August 11, 2022

Russia's unofficial military forces, from imitating Iran to being present in different parts of the world

In the wake of the outbreak of the Libyan crisis and the subsequent Russia's involvement, the world media laid bare the Russian private military forces and their role in the Russian government's cross-border adventures. Earlier in the Crimean War followed by the crisis in eastern Ukraine which introduced breakaway provinces in this reagion, unknown forces operating in Russia's favor had entered the fray like a wild card.

The first stage of establishment

Russia's imitation of Basij (Mobilization) force of Iran can’t be overemphasized when it comes to the inception of this unofficial force. According to credible sources in the Russian Interior Ministry, Basij's performance in Iran and its organization of forces around 2008 and 2009 caught the eye of the Russian government, prompting them to dispatch a contingent of experts to the Russian embassy in Tehran to meticulously study the management, recruitment, and training of such forces and their applications by Iran. The report adds that the Russian government is set to train trusted militias with ideological affiliation to the government for domestic and overseas ventures if and when necessary. In this plan, gyms will replace the role of mosques in Iran, and in the first phase, low-income areas will be targeted.

Gyms are allowed to be used free of charge by the establishment of Russian-speaking fitness clubs that in turn are run by bodybuilders affiliated with the Russian military and intelligence services. At this stage, the absence of counter-Russian and counter-Orthodox elements in these circles was set as the primary admission criterion. These individuals are recruited from these bases, receive ideological indoctrination from the Russian far right and then sent to military training if show willingness. These forces came to shape the core of Russia's general mobilization force, which later played a key role in the Ukraine war.

Although not granted special financial resources for their training and organized presence in their non-descript organization, they were given salaries if they participated in the war or were notified of operations by the authorities.

The group's first official operation, a symbol of the far right of Russianism, took place in Ukraine, one of the symbolic regions for the existence of Russian nationality. They were tasked with defending the Russian homeland in Ukraine, which is now under European control, the first of which were carried out in the Crimea. These forces were organized to break the line, take over strategic centers, set up checkpoints, maintain public security in the first period of occupation, maintain security in the occupied territories, engage Ukrainian forces at the front line, and put down possible protests. It is noteworthy that this presence was conditional on the absence of any identification mark, whether card, logo or license plate, and they will be buried in Russia without any official ceremony and in a semi-secret manner.

Sighting of individuals carrying no military insignia on the front lines and the management of the occupied territories were first reported by several Ukrainian journalists, and later in international documents and reports by those with no obvious affiliation with the Russian army. It was reported that they carried out operations under the command and in favor of Russia. The more rpbust presence of these forces, known as the "Green Men", was evident in the Donbass region of Ukraine. Due to the intensity of the clashes and the killings carried out by both sides in this region, attention was once again drawn to the anonymous victims who did not carry any identity card.

Now, with the passage of time and the statements of Russian officials as well as credible international reports, it is a well-established fact that the Russian army is using these unofficial forces to solidify its presence in areas that need some protection. These unofficial forces, known in the Libyan issue as the Wagner Company, have now become one of the realities of the world military conflict. The war in Syria, the war in Libya, and especially the various movements that Russia has had in Africa, are all indications of the presence of these unofficial forces.

The BBC, in a report compiled after acquiring a tablet of a Russian operation force in Libya, cites some sources who identify them as former members of Wagner, confirming that many of those who began working as mercenaries in Ukraine earned money in oil-rich Libya. One of them told the BBC that during the 12 to 14 months of military operations in Libya between September 2019 and July 2020, more than 1,000 Wagner men were present in Libya at any one time. The former Wagner explained that mercenaries were not hired by an organization called Wagner. They are apparently hired for short-term contracts, for example as oil rig workers or to serve in security companies that are formal institutions owned by the organization. Applicants undergo physical fitness tests and security checks before moving to an informal training site near Krasnodar in southern Russia, next to a Russian military base. These people are sent out of Russia after training, realizing that if they are killed, Wagner may not be able to return their bodies to their country.

The logistical capacity of these forces as well as their military and equipment capabilities pushes the conclusion that these forces are not just a private company that is contracting with the Russian government, but they should be informal, unmarked branches with operational powers. It is noteworthy that the Russian military recruits from among special individuals and works in different parts of the world with different ideological and financial goals and incentives.

Undoubtedly, Russia will continue to use these forces, especially where there is a high risk of casualties for its official military forces, and the weight and role of these forces in its international programs will increase day by day.

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