Putin is setting up private armies for protection against Wagner-style rebellion
08/03/2023 // Cassie B. // Views

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly been working on developing a network of private military companies throughout the country to offer him greater protection in the event of another Wagner Group rebellion or similar uprising.

The mercenary group, which had been helping Russia to fight Ukraine, launched a mutiny in June, seizing control of Rostov-on-Don and advancing on Moscow before ultimately working out a deal with the Kremlin and pulling back. The uprising took Putin by surprise and was very damaging politically.

Putin has not punished Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, but he has been looking to identify traitors in the Russian military and is growing increasingly concerned about the possibility of similar threats arising in the future.

Mysterious amendments attached to a new law raising the draft age for the Russian military outline the creation of new paramilitary companies known as “special enterprises” throughout Russia.

The militias Putin is setting up would operate at his behest and will be armed by the country’s Ministry of Defense but will fall under the command of their respective regional governors. They will be required to “protect the state border, fight illegal armed groups and combat foreign sabotage and intelligence formations," in addition to addressing internal threats. It is not yet clear how they would interact with Russian intelligence and other branches of the military.

Although Putin is well-protected by extensive security and the country has a national guard, one Kremlin official said that the new law that put these private military companies in place is an effort to enhance his defenses.

Speaking to The Daily Beast, Nikolai Sokov noted: "They are a tool to enhance security [important given very active clandestine actions by Ukrainian military intelligence], and can, as necessary, help against any new mutiny."

They will also be tasked with providing defense against internal attacks. They can use force on crowds in cases where there is “group resistance,” and they will also be able to pursue unmanned drones and other types of attacks.

At the same time, however, Putin is likely trying to avoid setting up another Wagner Group-style private military company that could pose a similar threat to his regime. It appears the latest efforts are aiming to address some of the very security vulnerabilities that enabled the Wagner Group to carry out its revolt.

Therefore, there are checks on the new military groups that include a provision under which Putin can abolish them, which would require them to turn in their arms within days.

Putin needs to bolster his defenses as domestic unrest grows

Institute for the Study of War Russia Analyst Karolina Hird told The Daily Beast that Putin is likely attempting to strike a balance between establishing a militarized entity while avoiding setting up something with a structure that would be conducive to the type of activities Wagner ultimately attempted.

She added: “They need these kind of entities to fill certain law enforcement and security roles in Russian regions, but these entities cannot be so centralized and powerful that they become their own Wagner group and then pose a threat to the Russian state akin to what Wagner posed during the rebellion.”

She also pointed out that the Kremlin now understands that they might not be as well protected as they hoped and that this needs to be addressed before the growing unhappiness among Russians over the war reaches a breaking point.

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