While Russian PMCs continue redoubling their squads, their true threat remains largely underestimated by the democratic West. The geography of the conflicts is expanding. Russian mercenary groups not only work in Syria now — they are spotted in the Central African Republic, Sudan, Yemen and Libya. To give an example, PMC RSB-Group currently is very active in Libya [20
]. Some reports indicate that Russian PMCs are also active in Brunei and Burundi. There are signs that Russian mercenaries work in other African countries, but short dispatches about their presence have not yet been supported by convincing evidence.
European countries are in danger, too. Not only Ukraine which has seen the whole kaleidoscope of Russian hybrid forces, including mercenaries posing themselves as PMCs (the Wagner Group, E.N.O.T. Corp., MAR, the Cossacks, etc.). According to several reports Serbian president Vučić was seeking Putin's assistance to deal with Kosovo, and he may get it through
a new Russian PMC Patriot [21
] closely affiliated with the Russian MoD.
In fact, Patriot is an upgraded version of the Wagner Group where all members are military professionals who are, apparently, still serving in Special Operations Forces or The Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (formerly GRU). Patriot members get higher salaries that may go up to $6,100 - 15,200 a month [22
. Discreet apparent practice is taken to the extremes. This shift from patchy Wagner crowd to top-qualified military professionals may indicate that Russia wants to raise the stakes. Facing no real counteraction on behalf of the world community the Kremlin brings into play the plan of massive hybrid expansion.
This threat should not be taken lightly. Essentially, Putin seeks to use the tactics of Genghis Khan: conquer new territory and increase your army by recruiting people from newly conquered lands. Then repeat.
To most Western countries this Medieval approach may look bizarre, for it seems to have no positive outcomes — both in terms of economic profit (conquered lands should be taken care of) or image on the international arena. However, there is one important factor that changes everything: the goal of this expansion is not prosperity of Russia as a country, it is immediate gain for a limited number of people in power. This is exactly what Russia did and does in Abkhazia, Transnistria, South Ossetia, Donbas.
Locals who had fought for Moscow's interests in occupied Moldova and Georgia in 2014 joined mercenary troops who went to fight in Donbas. Ukrainian locals who joined Russian hybrid occupation army in the East of Ukraine now fight in Syria. A perfect example of this is Wagner Group's
Karpaty company task force. Most of its personnel (excluding Russian citizens who hold command positions) are Ukrainian mercenaries who first fought for the interests of the Russian Federation in Donbas, and then went on to earn a living in Syria [23
]. Brainwashed poor people in a land devastated by war, with no job and no prospects, eagerly risk their life in exchange for money.
Russian PMCs have been rapidly evolving, and now they are almost indistinguishable from most regular armies. They have assault units, reconnaissance and artillery, they operate MANPADS and armored vehicles, including MBTs [24