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What we can learn from Wagner Group
Why is Wagner Group, this private military company and the de facto private army of Russian President Vladimir Putin, more successful than the Russian army on the battlefield in Ukraine?
Some say that's because Wagner Group fights particularly ruthlessly, and the soldiers are battle-hardened. There may be something to both points, but there is another one, a structural point.
Wagner Group is essentially a volunteer army, unlike the Russian army, which uses coercion to recruit its soldiers.
This has consequences: in the long term, a voluntary army only gets soldiers if the army is successful, that is if the missions are successful. Success for the individual soldier primarily means that they survive.
This is different in an army with compulsory military service. The people in such an army have no choice. The army leadership have less incentives to pay particular attention to the safety of the soldiers, and they tend to achieve military success at the expense of high numbers of dead and wounded. Because they know there is always potential for reinforcement.
Reality is not so black and white. The supply of the Russian army is not unlimited, nor is the number of deaths of the Wagner group low.
On the contrary. Over 30,000 mercenaries fighting for the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group have been killed or injured since the Ukraine war began, US officials say.
One of the reasons for this may be that Wagner Group is not nearly as professional as it would like to be. Before the invasion of Ukraine, the Wagner Group was much smaller, with just 5,000 fighters, most of whom were experienced former soldiers. That changed. Wagner Group recruited tens of thousands of fighters last year - mainly from prisons. There can hardly be any more talk of a volunteer army here.
Wagner Group is digging its own grave in the truest sense of the word. Who will want to fight in an army with slim odds of surviving?
Still, I think it can be learned that volunteer armies are better armies. Only those people fight in such armies who hope to survive. And that makes the army leadership succeed without sending their soldiers to the slaughter.
The Strolling Economist