Private military companies, or PMCs, are legally established international firms that operate as independent corporations, trading military and paramilitary services.
In recent years, Russia has taken a leading role using PMCs as an extension of its Armed Forces to advance its foreign policy objectives. The United States Congressional Research Service reported on September 16, that Russia has employed this “unofficial” military force in conflicts around the world to include Syria, Libya, Sudan, and the Central African Republic.
PMCs are present-day mercenary armies, which a United Nations (U.N.) committee report on October 30, 2018 defined as “private military companies [that] can violently destabilize a country, rendering it helpless and ineffective.”
Saeed Mokbil, chairperson-rapporteur for the U.N. Working Group on the use of mercenaries, also stated that the activities of these groups can jeopardize the achievement of sustainable development, since there is often pervasive impunity for crimes committed by mercenaries.
An example of such a company is the Wagner Group, Russia’s most notorious PMC, which gained its reputation by helping pro-Russian separatists during the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. Such activities highlight the PMCs’ roles as instruments of the Russian government’s policymaking.
The Threat to Latin America
For years Russia has been a staunch supporter of the narcoterrorist regime of Nicolás Maduro, as evidenced by the enduring Russian-Venezuelan defense ties, carried out by PMCs. Rostec, one such private military company, completed the construction of a military helicopter training center in March 2019, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.
Additionally, Caracas has welcomed Russian military specialists, who are allegedly there to carry out maintenance on military hardware, and has even allowed PMCs into the country to beef up security for Maduro in the face of opposition-led protests, as reported by Reuters.
According to Mokbil, the presence of mercenaries can threaten regional stability, human rights, and international humanitarian law, as well as impede the exercise of the right to self-determination.
During testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 30, U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, said “While Moscow denies having a military presence in the region, Russian ‘advisers’ continue to prop up the former Maduro regime.”
Moreover, on March 11, when asked about Venezuela during a press briefing at The Pentagon, Adm. Faller said there were hundreds of Russians there, including Russian Spetsnaz and Russian technical advisers, fixing their air defense systems and advising on upgrading their SU-30s.
On July 15, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced sanctions against the Russian PMC Wagner Group, its cover entities, and its leadership, for their role in preserving authoritarian regimes in Africa, while exploiting natural resources. Such actions will limit attempts by these PMCs to “foment disorder or undermine democratic reforms”, concluded Pompeo’s press release announcing the sanctions.