Archive for category Syria

Syria: Nine Russian Contractors From PMC Wagner Killed

Rest in peace to the fallen…

In my last post on Russian contractors, I mentioned briefly about a PMSC called PMC Wagner or OSM. The Wall Street Journal is the first large media group that I know of that has talked about this company in a story, and I thought I would share that here. I want to keep a record of this stuff so that it can be a reference for how the Russian market is developing in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere.

So why do I continue to focus on the Russian market? Primarily because if the Russian PMSC’s start delving more into offensive operations, then that could be a sign of things to come for the rest of the industry. I like to follow the offensive aspects of PMSC use because that will have impact on the future of this industry. Meaning as more and more private companies from other countries get into the game of war fighting, and actually winning wars like what Executive Outcomes was able to do, then that would move the marker of what is acceptable and possible within this industry.

It will give countries an option other than using and paying for a standing military, or for countries who lack those kinds of war fighting and winning capabilities within their own military.

One country might view another country’s PMSC industry as a strategic advantage. Something that they want in their tool kit of force. Especially if PMSC’s start winning wars and battles, and especially if a country is flush with cash but lacks manpower. A country that is in a fight for their survival (like Assad’s Syria) will do everything it can to win, and really could care less where that manpower comes from at the end of the day. Enter the PMSC market.

Back to the article below. The quote that caught my attention was this one:

An official close to the Russian Defense Ministry said that the group had numbered around 1,000. Unlike Western security contractors, who are typically armed with only light weapons, members of the group were operating T-90 tanks and howitzers.

Contractors operating T-90 tanks and howitzers? lol That is some serious weaponry and I would love to hear more about what exactly these guys were doing with this stuff. EO used tanks and APC’s in their wars pretty effectively, and it is interesting to hear about private companies actually operating this type of equipment. Imagine that training course? lol

The other interesting quote below is the leader of PMC Wagner/OSM, came from the Slavonic Corps. The Slavonic Corps was also given tanks to use, but that was a big surprise for the contractors involved apparently.  So will PMC Wagner pick up where the Slavonic Corps left off, and do better?  We will see. –Matt

Edit: 12/19/2015- The guy in the photo below was an entertainer that was working at Latakia Air Base at the time and not some soldier or contractor according to my readership. There is a question on how many contractors were killed as well. One of my readers said that an article from Reuters was written last October in regards to this incident and they only mentioned three Russians that were killed. Also, the 1,000 contractor headcount is not realistic according to the readership. That is a pretty big footprint for a contractor force so I would imagine that number is a lot lower.

Edit: 03/10/2016- War is Boring wrote an interesting article that talked more about Russia and it’s use of PMSC’s. This quote on PMC Wagner is what I wanted to put out there for the record:

It now seems the TchVK Wagner is building on the Slavonic Corps’ misfortune. Indeed, many members of this mysterious organization, as well as its leader — a former major in the Spetsnaz and ex-employee of Moran Security — were also members of the luckless 2013 expedition in Syria. According to the journalist Denis Korotkov, author of numerous articles on the TchKV Wagner, these contractors are active in Syria and entertain “close links with the Russian army.”

“TchVK Wagner is not a PMC, but a paramilitary organization with no official status,” Korotkov insists. “It is obvious that this task force could not exist without serious support from high-ranking government officials.”

Oleg Krinitsyn, head of the Russian PMC RSB Group, says he agrees with that assessment.

According to Korotkov, neither Moran Security nor RSB Group are active in eastern Ukraine — and this for legal reasons and in order to preserve their contracts abroad. Furthermore it seems the Russian army in Syria does not make use of these two PMCs. For sure, these companies do employ droves of former FSB agents, and one can easily imagine that they offer piecemeal services to the Russian state while on duty abroad, especially in Africa.



Up to Nine Russian Contractors Die in Syria, Experts Say
Incident shows how the country is using private groups to avoid deploying uniform troops, they say
Dec. 18, 2015
As many as nine Russian contractors died in October when a mortar round hit their base in western Syria, according to several people familiar with the matter.
The incident, experts say, shows how Russia has used contractors to perform quasi-military tasks, avoiding the political repercussions of deploying uniformed troops—and steering clear of the domestic concerns that come with the deaths of soldiers.
The Russian government hasn’t acknowledged the deaths, described to The Wall Street Journal by three people.
“It’s one of Russia’s first attempts at trying to create a private military company like what was Blackwater,” said one of them, Ivan Konovalov, director of a Moscow-based security think tank and a consultant to lawmakers who are trying to create the legal basis for such military companies, which now fall in a legal gray zone.
Blackwater, which provided armed security, logistics and other support to U.S. government agencies, became emblematic of Washington’s reliance on private-sector firms to advance foreign-policy aims in conflict zones.
Unlike Blackwater, though, the Russian Defense Ministry hasn’t publicly acknowledged their existence. It isn’t clear whether the men’s role went beyond protecting government installations to direct involvement in fighting.
Founded by former Navy SEAL Erik Prince, Blackwater was involved in a series of controversial incidents, including a deadly 2007 shootout in Iraq that ultimately led to its reorganization and rebranding as Academi and to Mr. Prince’s exit from the business. Blackwater said it was carrying out dangerous work on behalf the U.S. government in a way that was more cost-effective than using uniformed personnel. Four former guards were convicted after the shooting, but said they shot in self defense.
The Russians killed in Syria belonged to a private group called OSM, according to Denis Korotkov, a former security adviser and journalist. The group is known informally as Wagner, after the nom de guerre of its leader, a former military intelligence officer who has served in several conflicts since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Syria wasn’t the group’s first deployment. According to all three people, the group operated in eastern Ukraine, where its members were charged with protecting factories and pro-Russian rebel leaders.
In Ukraine, the Kremlin employed “hybrid warfare”—a term national-security experts use to describe the use of irregular forces, propaganda campaigns, economic coercion and sometimes direct military action.
Groups with connections to Russian military and intelligence, and whose activities can be denied, have operated in the conflict zones that flared up since the fall of the Soviet Union. Wagner’s group however has emerged as one of the most prominent both in terms of the size and missions, according to Mr. Konovalov.
Based in the southern Russian region of Krasnodar, the group deployed to Syria after a contract was drawn up with Syrian authorities, Mr. Konovalov said.

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Russia: So Where Are Russian PMSC’s Working In The World?

This is a great graphic from InformNapalm, along with a link to the article. I have heard about a few of these companies, but this is by far the most comprehensive collection that I have seen posted. There was quite a bit of interest the last time I posted about Russian PMSC’s here and here, and we will see if anyone wants to pop up and add to this stuff.

The story about PMC Vagner (or Wagner) is interesting. I actually heard some information about them from other sources and they are definitely mixing it up in Syria. Here is a quote from the article that perked me up.

For example, ‘Vagner’ private military company (incorporated in Argentina) poses itself as a closed militarized structure; its training camp is located in the village of Molkino in Krasnodar krai, at the training site of the 10th special forces brigade of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Federation. With high probability we can assume that we observe here the mentioned above mechanism for the creation of voluntary units of Russian GRU’s reservists.

Everything is organized as in a Special Forces: arrival, interviewing, testing, quarantine, intensive special training, examination and sending on a mission. At the same time the main priority is to keep the information in secret.

According to closed sources, the main task is to prepare the ‘Vagner’s fighters for the war in Syria and send them there. This version is confirmed by the data from numerous printed materials.

Obviously, these men are the backbone of ground operations’ troops and they fight under the guise of Assad’s volunteers. Detachments of ‘vacationers’ are sent to Syria from Primorsko-Akhtarsky military airfield, which is located in 200 km from the training center.

According to confidential information, there are hundreds of killed fighters in the ranks of ‘Vagner’ PMC. This information is partially confirmed by the data in open sources:

24.09.2015 – 10 coffins arrived to Sevastopol from Syria;

20.10.2015 – Vessel with bodies of 26 killed marines from 810th brigade arrived to Sevastopol;

27.10.2015 – A coffin with a soldier died in Syria arrived to Sevastopol.

In the article they also posted a video and links to these various companies. Check it out. –Matt


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Industry Talk: The Slavonic Corps–A Russian PMSC In Syria

“A large field between Lattakia and Tartous, surrounded by barbed wire. That is where our battalion and the Syrian reservists were stationed. It used to be a racecourse. We were housed in the former stables. By October there were 267 people from the ‘Slavonic Corps’, split into two companies. One company was made up of Kuban Cossacks, the other had people from all over Russia; there were 10 or 12 men from Petersburg. The bosses said that the numbers of the corps in Syria was expected to reach up to 2,000 men.”
In addition to assault rifles, the battalion received machine guns and grenade launchers. They had anti-aircraft guns, 1939 models. The mortars were from 1943. Crews were formed for the four T-72 tanks and some BMP (infantry fighting vehicles). The question of how appropriate the weapons were, for the task of protecting “facilities,” came up quickly, even from the most gullible, and was addressed. “Did you come to fight or to guard? Whoever guards is on eternal kitchen patrol.” Those were the words of the commander’s reply. The manager of the project was Vadim Gusev, known to many as the deputy director of Moran Security Group.

This is a unique story that I wanted to get out there for folks to check out. My post about Assad approving the use of PMSC’s was a record post on FJ, and stories like this are very interesting to the community. I also wanted to put this out so that those who were involved with this contract in Syria can respond. The last couple of weeks I have been asking around on FB and nothing has come up. I suspect that it is mostly a language deal and that Russians have not been hanging on English based FB groups. So hopefully this post will get their attention via Google Search.

Basically, this company was contracted to guard ‘and’ do other things in Syria, for the Assad side. Apparently the contractors recruited by this company were victim to the whole bait and switch game, and as soon as they got on the ground, the company changed the contract to a more kinetic operation . So the company I believe is at fault for not being honest in their recruitment from the get go, and not preparing their people for this kind of contract. As  a result, the Slavonic Corps had a poor showing in Syria, it was poorly led and managed, and the contract signed with the client was poorly written. The result was a company running out of Syria with it’s tale between it’s legs, and creating a bunch of unpaid and pissed off contractors. Here is a quote about recruitment:

This was never understood. “When they spoke to us in Russia, they explained that we were going on a contract with the Syrian government, they convinced us that everything was legal and in order. Like, our government and the FSB were on board and involved in the project. When we arrived there, it turned out that we were sent as gladiators, under a contract with some Syrian or other, who may or may not have a relationship with the government… That meant that we were the private army of a local kingpin. But there was no turning back. As they said, a return ticket costs money, and we’ll work it off, whether we like it or not.” As they told the Slavonic Corps troops, the job came down to maintaining control over the centre of the oil industry, in the town of Deir ez-Zor. In order to be in control of it, we had to reach it. More than 500 kilometres across territory occupied by government troops, by the opposition or by completely unknown forces.

Crazy, but this sounds way too familiar from my experience in contracting. But I am not going to let the contractors that signed up for this off that easy. These guys did not do their due diligence before accepting the contract. It sounded like the recruiters attracted a lot of desperate and naive folks who really wanted to believe this was a good deal. I wonder if the Russians have a forum or Facebook group to go to, so they can ask questions to their community about companies like the Slavonic Corps or the Moran Security Group? Because if they would have had a SOCNET or a Feral Jundi or an Eeben Barlow, they could have gotten some second opinions that would have squared them away.  Here is a great quote from another Russian PMSC called the RSB Group, about the idiocy of this contract:

In the words of the professional: This is a crazy scheme
After asking Vyacheslav Kalashnikov several times to speak on the subject of Syria, and having received no answer, Fontanka turned to the head of Russia’s largest private military company, the “RSB Group,” for comment. Oleg Krinitsyn is certain: the Syrian story of the Slavonic Corps was a crazy scheme from the start.
“The widely advertised campaign to recruit mercenaries for Syria initially sounded like a stunt, a kind of PR campaign. Later on, people believed it and were drawn to their dream – to make money. But not all of them understood that this money was dirty, and possibly bloody. Before sending people to a country where there is active fighting, where there is a virtual ‘layer cake’ of the Syrian Army, the opposition fighters, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra etc, it’s essential to prepare them, as well as to understand how to get them out of there. Among those guys, photographed against a backdrop of Syrian equipment, festooned with weapons, I noticed a few of our former employees, who had been dismissed because of their poor moral character. I saw guys with criminal records amongst them. This once again confirms that the aim of the recruiters was not to attract high quality professionals, but just to plug a ‘hole’ with cannon fodder, and fast. And the boys were sent on contracts that resembled contracts for suicide missions. Right away, people signed a contract that included a will to bury their remains in their homeland, or if that proved impossible, in the nation where they died, and then be reburied in Russia. Dreadful.

Luckily for these guys, they were saved by a sand storm. Having experienced these types of storms in the middle east, I can say these things can get pretty dense. Quote:

It could be regarded as a great success that, out of the whole corps, a total of six people were wounded, two of them seriously. It should be pointed out that all of the wounded were removed from the battlefield and returned home with all the others. “We were saved by a sandstorm, we were enveloped by it on our retreat, but it hid us from the local mujahedeen. There was so much sand that you couldn’t see anything. But thanks to that, we are alive.”

These guys also paid the price when after fighting their way out of Syria, they had to deal with authorities when they came back home. The FSB was heavily involved from the sounds of it and this is also an interesting angle to this story. One of the articles I posted below talked about the FSB connection to this company and contract:

For instance, the head of the Slavonic Crops was a commander in the FSB reserve. New York University professor Mark Galeotti has studied the way the Russian security apparatus operates. In an interview for The Interpreter on the topic, he told me that private military contractors would need to clear all such operations with the FSB, which would mean that the FSB has placed Syria on the list of nations where foreign operations were approved. Galeotti went even further. When asked whether he thought there were more Russian mercenaries fighting for the Assad government inside Syria, he said that this was “likely,” and it’s not just mercenaries who are helping Assad:
“I anticipate that ‘mercenary’ is merely a cover story for Russian soldier or spook, just as the “Russian engineers” working on Syrian air defense systems are going to be military.”
There is significant reason to believe that the FSB knew about the mission. But as Thursday’s story in Foreign Policy explains, the Russian government had good reason to clip the mercenaries’ wings:
It’s not hard to surmise why the FSB would have turned on a company it may have given tacit support to send men into Syria. The mercenaries performed poorly in the field, and proof of their illicit activity had been plastered all over the Internet, so not tossing Gusev and Sidorov in the clink might have caused the kind of scandal that even an unembarrassable Kremlin would want to avoid. Moscow has been outspoken in its criticism of U.S. and Arab arms transfers to Syria’s rebels, even as its own state arms export company dispatches more and more sophisticated hardware to Assad, according to the State Department’s Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria. The Kremlin is also trying to ensure that the imperiled Geneva II peace conference takes place in December, just in time for the regime to be in a much-strengthened negotiating position after a series of tactical gains on the battlefield.

So with that said, I think the Russians were anticipating that the West was going to make this into an ’embarrassing deal’ by plastering it all over the news. So for them, as soon as the whole thing went bad, they took the side of shock and disgust. Check out how they tried to whitewash this incident when these guys came back.

Despite the fact that, according to the contract, the assignment was supposed to last five months, in the last days of October the personnel were loaded onto two chartered planes and sent to Moscow. They were not expecting such a reception to be awaiting their arrival at Vnuknovo. As they disembarked the aircraft one by one, each fell into the hands of FSB officers. There was a quick inspection, the removal of SIM cards and any other media, and a brief questioning as witnesses. Then followed the removal of their passports, non-disclosure forms, and tickets home. Vadim Gusev, who had flown in business class and left the plane first, remained in the hands of the investigators. As they explained at the Moran Security Group, he and another employee of the company, Evgeny Sidorov, who was responsible for human resources, were arrested in a criminal case brought by the FSB’s metropolitan command under the never-before applied Article 359 of the Criminal Code – mercenary activities.

Did I mention that the contractors involved will not be getting paid the 4,000 dollars they were promised!…. Yikes, what a soup sandwich.

Well, that is about all I have on this one. Just some commentary on what has already been reported. If anyone has any interesting side notes on this story, I would be curious to hear about it. I also posted some links to the companies involved in this story and some good posts about the Slavonic Corps below. –Matt

Foreign Policy story on the Slavonic Corps.

Moran Security Group is a member of the ICoC (number 385) and is a member of SAMI

The Slavonic Corps website here.

War is Boring post about it here.

Pieter Van Ostaeyan’s blog about it here. (he was able to dig up some interesting stuff)

Youtube video of one of the contractors thought to be dead, that survived and posted this.



The Last Battle of the “Slavonic Corps”
The story of the Russian mercenaries who went to war against Syrian rebels.
By Denis Korotkov
Originally published by Fontanka on November 14, 2013
Translated by Pierre Vaux November 16, 2013
A Syrian rebel group claims that it has ambushed and killed a group of Russian mercenaries who may have been working for a Chinese security contractor. The jihadist fighters from an Al Qaeda affiliate “Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS)” claim to have killed the mercenaries in a battle near Homs. At least one of the mercenaries, however, has been videotaped alive and well, and living back in Russia.
The large and well-respected St. Petersburg newspaper, Fontanka, has published an article, translation by The Interpreter, entitled “St. Petersburg Sends Contractors to Syria.” It details the investigation that uncovered the existence of Russian mercenaries defending sensitive installations important to the Assad government in Syria. The contractors appear to have been recruited in St. Petersburg by a company based in Hong Kong.
We also know that the mercenaries appear to have been operating in As-Sukhnah, east of Palmyra, on the road between Deir Ez Zor and Homs. Jihadists have long wanted to capture the town, and nearby Palmyra, because securing this road would link their forces from the east to the west. The Assad regime, on the other hand, has had difficulty sparing the resources to defend the position, as it is far away from the major cities which are heavily embattled. According to the initial investigation by Fontanka, the mission of the mercenaries was to secure key regime assets, away from the front lines, in order for Assad forces to concentrate on removing “bandits” in other areas. However, it appears that the oil fields that the Russians were supposed to be guarding were in rebel control, and the team was really tasked with getting them back.
The following translation is an update from Fontanka. It says that one of the key players in the military contracting company is a reservist officer in the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), lieutenant colonel Vyacheslav Kalashnikov. The FSB, therefore, were aware on some level that the Moran Security Group was sending Russian mercenaries to Syria to fight for Assad. However, the mercenary group was shut down and several mercenaries were arrested upon their return to Russia. A major Russian contractor says that this was not an FSB mission, but a mission designed to look like an FSB mission. The insinuation is that a pro-rebel group hired the Russians in order to lead them into a trap, kill them, and show their bodies on television.
All of the pictures on the original Fontanka article were also posted in the one we already translated. Instead, these pictures of the Russian mercenaries were posted on a Russian social network (except the one that states it was from Fontanka). – Ed.

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Weapons: Can Your Defensive Plan Counter An Armored VBIED?

This is a pretty disturbing trend when it comes to patterns of attacks by jihadists in Syria. The reason why I pay attention to this stuff is that what is learned on that battlefield, could easily be applied by the jihadists elsewhere. A big hat tip to Matt over at Screaming At Strangers for all the help in this one.

So with that said, let me introduce to you the armored vehicle born improvised explosive device or Armored VBIED. It is simple in design and concept, but extremely effective against defenses that are not prepared for such a weapon. Does your entry control point or defense plan have a counter for this? How about obstacles or munitions that can stop a BMP packed with explosives?

Check it out below, and in both videos, you can see exactly the stunning effects of this weapon. They can literally drive under a hail of bullets and place the vehicle exactly where they want it for detonation. If guys have other videos, please feel free to post those links in the comments section.

Will companies be outfitting contractors or military folks at entry control points around the world, with M-3 Carl Gustavs or anti-tank guided munitions like the Kornet, just to counter such a threat? Yikes…. –Matt

Edit: 12/30/13 I wanted to add this first video to this compilation. It is not an armored VBIED, but a ‘remote controlled’ VBIED.

Edit: 01/16/14 Another sighting of a BMP VBIED in Syria. This time in Daara. Video here. h/t Matt from Facebook.

Edit: 06/06/15 Probably the worst attack executed to date that used armored VBIED’s was used by ISIS to take Ramadi in Iraq. Over the course of three days, ISIS used 27 VBIED’s, to include captured and converted armored HMMWV’s. They also used an armored bulldozer to make a breach for their armored VBIED’s.


This one shows the Kurds stopping an ISIS armored VBIED.

Jabhatul Nusra double suicide bombing in Sheik Miskeen, Dara’a, Syria. Both are covered by a tank, and ground forces follow up after the breach has been made.

ISIS using a captured HMMWV packed with explosives to attack Iraqi positions in Ramadi, Iraq.

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Syria: Assad Passes Decree Legalizing Private Security Firms

This is an interesting move. Of course during an armed revolt, Syria no longer has the luxury of using the police and military for all security functions. If anything, the police are being taken away to do more war-like functions and have less manpower to deal with petty crime and the day to day functions of a domestic police force.

Enter private security. Now at first, this seems to be a pretty basic move. But there might be more to this, or it might evolve into a different animal. Specifically, will the private security market morph into more of a mercenary market of force to support the Assad regime? Russian or Iranian private military groups (or government proxies) moving in to provide manpower to the cause? As the war in Syria drags on, all and any means of force will be considered by both sides of the conflict.

A great example of what I am talking about are the rebels, and how their ranks are filled with foreign opposition fighters. Palestinians account for the largest amount of foreign fighter deaths at a staggering 471 killed in action. The total amount of foreign opposition fighter deaths is 2,759!  –Matt

Edit: 6/19/2015- I wanted to add a new deal to this post in regards to Assad’s use of private forces. Apparently Iran has been hiring Afghan mercenaries to fight in Syria. Here is the link to this story done by the BBC.


RSB guard protecting Russian Embassy in Iraq.


Syria’s Assad ‘legalises’ private security firms
August 6, 2013
Syria’s president has passed a decree legalising private security firms, faced with a 29-month armed revolt against his rule that has pinned down the police, state news agency SANA reported Tuesday.
President Bashar al-Assad’s decree regulates “licencing for private companies that provide protection and guard duties … to ensure the safety of individuals, establishments, property and the transport of cash, jewels and precious metals,” said SANA.
One-year renewable licences are to be issued by the interior ministry, it said, but only to Syrian nationals with capital of more than $250,000.
“The interior minister will define the categories of arms to be used by each company, ranging from revolvers to rifles and others,” said the agency.

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Weapons Stuff: Syrian Rebels Create And Deploy A Remote Controlled Sniper Rifle

It always amazes me how resourceful and ingenious folks can be during desperate times, and especially in a war. Obviously this kid created a weapon system that fit his mission and worked well with his skill level, which was probably playing video games.

Now the question I have is if this will catch on with other rebel groups? Will this kid start a ‘remotely operated sniper system’ movement in this war, and what direction will it go for advances? How about automatic targeting or tracking? How about the incorporation of a laser rangefinder into this system.  Something like Tracking Point’s weapon system? We will see….

Although at the end of the day, I still believe humans operating the sniper rifle directly will account for more kill shots in Syria. It is the most practical, cheapest and most portable way of deploying that system. –Matt


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