Mercenaries Doing the Heavy Lifting in Ukraine

Mercenaries Doing the Heavy Lifting in Ukraine

Wagner Group mercenaries are now mostly responsible for Russia’s war effort in eastern Ukraine, according to a top Pentagon official.

Russia, aided by Wagner, has poured massive resources into its military operations in the city despite heavy losses on the ground. The group continues to recruit new fighters in an effort to expand its forces and operations in the region, the senior U.S. official said, requesting anonymity to discuss sensitive national security matters. Oleksandr Danylyuk, the former national security adviser for Ukraine who currently advises on military planning, said Kyiv is seeing that expanded footprint in Bakhmut. “They recently hired a lot of prisoners. They’re being pushed on the frontline [in Bakhmut],” Danylyuk said. “They are — I cannot say fearless — but they have nothing to lose pretty much. So, they are attacking constantly and they’ve been killed in big quantities as well.”

The Wagner Group is spending about $100 million monthly on Ukraine operations. Part of this money went to arms purchases from North Korea. “We assess that the amount of material delivered to Wagner will not change battlefield dynamics in Ukraine, but we are certainly concerned that North Korea is planning to deliver more military equipment,” a National Security Council spokesperson said in a statement.

War in Ukraine

The Russo-Ukraine War, which escalated dramatically in February 2022, began in 2014 with the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. The roots of this current conflict date back to 2004 and the so-called Orange Revolution. Due to alleged voter fraud, the Supreme Court of Ukraine proclaimed opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who claimed Russian agents poisoned him with dioxin during the presidential campaign, as the winner. 

Four years later, Georgia and Ukraine applied for NATO membership. NATO rejected their applications, but the request further antagonized Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. Four years later, some lawmakers unsuccessfully pushed for the repeal of Russian as Ukraine’s official language. Putin then claimed that ethnic Russians, most of whom lived in Crimea and other easternmost parts of the country, were unsafe in Ukraine. The Russians then mobilized military forces in Crimea, who had permission to be in the country until 2017.

Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. He called it a “special military operation” to avoid issuing an official declaration of war. After some initial Russian victories, Ukrainian counterattacks pushed the Russians back to Crimea and the east, where they remain entrenched.

Russia endured setbacks at home as well. In September 2022, Putin said that 300,000 Russian men would immediately become eligible for the draft. That number could swell to as many as twenty-five million. Almost overnight, one-way air, rail, and other tickets out of Russia almost completely sold out.

As of December 2022, Putin seems to have abandoned hopes of a total victory in Ukraine. To reverse his fortunes and obtain a more favorable bargaining posture, he has apparently turned to his old friend Yevgeny Prigozhin, who owns several catering companies and allegedly controls the Wagner Group.

Contractors vs. Mercenaries

Wagner Group fighters are mercenaries. They have no operational restrictions. They can go where they want and do what they want. Additionally, mercenaries are above the law. They aren’t subject to military or civilian justice, at least in the countries that sponsor them.

Private military contractors are different. American contractors have significant operational restrictions. In fact, before the 1980s, private military contractors were illegal in the United States. Contractors deployed overseas only filled logistical roles, like cooks and mechanics. These individuals usually had some military training, so they could pick up a rifle in an emergency. But combat support certainly wasn’t the reason they were there.

Even today, most contractors are logistical contractors. Construction contractors who work on rebuilding projects are even more common. However, security contractors are legal, as long as they only stand guard and serve in other such roles. They can only fire if they are fired upon or otherwise believe they are in danger.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, private military contractors are subject to U.S. laws, even when they serve overseas. They are accountable under both civil and criminal laws.

Injury Compensation Available

Regardless of how they serve, private military contractors face the same injury risks as regular servicemembers. Permanently injured servicemembers can count on the VA disability system to compensate them. All injured overseas contractors, whether their disabilities are temporary or permanent, can count on the Defense Base Act for compensation.

Lost wage replacement is a key available benefit. Most families live from hand to mouth, and most contractors are a family’s primary, or only, breadwinner. The amount usually hinges on the victim’s average weekly wage. Many insurance adjusters approach AWW calculation the same way schools approach grade point average (GPA) calculation. They take the last five or six grades, or paychecks, divide by five or six, and voila, there’s the AWW or GPA.

But AWW calculation is different. In addition to prior wages, this calculation also includes future wages, especially things like lost overtime opportunities. Furthermore, many injured contractors do not have many contractor paychecks to go by. Because of the distance involved, along with other factors, truck drivers in Kuwait earn a lot more than truck drivers in Kentucky.

The DBA also pays reasonably necessary medical bills. A doctor’s definition of a reasonably necessary bill is usually much different from an insurance adjuster’s idea. Doctors do what is best for their patients, and insurance adjusters approve what is cheapest.

A Defense Base Act attorney advocates for victims in both these situations. Attorneys ensure that victims get all the lost wage benefits they have coming. Maximum wage replacement benefits ease the financial pressure these families feel, so victims have more time to get better and more energy to dedicate to physical health. Also, attorneys, like doctors, fight for what is best for their clients in terms of medical expenses.

For more information about DBA procedure, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.