Wagner Group Operations in Africa
The future of the Wagner Group has been called into question following the plane crash in August that resulted in the deaths of both Dmitry Utkin and Yevgeny Prigozhin. However, it appears that the group has been maintained as a method for the Russian state to project power abroad. Leadership of the group has seemingly been inherited by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s son Pavel, according to the Institute for the Study of War. 25 year old Pavel Prigozhin is the sole heir to his father’s business and will quickly assimilate a role similar to him. However, the circumstances of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s death are certain to impact long term loyalties with the Russian government. For obvious reasons, much of the activity of the Wagner Group is not publicly available. However, there have been confirmed sightings of their members across Africa.
The Wagner Group have been observed to be replacing French and US influence over Africa. The withdrawal of French troops from Mali in 2022 has allowed over 1,000 Wagner Group soldiers to fill the role. This is likely one of the largest, if not the largest concentrations of Wagner soldiers in Africa, with Yevgeny Prigozhin releasing footage of himself in the country days before his death. The group has also been confirmed to be operating in the conflict in Sudan, supporting the Rapid Support Forces. Footage featuring suspected Ukrainian Special Forces in September 2023 has been geo-located to Khartoum, Sudan, and presents the use of FPV drone attacks and ground operations against Wagner Group members. This high profile example demonstrates a spill over of the Russia-Ukraine War into other countries, suggesting that Ukraine is willing to engage pro-Russia entities around the world. However, the attack seems to be a relatively isolated case, considering the widespread nature of the group. Wagner Group has also been confirmed to be in Libya, supporting the Libyan National Army, in Central African Republic and even Mozambique. It is also worth mentioning that Pavel Prigozhin seeks to restore Wagner operations in the Ukraine War, with limited deployments so far. The group has also worked to train the Belarussian Armed Forces from their bases in Belarus. The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime estimates Wagner’s network as such:
However, it is important to remember that the Wagner Group is not the only Russian Private Military Company (PMC) that operates in Africa, with other groups seeking to copy the Wagner Group’s blueprint of such an operation. Two of the main Russian PMCs focusing on expansion into Africa appear to be Convoy and Redut. Both groups have strong similarities with the Wagner Group, being led by former Wagner commanders and sharing links to Russian intelligence sources and Putin allies. So far, both PMCs appear to be prioritising recruitment programmes for operations, although they too may become more militarily involved in future conflicts on the continent.
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