Russian mercenaries in Koundili, in Ouham-Pendé, on May 25, 2019 during the official visit of a delegation from Bangui after the killing in the region by 3R rebels. Credit: Corbeau News Centrafrique via Wikimedia commons

What Does Political Science Teach Us About Why Countries Use Private Military Groups like Wagner and Blackwater?

The Wagner group was a key fighting force in Ukraine until its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, attempted a mutiny. And twenty years before Wagner was tapped to fight in Ukraine, the United States turned to the private security firm, Blackwater, during its occupation of Iraq. Like Wagner, Blackwater was a for-profit entity that was fighting alongside one of the most powerful militaries in the world. And also like Wagner, Blackwater was credibly accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

So why is it that countries turn to private groups like this during wartime? I put that question to Dr. Benjamin Tkach, associate professor of political science at Mississippi State University. He is a researcher who studies security privatization, including private military contractors and mercenaries.

We kick off briefly defining our terms: what do we mean by “mercenary” and “private security and military company?” We then have a long discussion about the corporate structure of the Wagner Group and its deployment in Africa and Ukraine. Benjamin Tkach compares Wagner today to Blackwater 20 years ago to help answer the question of why powerful countries turn to private groups in times of war?