Well-paid private military companies are an increasingly important component of Moscow’s strategy in the Donbas and elsewhere providing the Kremlin with a serious force that it can use as it likes and then plausibly deny whenever that suits its purposes, according to RFE’s Andrey Dikhtyarenko.
Among the many such Russian companies are Vagner, MAR, E.N.O.T. Corp, and the Slavyansky korpus, whose mercenaries make from 2500 to 6,000 US dollars a month, far more than Russian soldiers are paid and thus at least in principle far more ready to do whatever they are ordered to against non-Russians or against insubordinate Russian forces.
Private military companies, Russian military commentator Pavel Felgenhauer says, are “cheaper and less responsible. The defense ministry can always say: we know nothing about them; these are not our losses.” And in times of confusion, many will accept that rather than asking the important questions about who pays such firms and thus who controls them.
But these enterprises do not always turn out well. Sometimes the mercenaries talk too much or run afoul of powerful groups within the Donbas militants or the Russian power structures there themselves. In such cases, Dikhtyarenko says, serious retribution may follow and the mercenaries may land in jail or worse.
That outcome, however, is more the exception than the rule. According to Felgenhauer, these private military companies are now in almost all cases well-integrated into the chain of command of the Moscow forces in the Donbas. Indeed, he says, they represent a clearly defined “hybrid structure.”
Such mercenaries may become a serious problem in the future if Moscow changes course. In that event, they could split with the other Russian forces there and even fall victim to Russian laws prohibiting independent military actions – or alternatively, they could be used by Moscow to maintain pressure on Ukraine even as the Kremlin denied that it was doing so.