(FiveNation.com)- The Wagner Group has been talked about a lot over the past year during Russia’s war with neighboring Ukraine.
The Russian mercenaries are a group of private military contractors that are a key ally for the Kremlin. They have thousands of people serving as soldiers for them and participating in fights not just in Ukraine but in other regional centers of importance to Russia such as some African countries.
During a public hearing of the Select Committee on Intelligence at the Senate earlier this week, Bill Burns, the director of the CIA, mentioned the Wagner Group specifically, saying his agency is working hard to do everything it can to counter the group.
Various senators asked Burns questions about the Wagner group, and at one point, he responded:
“Our assessment is that the Wagner Group is a vicious, aggressive organization which has posed a threat not just to the people of Ukraine.”
He also pointed out that the group is essentially in charge of the fighting that’s currently happening in the city of Bakhmut in Ukraine. The Wagner Group is led by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a one-time catering oligarch from St. Petersburg, as its chief.
“I’ve also seen it, in my own travels in West Africa and the Sahel, where I think the deeply destabilizing impact of Wagner can be seen in a lot of very fragile societies right now.”
Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, has dispatched sects from the Wagner Group to various countries in West Africa as a “shadow army” that fights with different national governments for certain conflicts.
Members of the group have also been accused of extracting natural resources and suspicious mining, as well as plenty of brutality against people in the countries where they fight.
On multiple occasions in the past, Russian government officials have consistently denied that they are associated with the Wagner Group in any way.
Burns, though, was very clear about the CIA’s intentions in relation to the Wagner Group and how it’s working to counter the group’s operations. He said the U.S. is working in conjunction with the government of France – which used to be a colonial power in that region of the world – as well as other allies.
He said during the hearing:
“We work as an agency, along with our partners, to help many of those governments and many of our security service partners to resist that. We work with the French and with other countries, other allies in that effort as well.
“But, we take very seriously the threat posed by [the Wagner Group] in everything we can to counter it and disrupt it.”
One analyst who focuses his work on the Wagner Group, Colin P. Clarke, spoke with VICE News recently. Clarke, who works at the Soufan Group intelligence consultancy firm as its director of research, said he wasn’t surprised at all to hear Burns say they’re working to counter the Wagner Group.
He added, though, that he believes the Biden administration “more broadly lacks a comprehensive strategy to deal with” them, saying the White House needs to go even further.