THE Russian mercenary group known as the Wagner Group has been operating as a ruthless force-for-hire in Africa, protecting authoritarian rulers and crushing dissent.
According to Associated Press, the recently failed rebellion led by its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, resulted in his exile to Belarus as punishment. Despite this setback, the dynamics of the group’s activities are not expected to change significantly.
The Wagner Group carries out brutal actions against civilians in countries like the Central African Republic and Mali to maintain the power of African leaders. In return, Russia gains access to natural resources, ports for weapons shipments, and financial payments that benefit the Kremlin and support its operations, including the conflict in Ukraine.
Neither Russia nor the African leaders dependent on Wagner’s fighters have any intention of ending these relationships. However, following the revolt, questions remain about the future leadership of the group’s fighters stationed across African nations and whether Russia will absorb them into its own military.
The situation is highly volatile, and the Wagner Group has demonstrated resilience and a predatory nature in its operations. While the empire may not collapse instantly, there is uncertainty about its future.
President Vladimir Putin has not only pursued financial gains through Wagner but also sought to expand Russia’s influence in the Middle East and Africa. He forms security alliances with autocrats and coup leaders who have been spurned by the U.S. and Europe due to human rights abuses or conflicting strategic interests.
When asked about the impact of the Wagner mutiny on Russia’s positions in Africa, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that security assistance to African countries would continue. He specifically mentioned the Central African Republic and Mali, highlighting ongoing communication with their leaders.
In Mali, where Wagner fighters replaced French troops in the fight against Islamic extremists, the U.S. alleges that Russia uses the country as a transit point for arms shipments to Ukrainian forces. However, the Malian government denies using Wagner for anything other than training.
There is ambiguity about the future of Wagner fighters in Africa. Putin presented them with three options: join the Russian military, go to Belarus like Prigozhin, or return home.
In the Central African Republic, Russian mercenaries have played a role in keeping President Faustin-Archange Touadera in power. Lavrov stated that hundreds of Russian fighters would remain there, regardless of who oversees them.
Wagner operates in approximately 30 countries, primarily in African nations affected by armed conflicts. Its actions have raised concerns about human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings.
While some experts believe the revolt against the Kremlin will make African countries reliant on Wagner more cautious in their engagement with Russia, others highlight the potential risks for African leaders who depend on foreign fighters to maintain power. Any withdrawal of Wagner’s presence could be exploited by non-state groups challenging the government’s authority in these countries.