The Russian paramilitary group Wagner has been using Twitter and Facebook to recruit doctors, drone operators and even psychologists to aid combat operations, including in Ukraine, according to exclusive research seen by POLITICO.
Job postings for Wagner, who has mercenaries operating in several countries, have achieved nearly 120,000 views across the two social media platforms in the past ten months, according to Logically, a British research group focused on disinformation.
Sixty posts in dozens of languages — including French, Vietnamese, and Spanish — shared information about combat, computing, driving, and supposedly available medical positions with Wagner. They also included contact telephone numbers, Telegram accounts and advertised monthly salaries of 240,000 rubles (€2,800) with benefits including healthcare.
While researchers cannot directly attribute the messages to Wagner with complete certainty, the posts bear the imprint of the militia and its supporters.
« We just know this is using exactly the same language as previously verified Wagner accounts on places like Telegram or VK, » said Kyle Walter, head of research for Logically. VK is a popular Russian social media.
It is unclear how successful the recruiting campaigns have been. Yet inciting violence — and promoting Russian attacks on Ukraine — are almost certainly violations of Facebook’s and Twitter’s separate terms of service banning such material.
A separate analysis by a Western government official, shared with POLITICO, confirmed that at least two phone numbers included in these social media posts were linked directly to the Wagner Group or the Russian intelligence service.
“Some of these efforts are actual propaganda films in combination with telephone numbers so that representatives of the Wagner Group can be contacted directly,” Walter said. « As we continue to view Wagner as an increasingly dangerous threat to the world, the fact that these posts are circulating online is very concerning. »
Twitter responded to a request for comment with an automated poop emoji. Last week the social media company dropped a European Union charter to fight disinformation. The new block content law to eliminate illegal content and falsehoods, the Digital Services Act (DSA)it will also come into force on 25 August. Serious violations of the law could result in fines of up to 6% of a company’s global turnover.
« We have designated the Wagner Group as a dangerous organization, which means it cannot have a presence on our platforms, » a Meta spokesperson said. They added that the company also removes content containing « praise or substantial support for Wagner when we become aware of them, including posts that aim to recruit for them. »
Wagner is active in the conflicts in Mali and Central Africa, but has been particularly busy fighting for Russia since it invaded Ukraine last year. The militia recently spearheaded much of the heavy fighting in Bakhmut, the eastern Ukrainian city that has seen brutal attrition battles for territory.
One post in French boasted that Wagner employees get « paid time off, health care, high-paying jobs and the opportunity to work around the world. » A salary of 240,000 rubles and a « good bonus for achievements » were advertised.
« Join us now to defend the honor of Russia and a multipolar world! » read another post in French on Facebook. A third Facebook post in French promoted « life insurance » and working for « a team focused on efficiency and winning ».
« Evgeny Prigozhin directly from Bakhmut, invite volunteers from 22 to 55 years old to work at PMC Wagner! » read part of a tweet in Indonesian.
The Wagner Group and many of its leaders have been targeted by US and EU sanctions, with some countries taking further steps to curb its activities. In January, the United States labeled the group a transnational criminal organization responsible for widespread human rights abuses. French lawmakers voted in May to designate Wagner as a terrorist entity.
The job posting search was conducted over a month from mid-April to May 19 and collected posts on Facebook and Twitter through July 2022. At the time of the search closure, 58 of the 60 posts remained active (two were removed from Facebook after being contacted by POLITICO).
“They identify tactics that work, and I think once they saw that they could get away with posting certain content on these platforms, people kept posting more,” Walter said.
Mark Scott contributed reporting.
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Kyle Walter’s name.