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Russia should admit it uses mercenaries, - Bershidsky

Russia should admit it uses mercenaries, - Bershidsky

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The Kremlin
has beenunable to conceal its use of mercenaries for its military interventions becausethe nationalist fringe which supplies many of the soldiersfor hire openly discussestheir role. That and other considerations make it likely that Russia will eventually admit its using private troops.
On Thursday, Yevgeny Shabayev, a far-left nationalist activist who heads a Cossack group in Moscow,demandedthat private military company fighters who take part in operations in Syria, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Yemen, and Libya be officially recognized as veterans. At the moment, the Russian government wont even admit the existence of thecompanies.
The statement, co-signed by two other nationalist figures, LeonidIvashov, a retired general, and Vladimir Petrov, a retired colonel, claimed that the heads of private military companies (Patriot, Wagner, and others) receive state awards personally from the Russian president. Yet even though the companies receive profitable business concessions with the Kremlins help in the countries where they are deployed, their fighters get no help from the government if theyre wounded in combat. Instead, the statement claimed, police and domestic counterintelligence services keep an eye on them, and the families of the dead fighters are pressured into silence.
Shabayev,one of several nationalist activists who disclosed the death of many Russian mercenaries in aclashwith U.S. forces in Syria in February,claimed that cronies of President Vladimir Putin were setting up themilitary companies for personal profit but using the resources of Russias military and law enforcement agencies to arm and train the private armies.
Russiannationalists are a major source of volunteers for the private military companies and the informal units fighting under the Kremlins loose control in eastern Ukraine. Many of the nationalists have combat experience or at least have served in the military; they fight not only for the money but also because they support Russias policies. Thats fine with the Kremlin: It needs deniable, dedicated cannon fodder for its military adventures. The only catch is that the nationalists arent true Putin fans: They consider his regime too venal and cowardly in defending Russian national interests. Thats why they cant be expected to shut up about what they do in countries where Russian troops arent supposed to be.
The Kremlin, of course, has another important source of deniable manpower for its operations: military personnel sent to unofficial war theaters while on vacation. These troopsarent prone to complaining because, as soldiers, they are entitled to decent medical treatment and other benefits. But they and the families of those killed in the wars wont necessarily keep mum, either.
After an initial period of denial, tombstones haveappearedon the graves of Russian paratroopers killed in Ukraine with photographs showing them in uniform and listing dates that betray unequivocally where they perished. On July 4, Oleg Leontiev,an officer who is being tried for negligence that led to a soldiers death,askedfor leniency on the grounds that he had taken part in military action on the territory of a neighboring country where we supposedly werent present.
Russias experience waging wars that involve irregulars and vacationing service members shows that deniability is a fiction. Sooner or later, the governments participation comes to light. And when that happens, all the Russian forces involved in a conflict tend to be lumped together. Its easy for the U.S., for example, to assume that all Russians in a combat zone belong to the Russian military, even though the U.S. militarywont officially say so.
In Syria, U.S. troopscontinueto clash occasionally with forces they say they cant identify. In such cases, they go to the Russian military command for deconfliction.
It could be in Putins interest to stop trying to keep open secrets and to recognize the existence of the private military companies. Separating them clearly from the official armed forces could be beneficial for deconfliction purposes. It might also help create a new, more plausible deniability,a line between private initiatives, such as it is, and government interest in areas where the distinction is murky now. The U.S., after all, doesnt try to hide its private military companies.
On Friday, Putins press secretary Dmitri Peskovsaidthat if the Kremlin receives an official request to recognize private military company fighters as veterans, it will send it on to the Defense Ministry so some ground rules can be developed. Thats a long way from official recognition, and the Russian law that criminalizes mercenary workwould need to be changed to clear the way for any new rules. But its a sign that the Kremlin isnt adamantabout continuing to deny an important part of its military strategy.
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