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In the last couple of years, we've seen more and more talks about the Wagner Company, a Russian private military company (PMC), and the role it plays in Ukraine, Syria and Libya. With the advantage of absolute power, Putin has elevated the use of PMCs for manipulative purposes to a new level, but the controversy surrounding such companies is neither new nor limited to Wagner.
Private military companies (PMCs) are not a new occurrence on the battlefields. Their role varies from logistical support, protection of important people to military involvement. The first such company, WatchGuard, was established in 1965 in the United Kingdom. If in the 1960s and 1970s the activity of these companies was associated with mercenaries, since the 1980s their roles have become very diverse: contractors train security forces in Iraq, transport weapons in Colombia, train civilian police in Bosnia and Kosovo, offers protection to the President of Afghanistan and so on.
Their activities include security monitoring, logistics, training and intelligence. Some companies have developed a high level of expertise, conducting aerial reconnaissance or clearing minefields. Currently, the PMC industry exceeds (by far, but is impossible to estimate) $100 billion and, geographically, they operate in over 50 different countries. They are active on all continents, except Antarctica :).
The PMC became visible and aroused public interest (and the disapproval) in the Blackwater scandal, the American private company guilty of killing 20 Iraqi civilians on September 16, 2007. The investigation in Blackwater's work in Iraq revealed legislative shortcomings and political unrest that brought back into discussions the legitimacy of private military companies that have a military role on the battlefields and whose activity can be associated with mercenaries.
Since the hiring of these companies does not require the approval of Congress, an American president can decide in this way to send "American boots on the ground", bypassing the political procedure which is otherwise necessary in case of transportation of official armed forces abroad. Moreover, the activity of these companies should not be made public and, more importantly, the possible victims. It is thus possible to wage a mini-war decided unilaterally by the President and unknown to the public.
Beyond internal political and social considerations in 2014, since the invasion of Crimea and the Kremlin's use of the Wagner Company (Russian private military company) as "green men", the use of the PMC has changed the paradigm of classical warfare, turning it into a hybrid war. The Wagner company is in this sense a classic case of mercenarism for geopolitical purposes. Lacking the "constraints" of a democratic system, the Kremlin spectacularly orders the use of Wagner's employees at will, either to change the situation on the ground (Crimea), to advance into enemy territory (Donbass), to confuse enemy plans (Syria) or to create confusion (everywhere).
As has been shown in the case of Crimea, the use of Wagner's mercenaries gives Putin the opportunity to plausibly deny the Kremlin's involvement, as he continues to do in Donbass, Syria and Libya. The luxury of plausible denial is offered by the opacity of the Kremlin's system of government - contracts with the Wagner company, created by a close ally of Putin, are not public, nor is the number of victims. "Non-public" in Putin's Russia means "whoever tries to find out is suffering" - and so far the death of at least 4 journalists is linked to their investigations into Wagner's work.
The PMC changed the rules of the domestic political game, as in the USA, or geopolitically, as in the case of Russia, but also the character of the war, transforming it not only from classic to hybrid, but also from political to economic. Libya is a perfect case study in this regard.