Dogs of war: The shadowy group accused of trying to kill Ukraine’s president

Mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company, are allegedly operating in Kyiv with orders from the Kremlin to assassinate Volodymyr Zelenskyy

The Wagner Group has been accused of covertly working for the Russian government to conduct combat operations in different parts of the world, (Representational image)

Mercenaries have tried to kill Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at least three times since Russia invaded his country last week, according to western reports.

The plots were foiled when anti-war Russians fed intelligence to Ukraine about two separate groups that planned to launch the attacks, the London Times claimed, quoting officials.

“I can say that we have received information from [Russia’s Federal Security Service], who do not want to take part in this bloody war,” Ukraine’s secretary of national security and defence told local TV stations, according to the Times.

The Wagner Group, allegedly backed by the Kremlin, was behind two of the attempts, the Times claimed. If they had been or are successful, Moscow could deny direct involvement in the assassination plot.

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“They would be going in there with a very high-profile mission, something that the Russians would want to be deniable – a decapitation of a head of state is a huge mission,” a diplomatic source told the newspaper.

“In terms of the impact on Russian sovereign policy, this would be perhaps their biggest mission so far. It would have a major impact on the war.”

The Wagner Group

Mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company recently sanctioned by the EU for alleged human rights abuses, are allegedly operating in Kyiv with orders from the Kremlin to assassinate Zelenskyy, The Times said.

The group has been accused of covertly working for the Russian government to conduct combat operations in different parts of the world, including Libya, Syria, Mozambique, Mali, Sudan, and the Central African Republic.

Dmitry Utkin, a former Russian lieutenant who also served in the Russian Federation’s main intelligence agency, or GRU, is said to be the founder of the group – although it is next to impossible to identify the key personnel running or financing the group. Groups like Wagner operate in the shadows and have the protection of various state entities.

According to a report in the Foreign Policy magazine: “The first thing to understand about the Wagner Group is that there most likely is no Wagner Group. As far as researchers can tell, there is no single registered business called Wagner. Rather, the name has come to describe a network of businesses and groups of mercenaries that have been linked by overlaps in ownership and logistics networks. Entities making up the network have been described in sanctions designations by the US Treasury as being involved in a wide range of activities, including working to suppress pro-democracy protests, spreading disinformation, mining for gold and diamonds, and engaging in paramilitary activity.”

In a report published in September 2020, the US Center for Strategic and International Studies said that post the Cold War, private security and military outfits became highly sought after by both state and non-state actors. These militias are essentially ‘freelance soldiers’ who come cheap and are not bound by established rules of conflict.

The US government also used PMCs such as private military firm Blackwater, now known as ACADEMI. Blackwater was founded by Erik Prince, brother of America politician Betsy DeVos, former US secretary of education under Donald Trump. Following atrocities in Iraq, and other theatres of wars, Blackwater was dissolved. Prince is now said to be operating in Abu Dhabi.

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