The Spectre of Violence, Maligned Influence and Interference

Pop Culture

Hollywood has long elaborated on fictional evil organizations, such as SPECTRE, a fictional global terrorist organization featured in the James Bond franchise, created by a criminal mastermind. Or HYDRA, a fictional terrorist organization in the Marvel Comics franchise, created by Nazis. Others include KAOS, a fictional international organization of evil in the Get Smart series and H.I.V.E., a fictional terrorist organization in DC Comics. These evil organizations existed in the shadows, infiltrating the highest circles of government and corporate power. They worked secretly through third parties, front companies, and agents of influence for criminal states or power brokers that did not wish to implicate themselves.

Fact is Stranger than Fiction

You may have heard of Keyser Söze, a fictional character and antagonist in the 1995 film The Usual Suspects. This character is a crime lord, known for being ruthless and influential, which gained him status among criminals. This character is said to be inspired by a real-life murderer. However, Keyser Söze could have also been modelled off of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian oligarch and close confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who controls the Wagner Group and the Internet Research Agency (IRA).


The Wagner Group is the private paramilitary army of Russian President Vladimir Putin. This group is a sanctioned transnational criminal organization and terrorist group with links to neo-Nazis and far-right extremists. The Wagner Group is operating freely in Africa, Syria, and Ukraine. Prigozhin-owned companies, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU), and the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) units and personnel have all been indicted for interfering in the 2016 and 2018 U.S. elections. Their reach extends into Canada. The Canadian parliament unanimously called for the Russia-based Wagner Group to be listed as a terrorist entity in 2023. The USA designated the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organization in 2023 as well.

The Wagner Group is a serious threat to peace in Europe and Africa. They are engaged in violence, war crimes, propaganda, influence, interference, and disinformation operations. They operate through legitimate businesses, gold and diamond mining operations in Africa, film production studios, and distilleries. They work to circumvent sanction regimes with full support and direction from the Russian State. The Wagner Group is estimated to have about 50,000 members. It is growing in size, continuously conscripting hardened criminals from prisons and recruiting foreign fighters. This group represents a formidable force that is larger than the Canadian army.

The Wagner Group is infamous for its wide breadth of unrestricted operations. By design, the Wagner Group does not fit neatly into the one-threat classification framework. They cut across, conflate, and confound government mandates, operating outside of rule-of-law, treaties or the conventions of nation-states. They are everything and nothing. The Wagner Group doesn’t even exist as one targetable entity. It is a conglomerate of companies and a shadowy network of associates - just like the tentacles of HYDRA.


The Wagner Group is known as a Paramilitary and Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO) engaged in:

Military: violence, sabotage, human rights violations and war crimes

Crime: money laundering, bribery, extortion, counterfeiting, forgery, theft, weapons trafficking, extortion, extremism, and murder

Statecraft: espionage, deception, disinformation, influence, propaganda, manipulation, interference, government infiltration, and election rigging

Night Wolves

The Night Wolves are a Russian motorcycle club of about 7000 members. Do not be fooled by its smaller size; in some ways, it is even more dangerous than the Wagner Group. The members of the Night Wolves are very well-trained. Members of the Night Wolves include former Spetsnaz and Russian military intelligence specialists. They are entrenched across Western Europe and have ties to North America through a variety of business interests, community groups, and criminal enterprises.


The Internet Research Agency (IRA) is a state-sponsored troll factory; owned by Vladimir Putin’s lieutenant oligarch, Yevgeny Prigozhin. It is a source of malign influence and has been implicated in antagonizing polarized discussions online, undermining liberal democracies, interfering in elections, stirring up the anti-vax movement, incentivizing climate change deniers, sowing fractured narratives, violently attacking anti-doping organizations, and spraying a firehose of falsehoods and disinformation. These actions are intended to erode, disrupt, and degrade trust in the democratic system. They are also known for feeding the conspiracy community, including Q-Anon. The United States Cyber Command claimed they knocked the troll factory offline in 2018. Although, they have likely regrouped. In 2022, Britain's Foreign Office imposed sanctions on the IRA. Russia is now targeting Canadians, whose messages are entertained by the right-wing parties in Canada.

Global Research

The United States Department of State identified the Montreal-based Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG) and the platform as one of the largest Kremlin-aligned proxies. They function as pillars of Russia's disinformation and propaganda ecosystem. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence (StratCom COE) identified CRG as playing a key role in the spread of pro-Russian propaganda.

Link to Russia

The Wagner Group and the Night Wolves are modern-day pirates and privateers operating under letters of marque and reprisal from a Russian criminal state. Both groups train at GRU and Spetsnaz bases, both are supplied military weapons equipment, armoured vehicles, aircraft and communications gear, and both are provided with a supplemented inventory with commercial-off-the-shelf products and fundraising. The new Wagner Group headquarters is colocated with Russian Security Services.

Like a Matryoshka Doll, the Wagner Group operates as a part of a sophisticated nested network of corporations, associations, charities, and false fronts similar to a structured money-laundering scheme. Many individuals may deal with Wagner-associated entities without knowing - effectively shaking hands with the devil. The Wagner Group has been implicated in the murder of journalists, the overthrow of governments in Africa, and facilitating the takeover of Canadian mining operations - all while maintaining a relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Wagner Group, Night Wolves, and Russian disinformation proxies may already be in Canada.


In the movies, governments partner with independent agencies to pursue super-villains with speed and agility. In real life, the private sector plays an important role in collecting operational intelligence on emerging complex threats, developing countermeasures, pursuing and prosecuting actors. Sapper Labs continues to provide unique insights into the World’s most dangerous threats.

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