Gazprom Neft, the subsidiary of the Russian natural gas and oil conglomerate, is establishing its own armed forces, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claims. The formation is to be operating in a similar way as the Wagner Group and it may be used to fight against Ukraine.
According to a February 4th decree by the Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin Gazprom Neft is allowed to create a “private organization” for security purposes. The document is the only reliable source of knowledge about the new military unit.
Gazprom Neft operates in the area of oil extraction and refining and theoretically, there is nothing unusual in the creation of special security units as the company controls the critical energy infrastructure facilities: pipelines, refineries, and drilling rigs. Analysts however question the real purpose of the new security unit.
Sources in the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence as well as experts quoted by “Time” claim that considering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine it is logical to link the “Gazprom troops” with the aggression. Over the past year, the Russians have suffered heavy losses in battles with the Ukrainians. It is estimated that around 180,000 Russian soldiers were killed or wounded, which means that the continuation of the war may depend on the mobilization of additional manpower in Russia.
The Kremlin may reach out to the employees of oil companies by opening alternative recruitment routes through seemingly safe formations of mining companies. Moreover, forming of special security units by Gazprom Neft makes it possible to transfer such to Belarus, through which Russian oil pipelines run.
Experts cited by “Time” claim that units formed by Gazprom Neft may be also used for operations far beyond Russia’s borders, for example in the Arctic or in Africa. This may cause conflicts with Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Group, which monopolized the sector of para-military services in Russia.
“The Wagner Group is a mercenary formation serving the Kremlin. Its owner – Yevgeny Prigozhin – was associated with mercenaries by the media, but for many years he denied any connection. After the invasion, he stopped pretending and decided to make political capital on his mercenaries,” explains Michał Bruszewski, the Defence24.pl journalist.
“After the Russian defeats in Ukraine Prigozhin began to criticize the Russian Ministry of Defense, thus gaining a stronger position in the Kremlin. The Wagner Group grew thanks to the war in Ukraine from a group of 2,000 soldiers to corps of 20,000 mercenaries. The total number of mercenaries is estimated at 50,000, but it includes injured, killed, and soldiers in training, for example, criminals from prisons and penal colonies,” Bruszewski said.
The Wagner Group was used for fighting at Bakhmut but they are being replaced by regular troops of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation after they lost some 70 percent of its units.
The weakening of Prigozhin’s private army may enable the rise of other similar groups, like the special security forces formed by Gazprom Neft, claim experts.