The Geoeconomic Dimensions of Russian Private Military and Security CompaniesDePuY-2019-Winner

Maj. Thomas D. Arnold, U.S. Army

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I believe that such companies are a way of implementing national interests without the direct involvement of the state … I think we could consider this option.

—Russian President Vladimir Putin

The U.S. military’s lopsided defeat of Russian “mercenaries” and pro-regime forces near Deir al-Zour, Syria, in February 2018, brought Russian private military and security companies (PMSCs) to the forefront of popular attention.1 The subsequent killing of Russian journalists investigating ChVK Wagner—the most notorious Russian PMSC—in the Central African Republic that same year only enhanced the mystique surrounding Russian PMSCs.2 While these events have increased awareness of Wagner, they have inadvertently focused most analysis of the Russian PMSC industry toward a hybrid, or “nonlinear,” warfare perspective devoid of historic and economic context.3

Russian PMSCs certainly play a role in Moscow’s evolving concept of nonlinear warfare, but they also have geopolitical and economic—geoeconomic—utility that Russia is exploiting today.4 For the purposes of this article, geoeconomics is defined as “the use of economic instruments to promote and defend national interests, and to produce beneficial results.”5 Looking beyond the Deir al-Zour incident, the geoeconomic role of PMSCs in the Kremlin’s foreign policy becomes clear. Russia uses PMSCs to expand its influence abroad by supporting fragile states’ sovereign governments, essentially trading security for access and concessions.6 On and off the battlefield, Russian PMSCs also secure vital investments in security vacuums on behalf of private and state-owned businesses to support broader foreign policy objectives.7 Despite a few notable embarrassments, modern PMSCs have served the Kremlin well, quickly moving from concept to reality. A holistic understanding of Russian PMSCs is important for military officers and policy makers because PMSCs will become an increasingly integral component of the Kremlin’s foreign policy as evidenced by historical analysis and ongoing activities.

The remainder of this article explores the geoeconomic dimensions of the Russian PMSC industry. It begins by developing an analytical framework based on previous academic theory to facilitate comparative analysis of PMSCs. The article then provides a historical case study to highlight the similarities and dissimilarities between earlier PMSCs and their contemporary Russian counterparts. Next, the article provides a brief history of the Russian PMSC industry before drawing parallels between Soviet foreign policy and current activities. Finally, the article examines the implications of Russian PMSCs to U.S. foreign policy and military strategy.

Analytical Framework

Researchers first took interest in the PMSC industry in the mid-1990s after Executive Outcomes (EO)—a South African PMSC covered in detail later—gained notoriety from a series of decisive campaigns to quell the long-running civil wars in Angola and Sierra Leone.8 Like Wagner today, EO immediately captured the public’s imagination, fueling speculation about the future of global power dynamics.9 Despite their headline-grabbing exploits, EO and Wagner remain outliers.10 With most attention focused on the extreme end of possibilities, it is important to remember that the industry offers a range of services, most of which are much lower on the spectrum of violence than combined arms maneuver.11 A classification system based on observed activities and a client state’s formal control over operations is essential for the comparison of individual companies across time and operational context in order to form a more accurate picture of individual actors and broader industry trends.


There have been three major periods of PMSC research: (1) from 1998 until 2003, research focused on describing the industry and determining its role in global affairs; (2) from 2004 until 2009, research turned toward U.S. contracting activities in Afghanistan and Iraq; and (3) from 2010 onward, academics have examined personal contractor experiences.12 For individuals studying Russian PMSCs, earlier works focused on industry analysis and company classification remain the most useful. In 2001, P. W. Singer introduced a typology based on services and levels of force.13 Singer’s typology identifies three categories of PMSCs: military support firms offering sustainment support, military consulting firms offering advisory services and training, and military provider firms contracted to employ lethal force.14 Singer’s work remains one of the most influential studies of the industry; however, his typology is not without its critics.15

From a military perspective, Singer’s typology has one critical flaw: it does not distinguish between lethal force contracted for defensive or offensive purposes. To a military audience, the difference is fundamental because the task and purpose of the contract drives everything from personnel and equipment to tactics, techniques, and procedures. Simply dividing Singer’s military provider category into two—private security company (defensive in purpose) and private military company (offensive in purpose)—increases the utility of his basic typology without overcomplicating analysis.16 Table 1 illustrates a modified version of Singer’s “tip of the spear” typology, focusing on primary purpose, observed activities, and capability to employ lethal force.

Another way to characterize PMSCs is to consider a firm’s lethal capabilities in relation to the degree of tactical control a client’s military exerts over a PMSC’s operations. Contemporary conflict zones host a multitude of private actors pursuing various objectives, but some PMSCs further their client’s interests by employing lethal military force outside of a formal military command-and-control hierarchy. Figure 1 provides an analytical framework utilizing the modified Singer typology to classify PMSCs based on observed military capabilities along the X-axis. The Y-axis provides an estimate of a PMSC’s integration within the client state’s formal military command-and-control network.


Analyzing PMSCs by observed activities and state control while noting the operational context should be the preferred method of analysis.17 Observation and context are essential because a contract review is unlikely, particularly when studying Russian PMSCs that might or might not be acting on Kremlin orders.18 A Russian PMSC’s services can vary by contract, thus cataloging activities over time and location is the best way of determining a firm’s relative independence from Moscow at any given point. It should be noted that a PMSC can fit one label in one situation and another in a different context; that is, just because Wagner is labeled a private military company in Syria does not necessarily mean it will have the same role in Sudan.19 The elaboration on Singer’s PMSC typology illustrated in the provided framework can help military officers and policy makers capture the relevant details required to support rigorous policy and strategy discussions. Finally, a generally accepted analytical framework facilitates comparative analysis of contemporary PMSCs to their peers and predecessors.

Executive Outcomes: A Case Study

Executive Outcomes (1989–1999) is legendary in the field of PMSC research. Still controversial twenty years after its demise, EO’s notoriety stems from its financial motives, shadowy corporate connections, and battlefield successes. During its heyday, EO was soberly compared to the British East India Company and billed as the “only incorporated private mercenary army on earth that will … wage full-scale war on behalf of its client.”20 Despite being a well-worn topic in the literature, it is worth revisiting EO to compare modern Russian PMSCs to their most studied predecessor. The following case study is brief, avoiding the tactical details of EO’s campaigns in Angola (1993–1996) and Sierra Leone (1995–1997). For a more in-depth read on EO, please consult the sources cited. The italicized text highlights major themes that converge with what is known about Russian PMSCs today.

Executive Outcomes was established in 1989 just before the South African security apparatus began its post-apartheid “disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration (DDRR) process.”21 The DDRR process created a large pool of trained personnel with limited employment opportunities.22 Despite the ready supply of potential recruits, EO offered a relatively generous compensation package and carefully screened applicants, often hiring former special forces and intelligence operatives.23 To keep costs down, EO maintained a small permanent staff and built specially formed teams for each contract.24 While EO was headquartered in Pretoria, South Africa, its exact ownership and corporate connections remained opaque.25 Despite its murky corporate connections, it is clear that EO’s operations were linked to securing natural resources in fragile states.26

In addition to the above domestic factors, there were several external factors contributing to EO’s rise. First, the post-Cold War disengagement from Africa created persistent security vacuums in many regions, forcing fragile states to seek new security partners.27 Second, conflict zones often overlapped with significant natural resource deposits, creating opportunities for entrepreneurial security solutions.28 Third, the international community’s collective inaction accelerated the privatization of security in fragile states.29 Finally, EO based its credibility on its service to legitimate, or sovereign, governments as opposed to the mercenary tradition of supporting coups.30 Contrary to the Africa-centric research focus on EO’s activities, its operations were not limited to one region—it was a global phenomenon.31

Operationally, EO functioned as a prime contractor for fragile states, but it also subcontracted its services to corporate partners.32 Its brochures advertised services ranging from basic training to armored warfare.33 The list of EO’s reported activities place it on the extreme end of the PMSC spectrum, categorizing it as a true private military company and clear outlier. EO’s observed activities are still surprising today: combined arms maneuver, psychological warfare, foreign internal defense, humanitarian assistance, and stability operations.34 In addition to its known operations, EO may also have discretely offered “boutique” services (e.g., regime coup-proofing and hostage rescues).35 EO’s key advantage was its human intelligence and signals intelligence capabilities, which allowed it to maintain a small footprint, conduct targeted operations, and defeat numerically superior enemies.36 Once EO secured its objectives, it could hold or transition control to other less capable but affiliated private security companies.37 Ultimately, EO was the victim of its own success. Its increased notoriety spurred U.S. diplomatic and international pressure on contracting regimes as well as increased oversight and legal regulations at home.38 The combination of international pressure and scrutiny led to EO disbanding in 1999; however, remnants of EO persist today.

While the case study above identifies common themes between EO and today’s Russian PMSCs, it is also necessary to highlight the two most significant areas of divergence. First, EO operated on behalf of its corporate owners to earn a profit. Although Russian PMSCs seek profits, some—maybe many—take directions from the Kremlin to further the state’s geopolitical interest regardless of profit.39 These firms must be identified and tracked to better understand the Kremlin’s intentions and internal patron-client dynamics. Second, EO was disbanded because of international pressure and increased regulation at home. Russian PMSCs operate in a legal gray area and appear to be just one of Moscow’s methods of circumventing international sanctions and diplomatic pressure.40 As an enduring fixture of Russia’s foreign policy, identifying, tracking, and exposing all Russian PMSCs—not just Wagner—is essential to countering Russian malign influence. Table 2 shows the known and suspected Russian PMSCs.41


A Brief History of Russian Private Military and Security Companies

Recent headlines surrounding Wagner have made Russian PMSCs appear to be a contemporary phenomenon mostly tied to nonlinear warfare.42 While PMSCs have played a supporting role in Ukraine and Syria, the history of modern Russian PMSCs is deeper than today’s “gray-zone operations.” The Kremlin’s reliance on PMSCs predates Crimea’s annexation by several decades, spanning the full range of imaginable services, from using “volunteers” as shock infantry to allegedly leasing out an entire air force for combat operations.43 A general understanding of the Russian PMSC industry’s evolution is required to better understand its support to Russian foreign policy—yesterday, today, and in the future.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, several Russian PMSCs entered the private market, with most functioning solely as private security companies. Established by former KGB and military officers, these privateers sought to leverage their past experiences and business connections forged during clandestine and overt Cold War missions.44 They originally offered their services globally but quickly concentrated in Africa and Central Asia, focusing on security operations in support of various corporate and government clients.45 Few if any of the earliest Russian PMSCs were directly affiliated with or controlled by the Kremlin.

While initial Russian PMSCs largely served corporate interests, Russian intelligence services quickly saw the potential of PMSCs to complement military forces in the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. As early as 1992, the Federal Security Service helped to organize Rubicon—one of the first reported Russian private military companies—to fight in Bosnia alongside the Serbs.46 Shortly thereafter, reports surfaced that Russian mercenaries were fighting pro-democracy rebels in Tajikistan.47 Additionally, Russia allegedly used PMSCs to maintain the frozen conflicts in Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh throughout the 1990s while its uniformed troops acted as peacekeepers.48 International reporting on Russian PMSCs began to dry up shortly after 11 September 2001, but it clearly did not disappear.

In the beginning, Russian PMSCs were focused on two separate and distinct objectives: providing services to foreign clients for profit independent of Kremlin control or maintaining Russian influence in its “near abroad” in accordance with Kremlin instructions. Within the last decade, Moscow has rapidly fused these separate objectives and set its sights further afield toward fragile states beyond Russia’s traditional sphere of influence. The convergence of objectives likely coincides with the increasing hybridization of Russian businesses and the continuing evolution of its “power economy” concept. Like a distorted vision of soft power, power economy conceives PMSCs as geoeconomic tools to secure Russian national interests in fragile states.49 As a noncoercive service offered to sovereign regimes (legitimacy is another issue), Russian PMSCs increase Moscow’s influence and access abroad by simultaneously propping up fragile states and protecting Russian economic investments.50 Key examples of Russian PMSCs propping up regimes to secure and protect economic concessions for the Kremlin are Syria (oil and gas), Sudan (gold), the Central African Republic (gold, uranium, and diamonds), and Venezuela (oil, gold, and arms deals).51


The historical evolution of PMSCs as Russian geoeconomic tools remains an open research project. A general appreciation of the industry’s evolution in theory and practice provides valuable context for analysts today. Military officers and policy makers must understand that Russian PMSCs once operated independent of Kremlin control and that many still do. Although some Russian PMSCs are relatively benign, others are actively employed—and controlled—by Moscow to further Russia’s malign interests abroad. Understanding that both types of firms can coexist is critical to confronting and addressing Russia’s geoeconomic maneuvering in fragile states.

Parallels to Soviet Foreign Policy

While modern Russia is far from being the Soviet Union, it did inherit the intellectual legacy of Soviet foreign policy and its geopolitical realities, notably an underperforming economy and strained relations with the West.52 Examining Russia’s Soviet past can be illuminating, particularly when exploring strategies Russia could use to pursue interests abroad without provoking a direct confrontation with the West. Under Leonid Brezhnev’s leadership (1964–1982), the Soviet Union combined military assistance and long-term investments in developing nations to secure strategic resources in a manner similar to Russia’s geoeconomic maneuvering today. Understanding the parallels between Russia’s past and present is important for analysts studying the role PMSCs will likely play in the Kremlin’s foreign policy going forward.

There were four major periods of Soviet foreign policy toward the developing world from 1953 to 1991:

  • Under Nikita Khrushchev, economic assistance exceeded military aid with both flowing to ideologically aligned nations.
  • From the mid-1960s to early 1970s, military aid became the predominant feature of Soviet assistance under Brezhnev; however, direct financial aid was replaced with economic investments in long-term projects in relatively stable countries not necessarily aligned with Soviet ideology.
  • In the mid-1970s, Brezhnev changed course again, focusing almost exclusively on military aid to expand political influence abroad.
  • Under Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviets consolidated economic resources and limited military aid in an attempt to forestall the impending collapse of the Soviet economy.53

Analysts often compare Vladimir Putin’s domestic economic situation and policies to those of Brezhnev, but there are distinct similarities in their foreign policies as well.54 Faced with a struggling economy when he came to office, Brezhnev turned economic assistance away from ideologically aligned nations and toward direct investment in long-term projects in developing but relatively stable nations.55 These projects were almost exclusively consolidated in mineral and hydrocarbon extraction with guaranteed output that could replace cash repayment in lean times.56 Cash flow and stability were the key factors driving Soviet aid under Brezhnev with military aid being less focused and situationally dependent.57

For the Kremlin today, providing stability to secure cash flow and strategic resources is key. As discussed earlier, Russia effectively trades PMSC services for access and economic concessions in resource-endowed fragile states. (Figure 2 shows Russian priority engagements on the African continent.) Even though the contracts for these concessions are not publicly available, it is safe to assume that Moscow is pursuing long-term investments similar to Brezhnev’s preferences. Additionally, while Putin shares autocratic tendencies with many of the regimes Moscow supports, investment decisions are not ideologically driven. Instead, their focus is on promoting the last few competitive sectors of the Russian economy: arms, energy (nuclear and petroleum), and mineral extraction.58 The final parallel between Soviet and contemporary foreign policy focuses on military technical assistance and advisors. In Soviet times, “advisor” was a euphemism for uniformed soldiers or intelligence operatives working for Moscow abroad.59 Today, the military still performs this role; however, it is increasingly augmented by PMSCs providing “volunteers” or “instructors” in fragile states.60


Despite being fifty years apart, the geopolitical realities confronting the Soviet Union and modern Russia are strikingly similar. Familiar circumstances have pushed the Kremlin to pursue comparable methods; however, Moscow’s tools appear subtler in 2019 than they were in 1969. Consequently, Western military officers and policy makers should expect Russian PMSCs to remain an enduring geoeconomic tool of Russian foreign policy because Russia’s geopolitical situation—economic and diplomatic—is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.


This article explored the geoeconomic dimensions of the contemporary Russian PMSC industry through comparative and historical analysis. By focusing on similarities to previous conditions, operations, and policies, the article highlighted why PMSCs are likely to remain an enduring feature of Russian foreign policy off the battlefield. While Moscow will continue to deploy PMSCs to war zones, their true utility lies in resource-endowed fragile states on the verge of collapse—when their assets are most distressed and deeply discounted. Understanding how, why, and when the Kremlin will use PMSCs is important for military officers and policy makers as the joint force orients toward supporting U.S. government activities in competition below the threshold of armed conflict.61

Because Russia seeks to avoid direct military confrontation with the West, it will continue to send PMSCs into security vacuums and spread malign influence by propping up unsavory regimes for its own economic benefit. The U.S. military and intelligence communities, in coordination with allies and partners, must work together to identify, track, and expose Russian PMSCs and activities that are harmful to common national interests. It is only through awareness and exposure that the United States, its allies, and its partners can bring to bear their own security and geoeconomic tools to counter harmful PMSC activities.

Previously, indirect diplomatic and economic pressure was sufficient to disband EO. Given Kremlin patronage of select PMSCs, the United States and its allies might have to escalate sanctions and other existing measures to counter Russian exploitation efforts involving PMSCs. Again, the military and intelligence communities can assist by monitoring and enforcing sanctions on Russian PMSCs and associated actors. Finally, the joint force could be asked to address the underlying causes of instability by conducting counterterrorism operations, humanitarian assistance, and security cooperation activities to reduce Russian opportunities to exploit resource-endowed fragile states. A comprehensive and proactive approach to prevent security vacuums and address their causes is the best way to make Russian PMSCs unprofitable as corporations and foreign policy tools.


  1. For a brief discussion on why private military and security companies (PMSCs) are preferable, see Fabien Mathieu and Nick Dearden, “The Threat of Private Military & Security Companies,” Review of African Political Economy 34, no. 114 (December 2007): 744–45, accessed 7 May 2019, The term “private military and security company” is preferable over mercenary and other variations on the corporate theme such as “private military firm,” “private military company,” etc., because it most accurately reflects the full range of services that individual firms can offer and is becoming the international standard. For the best open source account of the battle for Deir al-Zour, see Thomas Gibbens-Neff, “How a 4-Hour Battle between Russian Mercenaries and U.S. Commandos Unfolded in Syria,” New York Times (website), 24 May 2018, accessed 3 March 2019,
  2. Andrew Higgins and Ivan Nechepurenko, “In Africa, Murder of Journalists Puts Spotlight on Kremlin’s Reach,” New York Times (website), 7 August 2018, accessed 3 March 2019,
  3. Christopher R. Spearin, “Russia’s Military and Security Privatization,” Parameters 48, no. 2 (Summer 2018): 39–49, accessed 2 February 2019,; James Bingham and Konrad Muzyka, “Private Companies Engage in Russia’s Non-linear Warfare,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, 29 January 2018, accessed 4 February 2019, For an exception to the warfare-centric analysis of Russian PMSCs, see Anna Maria Dyner, “The Role of Private Military Contractors in Russian Foreign Policy,” Polish Institute of International Affairs Bulletin No. 64 (11135), 4 May 2018, accessed 1 February 2019,
  4. Sergey Sukhankin, “‘Continuing War by Other Means’: The Case of Wagner, Russia’s Premier Private Military Company in the Middle East,” The Jamestown Foundation, 13 July 2018, accessed 4 March 2019,
  5. Robert D. Blackwill and Jennifer M. Harris, War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016), 20. For a military-academic perspective on geoeconomics, see John F. Troxell, “Geoeconomics,” Military Review 98, no. 1 (January-February 2018): 4–22.
  6. For the attributes of state fragility and the comprehensive ranking of fragile states in 2019, see J. J. Messner et al., Fragile States Index Annual Report 2019 (Washington, DC: Fund for Peace, 2019), accessed 9 April 2019, For the purposes of this article, fragile states are considered synonymous with weak, failing, and failed states as well as misgoverned, undergoverned, and ungoverned spaces.
  7. Field Manual 3-90-1, Offense and Defense Volume 1 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, March 2013), B-9. Given the operating locations and activities of Russian PMSCs, the standard military definition of secure is most appropriate. For a Russian academic’s thoughts on PMSCs role in securing economic investments, see Pavel A. Shashkin, “Political Aspects of Mercenarism,” Bulletin of the Financial University 5, no. 29 (2017): 47–55, accessed 29 June 2019,
  8. For an early account of Executive Outcomes, see Howard W. French, “Now for Hire: South Africa’s Out of Work Commandos,” New York Times (website), 24 May 1995, accessed 8 January 2019, Twenty years after disbanding, Executive Outcomes remains highly controversial. For assessments that examine its military decisiveness and effectiveness in Angola and Sierra Leone, see Herbert M. Howe, “Private Security Forces and African Stability: The Case of Executive Outcomes,” The Journal of Modern African Studies 36, no. 2 (June 1998), accessed 8 January 2019,; David Shearer, “Out Sourcing War,” Foreign Policy 112 (Autumn 1998): 68–81, accessed 8 January 2019,; Ian D. Jefferies, “Private Military Companies—A Positive Role to Play in Today’s International System,” Connections 1, no. 4 (December 2002): 103–25, accessed 7 May 2019,
  9. P. W. Singer, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008), 169–90.
  10. Kevin O’Brien, “What Should and Should Not Be Regulated?,” in From Mercenaries to Market: The Rise and Regulation of Private Military Companies, ed. Simon Chesterman and Chia Lehnardt (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 29–48.
  11. For more on Wagner’s presence and use of combined arms maneuver in Palmyra, Syria, see James Miller, “Putin’s Attack Helicopters and Mercenaries are Winning the War for Assad,” Foreign Policy, 30 March 2016, accessed 8 January 2019, For Executive Outcomes’s instructions to support all ground maneuver with close air support, see Al J. Venter, War Dog: Fighting other People’s Wars (Philadelphia: Casemate, 2006), 390–91.
  12. Birthe Anders, “Private Military and Security Companies: A Review Essay,” Parameters 44, no. 2 (Summer 2014): 75–80, accessed 2 February 2019,
  13. P. W. Singer, “Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry and its Ramifications for International Security,” International Security 26, no. 3 (Winter 2001-2002): 186–220, accessed 31 January 2019,
  14. Ibid.; see also Singer, Corporate Warriors, 88–100.
  15. Aaron Ettinger, “After the Gold Rush: Corporate Warriors and The Market for Force Revisited,” International Journal 69, no. 4 (December 2014): 559–69, accessed 7 May 2019,
  16. Kevin O’Brien, “License to Kill,” The World Today 59, no. 8/9 (August 2003): 37–39, accessed 8 January 2019,; Sarah V. Percy, “This Gun’s for Hire: A New Look at an Old Issue,” International Journal 58, no. 4 (Autumn 2003): 721–36, accessed 7 May 2019,; Sabelo Gumedze, “Regulating the Private Security Sector in South Africa,” Social Justice 34, no. 3/4 (2007-2008): 195–207, accessed 7 May 2019, Disaggregating Singer’s military provider firm into two separate categories—private security companies and private military companiesis an enduring theme for analysts studying PMSCs.
  17. O’Brien, “License to Kill,” 37–39.
  18. Deborah Avant, The Market for Force: The Consequences of Privatizing Security (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 17. This assertion is counter to Avant’s ideal classification method based on contractual details.
  19. For classification by activity and the fluid nature of PMSC offerings, see O’Brien, “License to Kill”; Avant, The Market for Force, 16–22.
  20. David Shearer, “Dial an Army,” The World Today 53, no. 8/9 (August 1997): 203, accessed 8 January 2019,; Elizabeth Rubin, “An Army of One’s Own,” Harper’s Magazine, February 1997, 44–55.
  21. Rubin “An Army of One’s Own”; Howe, “Private Security Forces and African Stability,” 307; Shearer, “Out Sourcing War,” 73; Singer, Corporate Warriors, 102; Gumedze, “Regulating the Private Security Sector in South Africa,” 195; William Reno, “African Weak States and Commercial Alliances,” African Affairs 96, no. 383 (April 1997): 176, accessed 7 May 2019,
  22. French, “Now for Hire”; Reno, “African Weak States and Commercial Alliances,” 173–74; Jeremy Harding, “The Mercenary Business: ‘Executive Outcomes,’” Review of African Political Economy 24, no. 71 (March 1997): 88, accessed 7 May 2019,; “Africa: Mercenary Markets,” Oxford Analytica Daily Brief Service, 4 October 1999.
  23. Rubin, “An Army of One’s Own”; Reno, “African Weak States and Commercial Alliances,” 176; French, “Now for Hire”; Howe, “Private Security Forces and African Stability,” 310–11; Singer, Corporate Warriors, 102–3; Kirsten Sellars, “Old Dogs of War Learn New Tricks,” New Statesman, 25 April 1997, 24, accessed 7 May 2019,
  24. Shearer, “Out Sourcing War,” 73; Sellars, “Old Dogs of War Learn New Tricks,” 24; Singer, “Corporate Warriors,” 199; Singer, Corporate Warriors, 103.
  25. Rubin, “An Army of One’s Own”; Reno, “African Weak States and Commercial Alliances,” 176; Harding, “The Mercenary Business,” 88; Shearer, “Dial an Army,” 203–4; Singer, Corporate Warriors, 104–6; Philip Winslow, “The Business of War: Upmarket Mercenaries Help Regimes in Need,” Maclean’s, 6 November 1995, 36; David J. Francis, “Mercenary Intervention in Sierra Leone: Providing National Security or International Exploitation?,” Third World Quarterly 20, no. 2 (April 1999): 323, accessed 7 May 2019,; Steven Brayton, “Outsourcing War: Mercenaries and the Privatization of Peacekeeping,” Journal of International Affairs 55, no. 2 (Spring 2002): 327, accessed 7 May 2019, https://www.jstor/stable/24358173.
  26. Howe, “Private Security Forces and African Stability,” 311–15; Francis, “Mercenary Intervention in Sierra Leone,” 326; Brayton, “Outsourcing War,” 312–15; Kevin Whitelaw, “Have Gun, Will Prop up Regime,” U.S. News & World Report 122, 20 January 1997, 46; Sinclair Dinnen, “Militaristic Solutions in a Weak State: International Security, Private Contractors, and Political Leadership in Papua New Guinea,” The Contemporary Pacific 11, no. 2 (1999): 279–303, accessed 7 May 2019,
  27. Rubin, “An Army of One’s Own”; Reno, “African Weak States and Commercial Alliances,” 168–76; Howe, “Private Security Forces and African Stability,” 325–26; Francis, “Mercenary Intervention in Sierra Leone,” 322; Brayton, “Outsourcing War,” 309; Herbert Howe and Aaryn Urell, “African Security in the Post Cold War Era: An Examination of Multinational vs. Private Security Forces,” African Journal of Political Science 3, no. 1 (June 1998): 42–43, accessed 7 May 2019;
  28. Sellars, “Old Dogs of War Learn New Tricks,” 15; Francis, “Mercenary Intervention in Sierra Leone,” 322; Brayton, “Outsourcing War,” 309; Ulrich Persohn, “The Impact of Mercenaries and Private Military and Security Companies on Civil War Severity between 1946 and 2002,” International Interactions 40, no. 2 (2015): 197, 208–9,
  29. Howe, “Private Security Forces and African Stability,” 324–26; Shearer, “Out Sourcing War,” 70; Singer, “Corporate Warriors,” 193–5; Yekutiel Gershoni, “War without End and an End to War: The Prolonged Wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone,” African Studies Review 40, no. 3 (December 1997): 62–65, accessed 7 May 2019,
  30. Rubin, “An Army of One’s Own”; Sellars, “Old Dogs of War Learn New Tricks,” 24; Howe, “Private Security Forces and African Stability,” 330; Johannesburg, “Can Anyone Curb Africa’s Dogs of War?,” The Economist (website), 14 January 1999, accessed 8 January 2019,
  31. For Asia, see Dinnen, “Militaristic Solutions,” 279–80; David Issenberg, “Security for Sale,” Asia Times, 14 August 2003, accessed 8 January 2019, For the Middle East, see Kevin Whitelaw and Carey W. English, “Mercenaries Need Not Apply,” U.S. News & World Report 122, no. 12 (31 March 1997): 47.
  32. For Executive Outcomes’s final role as a subcontractor, see Howe, “Private Security Forces and African Stability,” 322; Dinnen, “Militaristic Solutions,” 279–80; Robert Block, “African Supplier of Mercenaries Shuts, Says it Wants to Give Peace a Chance,” Wall Street Journal, 11 December 1998.
  33. Rubin, “An Army of One’s Own”; Singer, Corporate Warriors, 104.
  34. For combined arms maneuver, see Venter, War Dog, 415–44, 513–52; Singer, Corporate Warriors, 116. For psychological warfare, see Francis, “Mercenary Intervention in Sierra Leone,” 327. For foreign internal defense, see Rubin, “An Army of One’s Own”; Howe, “Private Security Forces and African Stability,” 316; Francis, “Mercenary Intervention in Sierra Leone,” 329. For humanitarian assistance and stability operations, see Rubin, “An Army of One’s Own”; Harding, “The Mercenary Business,” 92, 96.
  35. Whitelaw, “Have Gun, Will Prop up Regime,” 46; Issenberg, “Security for Sale.”
  36. Shearer, “Out Sourcing War,” 73; Singer, Corporate Warriors, 115–16.
  37. Sellars, “Old Dogs of War Learn New Tricks,” 24; Johannesburg, “Can Anyone Curb Africa’s Dogs of War?”; Singer, Corporate Warriors, 117; “Africa: Mercenary Markets”; David Shearer, “Privatizing Protection,” The World Today 57, no. 8/9 (August 2001): 31, accessed 8 January 2019,
  38. For international pressure, see Howe, “Private Security Forces and African Stability,” 329; “Africa: Mercenary Markets”; Roger Moore and Linda de Hoyos, “Executive Outcomes’ Ties to London and Bush,” EIR International, 31 January 1997, 43; Sean Creehan, “Soldiers of Fortune 500: International Mercenaries,” Harvard International Review 23, no. 4 (2002): 6–7. For regulation and contract oversight, see Howe, “Private Security Forces and African Stability,” 327; “Africa: Mercenary Markets”; Johannesburg, “Can Anyone Curb Africa’s Dogs of War?”; Block, “African Supplier of Mercenaries”; Gumedze, “Regulating the Private Security Sector in South Africa,” 202; Singer, Corporate Warriors, 118.
  39. Mark Galleotti and Anna Arutunyan, “Commentary: Hybrid Business—The Risks in the Kremlin’s Weaponization of the Economy,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), 20 July 2016, accessed 21 August 2019,; see also Sukhankin, “Continuing War by Other Means.”
  40. For legal status overview, see Dyner, “The Role of Private Military Contractors”; for sanctions circumvention, see “Paper Views Africa, Middle East Flights of ‘Kremlin Chef’ Plane,” BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union, 8 February 2019.
  41. For information on Anti-Terror Group, see Vyacheslav Gusarov, “Russian Private Military Companies as Licensed Tool of Terror,” Inform Napalm, 24 November 2015, accessed 3 March 2019,; for information on Anti-Terror Group’s ties to FSB, see Grzegorz Kuczynski, “Putin’s Invisible Army,” Warsaw Institute, 30 March 2019, accessed 29 July 2019,
    For information on ATK Group, see Gusarov, “Russian Private Military Companies”; Kuczynski, “Putin’s Invisible Army.”
    For information on Center R in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yugoslavia, see Kuczynski, “Putin’s Invisible Army”; for information on Center R in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yugoslavia, see Gusarov, “Russian Private Military Companies”; for information on Center R in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Indonesia, see Dyner, “The Role of Private Military Contractors.” For information on E.N.O.T. in Ukraine and its ties to FSB, see Kuczynski, “Putin’s Invisible Army”; for information on E.N.O.T. in Azerbaijan, Syria, Tajikistan, Ukraine, see Gusarov, “Russian Private Military Companies”; for information on E.N.O.T. in Azerbaijan, Serbia, Syria, and Ukraine, see Dmitry Nikitin, Rostislav Boguszewski, and Alina Volchinskaya, “The FSB Began to Detain the Participants of The E.N.O.T.,” Daily Storm, 19 November 2019, accessed 5 May 2019,; for information on E.N.O.T. in Azerbaijan, Syria, Tajikistan, and Ukraine, see Dyner, “The Role of Private Military Contractors”; for information on E.N.O.T.’s ties to FSB, see Ruslan Goreva, “The Army of Wild Geese,” Versia (website), 29 January 2019, accessed 03 March 2019,

    For information on FDG Corp, see Kuczynski, “Putin’s Invisible Army”; Nikolai Larin, “Business on Blood: What Is Known About Russian Private Military Companies,” Forbes (Russia website), 8 February 2018, accessed 5 May 2019,

    For information on Feraks Group, see Dyner, “The Role of Private Military Contractors”; Kuczynski, “Putin’s Invisible Army.”

    For information on MAR PMC, see Gusarov, “Russian Private Military Companies”; Kuczynski, “Putin’s Invisible Army”; for information on MAR PMC ties to FSB, see Goreva, “The Army of Wild Geese.”

    For information on Moran Security Group, see Gusarov, “Russian Private Military Companies”; Kuczynski, “Putin’s Invisible Army.”

    For information on Patriot in Barundi and ties to Russian government agencies, see Jakob Hedenskog, “Russia Is Stepping up Its Military Cooperation in Africa,” Swedish Defence Research Agency Memo 6604, December 2018, accessed 5 May 2019,; for information on Patriot in Syria, Barundi, and ties to Ministry of Defence (MOD), see L. Todd Wood, “New Russian Mercenary Force Operating in Syria,” Tzarism, 7 July 2018, accessed 3 August 2019,; for information on Patriot ties to Russian government agencies, see Nils Dahlqvist, “Russia’s (Not So) Private Military Companies,” Swedish Defence Research Agency Memo 6653, January 2019, accessed 3 March 2019,; for information on Patriot in Central African Republic, Syria, and connections to MOD, see “PMC Rush: Russian Private Armies,” Inform Napalm, accessed 1 August 2019,

    For information on RSB Group in Libya, see “Veterans to Ask Hague Court to Probe Russia’s Use of Mercenaries,” RFE/RL, 10 November 2018, accessed 05 March 2019,; Vladimir Mukhin, “The Offensive of Haftar’s Army Is Hindered by Ukrainian Military Men,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta (website), 7 April 2019, accessed 5 May 2019,; for information on RSB Group in Nigeria, see “RSB Group in Nigeria,” RSB Group Press Release, accessed 1 August 2019,; for information on RSB Group in Senegal, see “Contact and Feedback,” RSB Group, accessed 1 August 2019,; for information on RSB Group in Serbia, see “Demining,” RSB Group, accessed 1 August 2019,; for information on RSB Group in Sri Lanka, see “RSB Group Base in Sri Lanka,” RSB Group Press Release, accessed 1 August 2019,; for information on RSB Group in Ukraine, see Gusarov, “Russian Private Military Companies”; for information on RSB Group in Libya and Ukraine, see Kuczynski, “Putin’s Invisible Army.”

    For information on Sewa Security Service in Central African Republic, see Andrey Kamakin, “Safari for Wagner,” Novaya Gazeta (website), 12 June 2018, accessed 3 March 2019,; Hedenskog, “Russia Is Stepping Up Its Military Cooperation in Africa”; for information on Sewa’s potential ties to GRU, see Dahlqvist, “Russia’s (Not So) Private Military Companies.” Sewa is likely affiliated with ChVK Wagner and shares its ties to the GRU. GRU support is most likely administrative and logistical. GRU authority or tactical control of Sewa operations is likely limited or nonexistent.

    For information on ChVK Shchitt, see Denis Korotkov, “Without Shield,” Novaya Gazeta (website), 29 July 2019, accessed 1 August 2019,

    For information on Vegacy Strategic Services, see Lukas Andriukaitis and Michael Sheldon, “A Deeper Look into Vegacy Strategic Services, LLC.” Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Research Lab, 29 March 2019, 5 May 2019, accessed

    For information on ChVK Wagner in Central African Republic, Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine see Hedenskog, “Russia Is Stepping Up Its Military Cooperation in Africa”; Kamakin, “Safari for Wagner”; Eric Schmitt, “Russia’s Military Mission Creep Advances to a New Front: Africa,” New York Times (website), 31 March 2019, accessed 1 April 2019,; for information on Wagner in Syria and Ukraine, see Gusarov, “Russian Private Military Companies”; for information on Wagner in Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine, see Sergei Khazov-Cassia and Robert Coalson, “Russian Mercenaries: Vagner Commanders Describe Life inside the ‘Meat Grinder,’” RFE/RL, 14 May 2018, accessed 5 May 2019,; for information on Wagner in Central African Republic, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen, see Gabriella Gricius, “Russia’s Wagner Group Quietly Moves into Africa,” Riddle, 11 March 2019, accessed 5 May 2019,; for information on Wagner in Libya, see Mukhin, “The Offensive of Haftar’s Army”; for information on Wagner ties to GRU and operations in Central African Republic, Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine, see Dahlqvist, “Russia’s (Not So) Private Military Companies”; for information on Wagner ties to GRU, see Kuczynski, “Putin’s Invisible Army.”

    For information on countries where ongoing Russian PMSC operations are suspected or alleged, see RFE/RL, “Veterans to Ask Hague Court to Probe Russia’s Use of Mercenaries”; Lukas Andriukaitis and Graham Brookie, “#PutinAtWar: Prigozhin Meets Libyan Military Officials,” Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Research Lab, 24 November 2018, accessed 5 May 2019,; “Reports: Russian Military Contractors Operating in Venezuela,” RFE/RL, 25 January 2019, accessed 3 May 2019,; “Wagner Versus Patriot: Fighting for Mercenary Control,” Warsaw Institute Russia Monitor, 12 July 2018, accessed 3 March 2019,

    For information on countries with potential for ongoing or future Russian PMSC operations, see Hedenskog, “Russia Is Stepping Up Its Military Cooperation in Africa;” Schmitt, “Russia’s Military Mission Creep Advances to a New Front: Africa”; Sukhankin, “Continuing War by Other Means”; Kimberly Marten, “Into Africa: Prigozhin, Wagner, and the Russian Military,” PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No. 561, January 2019, accessed 20 March 2019,; Aaron Ross, “How Russia Moved into Central Africa,” Reuters, 17 October 2018, accessed 27 October 2018,; Sukhankin, “Russian PMCs in Yemen: Kremlin-Style ‘Security Export’ in Action?,” Jamestown Foundation, 12 October 2018, accessed 12 October 2018,; Irina Dolinina and Alesya Marokhovskaya, “Specials and Spices: Why Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Plane Flies to the Middle East and Africa Almost Every Month,” Novaya Gazeta (website), 4 February 2019, accessed 8 February 2019,
  42. Bingham and Musyka, “Private Companies”; see also Owen Matthews, “Putin’s Secret Armies Waged War in Syria—Where Will They Fight Next,” Newsweek (website), 26 January 2018, accessed 3 March 2019,
  43. For shock infantry, read supposed firsthand accounts from Palmyra in Pierre Vaux, “Fontanka Investigates Russian Mercenaries Dying for Putin in Syria and Ukraine,” The Interpreter, 29 March 2016, accessed 2 July 2019,; see also Bingham and Muzyka, “Private Companies,” 13. For claims about Sukhoi’s role in the Eritrean-Ethiopian War, see Singer, “Corporate Warriors,” 205; “Russia Arms Eritrea, Ethopia Despite Possible Conflict—Russian Paper,” BBC Monitoring Service Former Soviet Union, 16 April 2005.
  44. Singer, “Corporate Warriors,” 194; Peter Lock, “Military Downsizing and Growth in the Security Industry in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Strategic Analysis 22, no. 9 (December 1998): 1393–426,; Mariyam Hasham, “Public Wars, Private Profit,” The World Today 60, no. 6 (June 2004): 7–9, accessed 8 January 2019,
  45. Issenberg, “Security for Sale”; Hasham, “Public Wars, Private Profit,” 9.
  46. Sergey Sukhankin, “War, Business and ‘Hybrid’ Warfare: The Case of the Wagner Private Military Company (Part One),” The Jamestown Foundation, 19 April 2019, accessed 25 June 2019,; Sergey Sukhankin, “From ‘Volunteers’ to Quasi-PMCs: Retracing the Footprints of Russian Irregulars in the Yugoslav Wars and Post-Soviet Conflicts,” The Jamestown Foundation, 25 June 2019, accessed 25 June 2019,
  47. “No Quarter,” Time, 15 February 1993.
  48. For Transnistria, see Matthew Owens, “Putin’s Secret Armies Wages War in Syria—Where Will They Fight Next?,” Newsweek (website), 17 January 2018, accessed 14 March 2019,; for Nagorno-Karabakh, see “Azerbaijan: Russian Hand,” Oxford Analytica Daily Brief Service, 11 June 1993; for both, see Dyner, “The Role of Private Military Contractors.”
  49. Sergey Sukhankin, “War, Business and Ideology: How Russian Private Military Contractors Pursue Moscow’s Interests,” The Jamestown Foundation, 20 March 2019, accessed 25 June 2019,; Sukhankin, “Continuing War by Other Means.”
  50. Ibid.; Dyner, “The Role of Private Military Contractors.”
  51. Ty Joplin, “5 Countries Where Russia’s Secret Mercenary Wagner Group Have Been Deployed,” Al Bawaba, 12 February 2019, accessed 21 August 2019,; Sergey Sukhankin, “Beyond Syria and Ukraine: Wagner PMC Expands its Operations to Africa,” The Jamestown Foundation, 20 April 2018, accessed 20 March 2019,; Sergey Sukhankin, “Are Russian Mercenaries Ready to Defend Venezuela’s Maduro?,” The Jamestown Foundation, 28 January 2019, accessed 20 March 2019,
  52. For a quick assessment of Russia’s economic woes, see James Roberts and Ivan Benovic, “Russia’s Economy Continues to Underperform,” The Heritage Foundation, 19 November 2017, accessed 2 July 2019,
  53. For the first three phases, see Gu Guan-Fu, “Soviet Aid to the Third World an Analysis of its Strategy,” Soviet Studies 35, no. 1 (January 1983): 71–89, accessed 2 July 2019, For the final phase, see Peter Lock, “The Withering Military in Sub-Saharan Africa: New Roles for the Private Security Industry?,” Africa Spectrum 33, no. 2 (1998): 135, accessed 2 July 2019,
  54. Chris Miller, “Putin Isn’t a Genius. He’s Leonid Brezhnev,” Foreign Policy (website), 12 February 2018, accessed 9 March 2019,; Mariya Petkova, “Will Putin Follow in Brezhnev’s Footsteps?,” Al-Jazeera News, 24 March 2018, accessed 9 March 2019,
  55. Guan-Fu, “Soviet Aid to the Third World,” 73–81.
  56. Colin W. Lawson, “Soviet Economic Aid to Africa,” African Affairs 87, no. 349 (October 1988): 510, accessed 2 July 2019,
  57. Ibid., 510, 518.
  58. Samuel Ramani, “As the U.S. Disengages, Russia Ramps Up Aid and Arms Sales to Sub-Saharan Africa,” World Politics Review, 29 March 2018, accessed 11 June 2019,; Theo Neethling, “Russia is Expanding its Strategic Influence in Africa,” Quartz Africa, 8 February 2019, accessed 11 June 2019,
  59. Artemy Kalinovsky, “The Blind Leading the Blind: Soviet Advisors, Counter-Insurgency and Nation-Building in Afghanistan” (working paper #60, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC, January 2010), 4–9, accessed 12 July 2019,
  60. Higgins and Nechepurenko, “In Africa”; “Sudan Coup: What’s Next with Russian ‘Advisers’?,” Warsaw Institute, 12 April 2019, accessed 11 June 2019,
  61. Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office, 16 March 2018), 7–10, accessed 21 August 2019,


Maj. Thomas D. Arnold, U.S. Army, is a strategist assigned to the U.S. European Command as a joint operations planner. He holds a BS and an MBA from Louisiana Tech University and an MPA from Harvard University. He has served in command and staff positions in Iraq, Germany, Fort Polk, Afghanistan, and the Pentagon.

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November-December 2019