Wagner Group, a private military company closely tied to Russian military interests, has played a significant role in the recent events and coups across the African continent since the involvement of Russian paramilitary forces in Africa in 2017.
Wagner Group’s Expansion in Africa
Since 2017, Wagner Group has strategically expanded its presence in Africa, securing a foothold for Moscow and attempting to diminish and undermine Western influence. This expansion is particularly evident in countries such as Libya, the Central African Republic, Mali, and Sudan. Furthermore, Wagner Group has been involved in various capacities in more than twenty African nations.
Wagner Group in the Central African Republic
One of the most notable examples of Wagner Group’s influence is its intervention in the Central African Republic in 2018 to protect President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. Shortly after, Wagner Group provided military training and combat support to local forces in their struggle against the civil war. This intervention also granted them direct access to the rich natural resources in Bangui, including gold mines in Ndassima.
Libya, Mali, and Sudan
In Libya, Wagner Group has gained control over oil production in the southwestern fields, reducing Western investment opportunities in Libyan infrastructure projects, thereby aiming to distance Libya from Russian gas interests.
This pattern repeated in Mali in 2021 after an agreement was reached with the ruling military council. Some reports suggest that Wagner Group received extensive mining privileges in Mali in exchange for the security services provided to the authorities.
Wagner Group also successfully penetrated Sudan, establishing a presence starting in 2017, which expanded notably in 2019 following the ousting of President Omar al-Bashir. This expansion was aimed at securing access to Sudan’s gold reserves and supporting Moscow’s efforts to establish a naval base in Port Sudan.
In this context, Mahmoud Al-Afandi, an expert in international relations, notes that Wagner Group has employed a variety of tools to enhance its influence in African nations, including semi-military forces, arms deals, cyber campaigns aimed at shaping public opinion or promoting specific ideas, and managing election campaigns in the interest of its allies.
Al-Afandi emphasizes that Wagner Group’s activities in African countries are financed through special privileges related to mineral resources. Recent Western reports suggest that Wagner Group earns around a billion dollars annually from mining profits in the Central African Republic alone.
Support for New Alliances
At present, Wagner Group supports the new coalition of Sahel countries, particularly after the military and defense cooperation agreements signed by Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. These agreements are meant to counter any potential threats from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) or address the growing terrorist threats in the region. It is expected that Wagner Group’s forces will expand their support to Mali against separatist movements in the north of the country.
Al-Afandi also highlights that the major tension spots and fragile regimes in Africa, particularly in the Central African Republic, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Sudan, indicate that Russia remains a vital security guarantor and reliable military partner for these nations.
Representation of the Russian Government
A crucial point to note is that African nations do not perceive Wagner Group as a private military company, but rather as a representative of the Russian government. This perception is based on the extensive support Moscow provides to these governments, ensuring their continuity and survival. This support seems more attractive to these nations compared to any potential gains from cooperation agreements offered by Western powers. Therefore, the recent demise or assassination of Wagner Group’s former leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in late August 2023, is unlikely to impact the future and influence of Russia in many African nations.
Potential Transition to Other Russian Companies
As part of its strategic move, Moscow is expected to deploy other semi-military Russian companies, such as the Redut Group led by Sergei Shoigu, the Russian Defense Minister, to replace Wagner Group in Africa. Redut Group has recently begun recruitment efforts in Africa.