The history of Russia's Wagner Private Military Company in Syria is actually over. Only a few dozen mercenaries remain in the country; the main groups have been withdrawn from the country to Russia and Belarus. Wagner mercenaries had already handed over all their heavy weapons to the regular military and left Syria in the spring of 2016. A few months later, however, they returned and had to retake Palmyra from Islamic State (ISIS) militants for the second time. Now, however, Wagner is unlikely to be able to return.
Away from the Ministry of Defense
Wagner has been "definitively disbanded," Andrei Kartapolov, chairman of the Russian parliament's Defense Committee, declared on Nov. 2.
"It has finally been disbanded, and most of the fighters are in the process of being transferred to other structures. Some continue to carry out tasks in African countries, but under, let's say, a different brand; under the auspices of the Ministry of Defense, some have signed a contract with the armed forces, some have joined Rosgvardiya," the Russian National Guard, Kartapolov said.
On the same day, state-owned news agency RIA Novosti reported that former Wagner fighters had created the Kamerton unit within the Chechen special forces, Akhmat (formally part of the Rosgvardiya). The unit numbers about 170 people, among them those who have been convicted of different crimes and are now undergoing combat training for participation in combat operations in Ukraine.
"After an impressive group of former Wagner fighters, the ranks of the Akhmat special forces were joined by medical personnel who had previously been part of the same military formation," said Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
Contrary to the claims of Chechen representatives, however, the infusion of former Wagner mercenaries into Akhmat is not of a mass nature but involves the transfer of only a few specific commanders who have attracted several hundred rank-and-file fighters behind them. As Al-Monitor previously wrote, the main backbone of Wagner — whose autonomy Yevgeny Prigozhin's son, Pavel, and group commander Anton Elizarov tried to preserve to the last — is to be incorporated into the Rosgvardiya as a separate unit.
The goal is to maintain a semblance of the former military structure but not the company itself. All mercenaries will have to sign individual contracts with the agency, said a Wagner instructor — who is a reserve officer of special forces of the Interior Ministry of the Republic of Belarus with the call sign Brest — in an interview with the Russian-language media platform RTVI. "The order of work and commanders will remain the same. The issue is the legal implementation of de facto decisions of the parties and their approval," said Brest, specifying that Wagner, as part of Rosgvardiya, will maintain a presence in Belarus to train local militaries as well as fight in Ukraine and Africa. "The contract is signed with all categories: Project-K, Umbrella, foreigners, with age range from 20 to 55," Brest said.
Project-K is a unit of recruited criminals; Umbrella is a separate part of it staffed by mercenaries with HIV and hepatitis. In this case, those Wagner mercenaries — who in the few months after the death of Prigozhin transferred to private military companies of the Defense Ministry or volunteer units such as ArBat, which signed contracts with the Military Department, that is, back in the unit under the wing of Rosgvardiya — will not be accepted.
Sources of the VChK-OGPU Telegram channel note that the reason the Kremlin allowed Rosgvardiya head Viktor Zolotov to take Wagner under his wing is a continued attempt to control the security bloc through checks and balances and reduce the influence of the Defense Ministry and, more specifically, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, in the Russian elite. At the same time, the potential mechanism of Wagner's work as part of the Rosgvardiya in Africa remains unclear. The agency has no experience in foreign operations, and control over the activities of Prigozhin's son and Elizarov can a priori be only formal there, even if the Rosgvardiya is directly assisted in this control by Federal Security Service structures.
At the same time, the Ministry of Defense — or rather the Main Directorate of the General Staff (GRU) — is not giving up plans to develop Africa and replace Wagner in this region with loyal structures, in particular the GRU-controlled PMC Redut. Thus, despite the resistance of Wagner in Syria and attempts by the mercenaries in September to create an alternative route from Belarus to Africa with an intermediate landing in Tunisia instead of at the Khmeimim air base as before, the Russian military — with the help of Redut — managed to achieve its goal and oust the competitors in October.
What kind of Redut?
The media reports that not only has Redut PMC been working for a long time in Syria and was at the forefront of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, but it has also been present for many years in Gulf countries as well as Iraqi Kurdistan and Somalia.
To make sense of this, one should know the following.
First, according to available data, the first Redut PMC, called Group R, was created during the collapse of the Soviet Union by GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate) soldiers and officers. As contractors for this classic PMC, they worked in the United Arab Emirates, Zaire (now named Democratic Republic of Congo), Bahrain and Iraq until the group disintegrated.
Second, the modern PMC of the same name, Redut, was created after Russia's intervention in the Syrian civil war on the basis of Moscow's private security companies associated with the 45th Spetsnaz airborne brigade.
Initially, this PMC was composed of former Wagner mercenaries. The structure, also known in Syria as STG Shchit (Shield), has been fully operational in Syria since late 2017, guarding two facilities of billionaire Gennady Timchenko's Stroytransgaz company: a gas processing plant near the Twinan gas field and a fertilizer production complex in Homs. Until mid-2022, Redut had about 100 fighters with some heavy equipment, mostly engaged in cargo security but occasionally conducting raids against ISIS fighters near the facilities. However, the capabilities of this PMC were small, and as Al-Monitor wrote, it even had to hire Syrians from the local Al-Maham security company, owned by Syrian businessman Hussam Qaterji, to provide additional protection for the facilities. Beginning in the fall of 2022, STG Shchit's contractors were also forced to participate in the war in Ukraine.
Third, since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the Russian military began to use Redut PMC as a generic name for the legal formalization of contracts with various formations. According to a conversation with one of Redut’s commanders published by the Gulagu.net project, there are about "seven Redut PMCs" located in different regions of Russia on special forces bases of the airborne forces and the GRU; some of them were created in 2021 in preparation for the invasion of Ukraine. According to some reports, this PMC as an umbrella structure now includes at least 20 armed volunteer formations totaling tens of thousands of people.
Almost all of Wagner's mercenaries have already left Syria on planes departing from the Khmeimim air base. The remaining few dozen are handing over weapons to the military and processing documents, according to sources connected to the group. The Hayan gas field and the Hayan Petroleum Company plant, which Wagner had controlled since 2017 and called the Karakum facility, passed into the hands of a PMC affiliated with the Ministry of Defense. In this sense, it is possible that several Pantsir SAM systems may indeed have fallen into the hands of Lebanese Hezbollah, as there were thoughts among Wagner's mercenaries that "it would be better to surrender a number of positions to the Iranians" than to their own Russian military. But at the moment it is not clear to whom exactly the Russians gave control over Karakum — it is only clear that it is Redut PMC. But here, it is appropriate to ask the question: Which part of the Redut PMC received it?