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Russian Mercenaries in Libya

May 8, 2020

Episode Notes:

According to a 57-page confidential report prepared by the UN Security Council Libya Sanctions Committee and seen by the news agency Reuters, the Russian private military contractor Wagner Group has deployed up to 1,200 people in Libya. Reuters reports that the forces, which include sniper teams and other specialized military forces, have been an effective force multiplier for Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the renegade Libyan National Army, which controls significant portions of eastern Libya, and is supported by the UAE, Egypt, and Russia, against the UN-backed Government of National Accord, led by prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj.  Last week, the GNA accused Haftar of staging a “coup” due to his efforts to capture Tripoli, where the GNA is based. Some listeners may be familiar with the Wagner group from their involvement in the February 2018 Battle of Khasham, in which a disputed number of Wagner Group mercenaries were among those killed when their assault on US special forces in Syria was repulsed in an intense 4-hour firefight.  No U.S. forces were killed in that attack.

To discuss this issue, we are joined by Candace Rondeaux.  Rondeaux is a Professor of Practice in the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University and a Senior Fellow with the Center on the Future of War, a joint project of ASU and New America.  She is the author of the recent report, “Decoding the Wagner Group: Analyzing the Role of Private Military Security Contractors in Russian Proxy Warfare.” An expert on international security affairs, she has previously served as a senior program officer at U.S. Institute of Peace and as a strategic advisor to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. She spent five years living and working in South Asia where she served as senior analyst for the International Crisis Group and as South Asia bureau chief for The Washington Post in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, Lawfare, Foreign PolicyForeign AffairsThe International Herald TribuneThe Boston GlobeThe Russia Journal and The Village Voice. Prior to her work in South Asia, she was a prize-winning journalist covering criminal justice and legal affairs. She holds a B.A. in Russian Area Studies from Sarah Lawrence College, an M.A. in Journalism from New York University, and an MPP in Public Policy from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.


[ 02:33 ] What, exactly is the Wagner group? How similar is it to an American private security contractor, such as Triple Canopy, Dyncorp, or Blackwater?

[ 03:48 ] How much support does Wagner receive from the Russian government, and particularly the ministry of defense?  Should we interpret an act of the Wagner group as an act of the Russian government?

[ 06:23 ] Who is Khalifa Haftar, and why is Russia supporting him?

[ 08:30 ] Where else is Wagner active around the globe?

[ 10:21 ] To what extent does the rise of Wagner reflect Russia taking a page from the U.S. playbook? The U.S. use of private security companies has received quite a bit of attention in recent years.

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