Documents leaked show that Wagner's influence goes far beyond Ukraine.
LVIV (Ukraine) -- According to a cache of Pentagon documents that have been leaked online, the Russian military is running out of steam and men and equipment and faces a stalemate. One group of Russian fighters is an exception.
Documents show that the mercenary organization Wagner, known for its skills on the battlefield and army of ex-prisoners, as well as its murdering of at least one perceived enemy with a sledgehammer, remains a powerful force with influence in Ukraine and around the world. The documents claim that Wagner is actively working against American interests in Africa, and has even considered branching out into Haiti to offer assistance to the embattled Haitian government.
Federal Bureau of Investigation officials told senior U.S. officials that they were working to find the source of leak. Officials acknowledged that documents appeared to be legitimate intelligence briefs and operational reports compiled by Pentagon's Joint Staff using intelligence reports from government agencies, but at least one document had been altered from its original.
One confidential document states that Wagner emissaries met secretly with "Turkish contacts" in February and slipped onto NATO territory to search for weapons and equipment needed for the fight in Ukraine.
It is unclear whether weapons were actually transferred and if the Turkish authorities knew about the attempt. The government of Recep Tayyip Erdoan did not comment immediately on this revelation.
Wagner's cowboy attitude is exemplified by the brazenness with which he conducted the outreach even as NATO was deeply involved in providing arms and equipment to Ukraine. The fact that its supply networks extend beyond Russian territory also shows the apparent independence of Wagner's military from Russia. Documents describing the meeting in Turkey indicated that Mali, a West African country where Wagner has a large outpost, might act as a proxy to acquire weapons for Wagner from Turkey.
Mali's use as a cover for an arms smuggling ring shows how powerful Wagner has become in the country since its first presence there a few year ago. Wagner was working to provide security in preparation for a military coup that would take over in 2021. A document quoting a Wagner employee said that there were over 1,645 Wagner employees in Mali. The document stated that this had caused security concerns in the neighboring Ivory Coast.
The weapons scheme shows just how far Wagner will have to go in order to get its supplies. This is a sign of the Western sanctions that are now beginning against Russia.
Candace Rondeaux is an expert in Wagner and a senior director of New America, Washington's think tank. Going further afield suggests that U.S. sanctions and European sanctions have started to impact the pipeline.
Wagner was little known before the Ukraine War. Although mercenary soldiers associated with the group by that name appeared on the battlefields in Syria and Libya its origins were obscure and there was debate as to whether Wagner actually existed or was a Kremlin-made myth.
In September, Yevgeny Prgozhin, an important confidant and businessman of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, who served as caterer at major Kremlin functions, finally admitted that he was the creator of Wagner.
Since then, Mr. Prigozhin is an unavoidable - and menacing - fixture of the war. He wears a helmet and body armour to visit his soldiers at the front lines, and calls for the firing of (or worse) military leaders who refuse to follow his cavalier examples. In one of his most disturbing acts, he approved the execution of a Wagner soldier who defected from the Ukrainian side to the Ukrainians but was returned in a prisoner swap.
One of the leaked Pentagon papers estimated that he had created an army of about 22,000 men in the area surrounding Bakhmut, which is possibly larger than the entire Ukrainian force along that front.
According to leaked documents, even as Mr. Prigozhin criticized Russia's leadership and demanded, in one instance, that failed generals should be stripped of their rank and forced to march barefooted to the front. The military establishment seems to have jumped at Wagner's request.
According to a C.I.A. document, after Mr. Prigozhin accused the Russian military of not providing his troops with enough ammunition in late February, officials from the Defense Ministry, who were not named, appeared to be trying to minimize the damage. They acknowledged that Mr. Prigozhin’s claims could be true, and proposed to double the amount munitions provided to Wagner forces. document.
The ministry responded to Prigozhin in a rare, public way, but did not imply that it had bowed. The ministry stated that they had given 'priority to the supply everything necessary for all volunteer and fighters in the assault units', and provided a detailed report of the number shells supplied over a period of three days in late February.
The American intelligence establishment has infiltrated the Russian military and Wagner.
Documents show that American spies gathered signals intelligence from Prigozhin's associates. This allowed them to see the inner workings and plans of Wagner. In one document, American intelligence operatives describe how they listened to Prigozhin's associates in February as they planned to recruit prisoners into Wagner’s ranks.
The intelligence services of the United States also uncovered that Mr. Prigozhin was interested in prisoners returning from the battlefield for recruitment purposes.