Wagner gained international media attention last June when the Russian-owned Private Military Company advanced on Moscow and seized control of government and military facilities in Rostov-on-Don. According to the then leader of Prigozhin, this mobilization was about a “march of justice”, standing against the lack of administrative care of its mercenaries on the Russo-Ukrainian front. This action, which resembled a coup attempt, ended with negotiations between Prigozhin and Moscow, mediated by the president of Belarus Lukashenko.
Wagner’s men who participated in the “military protest” were given the option to return home without legal repercussions, while later those who did not participate could even join the ranks of the national army or police force. Prigozhin found political asylum in Belarus, but a month later he was found dead in a plane crash, confirming the assumptions of many. It is estimated that the “soft” handling of the incident by the Kremlin at the time of the incident was due to two factors.
The first is that Russia, being in a time of war, needed fighters, and especially experienced ones like the organization’s mercenaries. After all, in such incidents the main blame lies with the head of the organization, while its fighters are treated as expendable.
The second reason is that apart from fighters, Wagner also offers significantly in terms of economy, basing this result primarily on its consolidation in Africa. Therefore, the total rupture or dissolution or attack on the organization would, at least under the current conditions, have a negative impact on Russian interests. Since the mutiny of the organization, Wagner’s forces have been completely removed from the Russian-Ukrainian front. According to foreign sources, Redut, founded in 2008 by Karaziy and General Alexeyev, seems to already be filling this void.
Transfer of activities to Africa
However, it is estimated that Wagner’s activity in Africa will be maintained. Within the African continent, its mercenaries operate in a multitude of countries. Of these, its presence is especially strong in Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mali. In Libya, the driving force behind Wagner’s involvement is its geostrategic location and high oil reserves. Libya holds more than 38% of Africa’s total oil reserves and its position in the Mediterranean is of high importance to any ambitious player involved.
In the Central African Republic, Russian interest is primarily concentrated in diamond mining, with the Ndassima gold mine as the protagonist. It is noted that the bilateral agreements between representatives of Wagner and the African state also include permits for geological surveys. The cooperation between the two actors also includes arms trade solving the deficit maintained by the arms embargo imposed on the country by the UN in 2013 and still not fully lifted.
In Sudan, the organization’s presence includes access to gold mining, permits for geological surveys, cooperation in the export of oil and gas, and planning to install a Russian naval base in the country. This base is expected to house a staff of 300 men and four ships including nuclear powered ones.
Mali is one of Wagner’s most recent “possessions” as it was brought in around the end of 2021. It took advantage of the vacuum left behind by the French military presence after the 2021 coup. Its offering in the region is focused on countering terrorist organizations. as was the case with the French forces. The consolidation of the organization in Mali significantly worsened France’s relations with the African state. Indicative was the expulsion of the French ambassador from the country and the announcement by the Malian government that bilateral defense agreements will be suspended. In short, Wagner completely replaced the role of the French in the region.
The spread of Wagner
In conclusion, the organization’s strategy of spreading across the continent relied on military and police support for authoritarian regimes and weakened states. Their most frequent missions concern the military repression of armed revolutionary groups and the guarding of government civilian personnel. In return the organization gains access to lucrative mining activities, or even geological exploration licenses for this purpose.
The degree of its consolidation in the whole of the African continent is now particularly high and the economic motivations unquestionable. The organization also offers an economic opportunity for Moscow to gain access to strategically important areas with the least possible involvement of official Russian armed forces.
It is remarkable the scope of the organization’s activities (State Security, Policing, Mining, Anti-Western Propaganda Operations, Arms Trade) that differentiate it from any Western Private Military Company whose tasks are clearly more limited. Wagner is an agent and pawn of the Kremlin’s foreign policy in Africa. Whether or not Redut is “taken over” by the Rostov incident, the effect of Russian influence on the continent will be the same, as will the manpower behind it.