Authoritarian regimes are changing the model of privatization of military power
Private military and security companies (PMSCs) operating in conflict zones are a worldwide practice. However, Russian approach to the activity of PMCSs differs from the Western perspective.
Western PMSCs operate according to national and international obligations, do not directly engage in combat and mostly carry out security, logistics, and military training tasks. The activities of Russian PMSCs, formally prohibited by the Russian Penal Code, are most in line with the mercenary concept.
Russian-controlled PMSCs directly engage in combat actions. Although fighters of various ideologies, including ultra-right nationalists, are joining the ranks of Russian PMSCs, financial reward is the main motivation of Russian mercenaries.
In total, the Russian PMSC sector is saturated with several dozen companies with different functions. Their operations include not only combat actions but also intelligence collection, information operations, or political consulting to authoritarian regimes. The most widely known Russian PMSC Wagner, which is under the supervision of the GRU, is active in Ukraine and several countries outside Europe.
We assess that Russian PMSCs would be capable of carrying out limited-scale operations against European countries. If tasked, their efforts could include non-kinetic activities, such as reconnaissance and intelligence collection on critical infrastructure.
In addition, experience of covert operations and undefined legal status would enable PMSCs to carry out subversive actions, sabotage, or instigate social unrest.
Current and former members of Russian PMSCs have engaged in martial arts, first aid, and similar paramilitary training in Europe. Russian intelligence and security services are known to exploit this area of activity as a platform for candidate search and recruitment. As such cases are currently observed in other European countries, it is possible that Russian PMSCs and Russian intelligence could use the same modus operandi in Lithuania. Thus, participation in paramilitary activities organised by Russian PMSCs would create fertile ground for recruitment.
Finally, Belarusian PMSCs play a part in Russia’s war against Ukraine. Saboteur groups formed in Belarus are designated to support Russian aggression by sowing instability on the border with Ukraine, infiltrating Ukraine’s territory and destroying Western-supplied military equipment, ammunition, or humanitarian aid.
Gardservis, a Belarusian PMSC that has connections with the Presidential administration and functions similarly to PMSC Wagner, takes part in the establishment of these groups. Recruitment for saboteur groups takes place not only among PMSC members but also inside Belarusian security apparatus, including Presidential security service. Such background likely expedites the formation and training of saboteur groups. According to intelligence assessment, it is possible that such groups could conduct sabotage activities inside European countries that provide military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.