The Spectre of Violence, Maligned Influence and Interference

Special Report on Russian Mercenaries, Privateers and Proxies.


Hollywood has long envisioned fictional evil organizations like SPECTRE and QUANTUM as featured in the James Bond, or Marvel Comic’s HYDRA, the international organization of evil (KAOS) in Get Smart and the Hierarchy of International Vengeance and Extermination (H.I.V.E), terrorist organization appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. These EVIL organizations existed in the shadows – infiltrating highest circles of government and corporate power - working secretly through third parties, front companies and agents of influence for criminal states and power brokers not wishing to implicate themselves.

The main antagonist in the 1995 film The Usual Suspects, Keyser Söze, was a crime lord whose ruthlessness and influence have acquired a legendary, even mythical, status among police and criminals alike. Keyser Söze could have been modeled off of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian oligarch and a close confidant of Russian president Vladimir who controls the Wagner group and the Internet Research Agency (IRA).


The Wagner Group is the private paramilitary army of Russian President Vladimir Putin, 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, as well as the GRU and FSB units and personnel have 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.

The USA designated Russia’s Wagner Group as transnational criminal organization.

The Wagner Group is one of the most serious threats to peace in Europe and Africa. They are engaged in violence, war crimes, propaganda, influence, interference, and dis-information operations. They also use legitimate businesses, run gold and diamond mining operations in Africa, have a film production studio and distillery and work to circumvent sanctions regimes, with the full support and direction of the Russian State. The estimated size of the group is reported to be 50,000 members and is growing their ranks by conscripting hardened criminals from prisons and recruiting foreign fighters. This represents a formidable force that is larger than the Canadian army.

What makes the organization dangerous is the breath of their 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, treaty or the conventions of nation states. They are everything and nothing. Wagner Group doesn’t even exist as one targetable entity. The group is a conglomerate of companies and shadowy network of associates like the tentacles of HYDRA.


The Wagner Group is known as a Paramilitary (mercenaries) 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; and

  • Statecraft - espionage, deception, disinformation, influence, propaganda, manipulation, interference, infiltrating governments and rigging elections.


By comparison, the Night Wolves are a Russian motorcycle club of 7000 members, a smaller force than Wagner but in some ways even more dangerous. They are better trained and members include former Spetsnaz and Russian military intelligence specialists (GRU). The Night Wolves are entrenched more widely across Western Europe and have ties to North America through a variety of legitimate business interests, community groups and criminal enterprises.


The Internet Research Agency (IRA) is a state-sponsored troll factory also owned by Putin’s lieutenant oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin. It’s a source of malign influence. Implicated in antagonizing polarized discussions online, undermining liberal democracies, interfering in elections, stirring-up the anti-vax movement, climate change deniers, sowing fractured narratives, violently attacking anti-doping organizations, and spraying a fire hose of falsehoods, disinformation, which intend to erode, disrupt and degrade trust in the democratic system. They are also known for feeding conspiracy community including Q-Anon. US Cyber Command claimed it knocked the troll factory off-line in 2018 but they have likely regrouped. Britain's Foreign Office imposed sanctions on the Internet Research Agency in March 2022. Russia is targeting Canadians and those messages are being picked up by the right-wing in Canada.


The US State Department identified the Montreal-based Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG) and the Global Research .ca platform as one of the largest 'Kremlin-aligned' proxies, as Pillars of Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem. Global Research is deeply entwined with other outlets in Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem. NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence (STRATCOM) identified CRG of playing a key role in the spread of pro-Russian propaganda. Such is the shape-shifting world of online Russian trolls.


The Wagner Group and the Night Wolves are modern day pirates and privateers operating under letters of mark from a Russian criminal state. Both groups train at GRU and Spetsnaz bases, are supplied military weapons equipment, armored vehicles, aircraft and communications gear as well as supplement inventory with commercial-off-the-shelf products and fund-raising. The new Wagner Group headquarters is co-located 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 people may end up dealing with Wagner associated entities without ever knowing - shaking hands with the devil. The group has been implicated in the murder of journalists, the overthrow of governments in Africa and facilitating the takeover of Canadian mining operations while maintaining a relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Wagner Group, Night Wolves and Russian Dis-information proxies may already be in Canada.


In the movies, governments partner with independent agencies like the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) to pursue super-villains like the SYNDICATE with speed and agility. In real life, the private sector continues to play an important role in collecting operational intelligence on emerging complex threats, developing countermeasures, pursuing and prosecuting actors.


Sapper Labs Group provides unique insight into the World’s most dangerous threats.

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