatologist Eurasia): A 2023 report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime entitled The grey zone: Russia's military, mercenary and criminal engagement in Africa. This is, again, entirely focused on Wagner, and conceptually blurs the lines between PMCs and other parts of the business and media empire run by its owner, Yevgeniy Prigozhin. Nevertheless, it provides a solid overview of Wagner operations across the continent, including shedding light on some lesser-covered areas of activity.


There are more Russian PMCs than Wagner. But there are also non-Russian PMCs operating in Eurasia. Thus, my final recommendation is another War on the Rocks article, this time by Matt Powers, which was published in 2021. Making Sense of Sadat, Turkey’s Private Military Company provides an in-depth look at an important Turkish PMC with links to the Erdoğan government.


Happy reading!

Other stories of interest
  • Press Secretary Dmitriy Peskov reported that Russian President Putin met with Prigozhin and several Wagner commanders on 29 June. According to Peskov, the meeting lasted three hours and included discussion of Wagner’s 24 June uprising (1).
  • St Petersburg news outlet reported that RUB 10bn, several thousand dollars and five gold bars that were seized during a raid on Wagner’s office in the city has now been returned to Prigozhin (2).
  • The Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe passed a resolution that declared Wagner to be a terrorist organisation and called on member states to designate it accordingly (3).
  • Authorities in Sakhalin arrested a man on suspicion on planned a terrorist attack on an energy facility and treason. The man was reportedly acting on behalf of Ukrainian groups (4).
  • An Azerbaijani court has arrested a citizen on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks near embassies of unspecified countries (5).
  • NBC News claimed that more than 600 Wagner members have departed the Central African Republic in a week and speculated as to whether Russia was “purging” the group’s presence in the country. It could not, however, rule out that it was part of a routine rotation (6).
Source list

1. Vazhnyye istorii. 10 July 2023. Песков: Путин встречался с главарём ЧВК «Вагнер» Пригожиным и его командирами после мятежа.

2. 4 July 2023. Евгению Пригожину вернули 10 миллиардов рублей.

3. OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. 4 July 2023. Vancouver Declaration and Resolutions Adopted by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly at the Thirtieth Annual Session. chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/

4. Mediazona. 5 July 2023. ФСБ отчиталась о задержании сахалинца, подозреваемого в подготовке терактов на объекте энергетики.

5. Caucasian Knot. 10 July 2023. Иностранец арестован в Азербайджане за подготовку терактов.

6. NBC News. 8 July 2023. Is Russia purging Wagner Group troops in Africa?

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