THE GRAY ZONE – Despite tactical setbacks and insider reports of incompetence and corruption, Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s ‘private army’ – the Wagner Group – continues to serve the Kremlin’s interests in various global hotspots. The ‘mercenary’ group is especially active in Syria, Libya and across sub-Saharan Africa as I have written, where ‘officially deniable’ Russian military assistance buys access to energy reserves, gold, and other precious metals.
Most recently, satellite imagery released by the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) shows the ostensibly private military company with links to Russian military intelligence (GRU) getting substantially beefed-up firepower from Russia’s military in Libya.
The declassified satellite intelligence photos of Al Khadim airbase in Libya, published by the Telegraph, show regular Russian military equipment being used by the Wagner Group. This equipment includes Il-76 transport aircraft, Su-24 Fencer fighter bombers, Pantsir (SA-22) air defense missile combat vehicles, as well as TIGR heavy duty trucks, and mine-resistant armored vehicles.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace notes that mixing military and non-military assets is typical of Russia “operating within the grey zone.” According to the Telegraph: “AFRICOM says at least 14 Mig-29 and Su-24 fighter jets were flown from Russia to Syria and repainted to cover the Russian markings. The aircraft were then flown into Libya, breaching the UN arms embargo.”
Despite repeated Kremlin denials, U.S. Marine Corps Major General Bradford Gering says: “Russia continues to play an unhelpful role in Libya by delivering supplies and equipment to the Wagner Group. Imagery continues to unmask their consistent denials.”
Meanwhile, referring to the use of these proxies and irregular forces such as Wagner, Wallace added:
These shadowy outfits, now supported so brazenly by well-funded and highly trained militaries, pose a complex proposition for Western armed forces. The UK and other Allies will need to be prepared to challenge mercenary groups and improve resilience to their malign influences.
The space in which they operate must be contested, otherwise private security forces, unshackled by international laws governing militaries, will be free to carry out deniable activity on behalf of a nation state with impunity.
One way Britain will respond to this complex gray zone threat is with the SAS and MI-6. According to the Telegraph, the SAS and other units in the Special Forces Group will be tasked to work with MI6 to conduct covert surveillance operations against Russian spies and military units.
Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, the chief of the British general staff, told The Telegraph that special forces will be tasked with tackling “hostile state actors.” These announcements come with the publication of the Defence Command Paper, the Ministry of Defence’s contribution to the Government’s Integrated Review of foreign, defence policy. At least Great Britain has a serious plan to fight in the Gray Zone. ADN