The Wagner group “is not a classic private contractor; it is … an unofficial arm of the Defense Ministry,” said Ruslan Leviev, whose Conflict Intelligence Team studied the clandestine Russian deployment in Syria. He said Prigozhin was the right person to take up the task,” compared to any other oligarch of Putin’s.” Evro Polis, a company linked to Prigozhin, signed an agreement with Syria’s state-owned General Petroleum Corp., which gives the Russian company 25 percent of the proceeds from oil and gas production at fields its contractors capture and secure.
The Russian mercenaries fighting in Syria said they are not in the country for the money or to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “[Syrians] can’t stand Assad,” one Russian mercenary commander told RFE/RL in March 2018. “Really. Only a tiny percentage of the population there supports him and the rest oppose him. Only [Russian President Vladimir] Putin supports him. Russia supports him — no one else.” There is a bigger motivation, the mercenary claimed. “If you are fighting under a Russian flag, with a Russian weapon, even if you are eating moldy food and are 10,000 kilometers from home, you are nonetheless fighting for Russia,” he said. “There is no Syrian war,” he added. “There is no Ukrainian war. There is only a war between the Russian Federation and the United States.”