Haftar’s Russian Mercenaries: Inside the Wagner Group (2021)


BBC News Arabic and BBC News Russian have teamed up to deliver a TV documentary which investigates the presence in Libya of fighters who are working for the Wagner Group – a shadowy Russian organisation supplying fighters to war zones – fighters who are accused of war crimes by the local population.


BBC News Arabic and BBC News Russian uncover evidence of war crimes carried out in Libya by mercenaries working for the Wagner Group, a shadowy Russian private military contractor. The film also reveals Wagner’s access to sophisticated modern weapons that could only come from Russian military supplies.

Wagner employees almost never speak publicly, but two former fighters discuss the types of people who are drawn to the organisation, their motivations, and Wagner’s goals.

The film reveals the contents of a tablet computer left behind by the Russian mercenaries when they were forced to retreat from the Libyan capital, Tripoli, in spring 2020. Its secrets include reconnaissance drone footage and manuals for anti-personnel mines and IEDs. Military maps of the frontline give an unprecedented insight into the group’s operations, as well as codenames of Wagner fighters which helped the BBC to identify some of them. The tablet also provides evidence of the Russian mercenaries’ involvement in the mining and booby-trapping of civilian houses – a war crime.

The film includes accounts of other suspected war crimes. A Libyan farmer describes how mercenaries kidnapped his father and three brothers and later gunned them down. This eyewitness survived by playing dead but managed to glimpse the killers. His testimony, together with footage of Wagner fighters, allows the BBC to identify one suspected killer – a mercenary previously accused of executing Ukrainian prisoners in the Donbass conflict.

The killing of prisoners is also a war crime. Mohammed, a young veteran from Libya’s government forces, recounts how his soldiers were overwhelmed by Russian fighters who were better equipped and more professionally trained. He explains how his men tried to surrender, only to be gunned down in cold blood. Four of them are still missing, presumed to have been executed by Wagner mercenaries.

The BBC has obtained documents linking Wagner’s mercenaries in Libya to Evropolis, a Russian company reported to be a beneficiary of contracts for oil and gas field developments in Syria. Evgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch under US sanctions, has been linked to both Evropolis and Wagner by the Russian media and foreign intelligence sources. He denies these connections.

One of the documents is a request for military equipment for Wagner’s continued operations in Libya. It was addressed to an unnamed Director General, believed to be Prigozhin. A military analyst tells the BBC how the document suggests that, contrary to official Russian denials, such state-of-the-art technology would only be available from the Russian military.


  • Ilya Barabanov (reporter).
  • Nader Ibrahim (reporter).

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s):
    • Nick Sturdee.
  • Producer(s):
    • Nick Sturdee … producer.
    • Kateryna Khinkulova … executive producer.
    • Paul Mitchell … executive producer.
  • Writer(s):
  • Music:
  • Cinematography:
  • Editor(s):
  • Production:
    • BBC News Arabic.
    • BBC News Russian.
  • Distributor(s):
    • BBC World News.
    • BBC Two.
  • Release Date: 28 August 2021 (BBC World News) and 25 May 2022 (BBC Two).
  • Rating: Unknown.
  • Running Time: 53 minutes.
  • Country: UK.
  • Language: English.

Video Clip(s)

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