Putin's Sledgehammer

The Wagner Group and Russia’s Collapse into Mercenary Chaos


By Candace Rondeaux

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The astonishing inside story of the Wagner Group, the world’s deadliest militia.

In July 2023, the Wagner Group assembled an armed convoy that included tanks and rocket launchers and set out on what seemed like a journey to take control of Moscow. The last person to attempt such a venture was Adolf Hitler.

Wagner’s power began from patronage, then grew from international theft and extortion, until it was so great it exposed the weakness of Russia’s conventional military and became a threat to the Russian state, one that was not demonstrably eliminated until a private jet containing Wagner’s core commanders was blown up in midair.

That Yevgeny Prigozhin, a local criminal thug, was able to build a private army that was on the threshold of overwhelming the world’s second largest country seems incredible. In fact, it was inevitable following the hollowing out of the Russian military, the creeping use of contract groups for murky foreign missions, power struggles inside the Kremlin, and the ability of the new militias to corner and exploit the black economy.

Told with unique inside sourcing and expertise, Putin’s Sledgehammer is a gripping and terrifying account of a superpower that contracted its soul to a pitiless militia.
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On Sale
Apr 29, 2025
Page Count
400 pages

Candace Rondeaux

About the Author

Candace Rondeaux directs Future Frontlines, a public intelligence service for next generation security and democratic resilience, and the Planetary Politics initiative at the New America Foundation. A writer and public-policy analyst, Rondeaux is a professor of practice and fellow at the Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies and the Center on the Future of War at Arizona State University. Before joining New America, Rondeaux served as a senior program officer at the U.S. Institute of Peace where she launched the RESOLVE Network, a global research consortium on conflict and violent extremism and as a strategic advisor to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Rondeaux has documented and analyzed political violence in South Asia, and around the world for the Washington Post and the International Crisis Group. Before going abroad for the Post in 2009, Rondeaux covered criminal justice in Maryland and Virginia, where she covered capital punishment and was part of the Pulitzer Prize winning team of Post reporters who covered the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. 

Rondeaux holds a B.A. in Russian area studies from Sarah Lawrence College, an M.A. in journalism from New York University, and an M.P.P. in public policy from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

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