Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Remember the Wagner Group? They've gone "respectable" (sort of)


Following its failed rebellion in Russia last year, and the death of its founder in a more-than-suspicious "aircraft accident", it looks like the Russian government has taken over the running of the mercenary Wagner Group and is exploiting it as the "thin edge of the wedge" in the Third World.  The BBC reports:

The multibillion dollar operations [of the Wagner Group in Africa] are now mostly being run as the Russian "Expeditionary Corps", managed by the man accused of being behind the attempt to murder Sergei Skripal using the Novichok nerve agent on the streets of the UK - a charge Russia has denied.

"This is the Russian state coming out of the shadows in its Africa policy," says Jack Watling, land warfare specialist at the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) and one of the report's authors.

. . .

The three West African states with close links to Wagner - Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso - have all experienced military takeovers in recent years. They have since announced their withdrawal from the regional bloc Ecowas, and the creation of their own "Alliance of Sahel States".

. . .

"What the Russians have provided is a strike force, with helicopters with advanced capabilities and a lot of firepower," says Dr Watling. "They are using pretty traditional Soviet anti-partisan methods. You see fighters who were executed, as well as civilians targeted for enabling or being associated with fighters."

There have been multiple claims that Wagner forces carried out human rights abuses on the African continent, as well as in Ukraine and Syria, where Prigozhin's organisation previously held a commanding presence.

. . .

In exchange for considerable, if brutal, security assistance, Wagner required something in return.

Mali, like many African nations, is rich in natural resources - from timber and gold to uranium and lithium. Some are simply valuable, while others have strategic importance as well.

According to Dr Watling, Wagner was operating in a well-established tradition: "There is a standard Russian modus operandi, which is that you cover the operational costs with parallel business activity. In Africa, that is primarily through mining concessions."

. . .

Following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, many in the Western security apparatus say that Russia's mask has slipped.

"What they are looking to do is to exacerbate our crises internationally. They are trying to start fires elsewhere, and expand those that already exist, making a less safe world," Dr Watling.

"Ultimately, it weakens us in the global competition that we are currently facing. So the impact is not immediately felt, but over time, it is a serious threat."

There's more at the link.

There have been many reports, and even more rumors, about what Wagner Group is up to in Africa.  I have a number of contacts across that continent, and I've been hearing interesting things from them.  (Amongst other things, I was told that following the Wagner uprising in Russia, a number of its operatives there and in Africa were recruited by the French Foreign Legion, an organization that's very familiar with African operations and has long employed a significant number of soldiers from the former Soviet Union and its satellites.  It would be logical for the Foreign Legion to be eager to supplement its ranks with more of the same, particularly since many of them are combat veterans.)  Given, too, Wagner's somewhat criminal inclinations in Russia and Ukraine, it's not surprising that many of its operatives would have no qualms about strong-arming African nations and their people into "cooperating" (at the point of a gun, if necessary) with Russian interests.

It's very convenient for a nation-state to have a nominally independent group that it can use, then deny, as a less-than-official strong-arm squad to assist its foreign policy objectives.  Wagner might as well be tailor-made for such purposes.

(One wonders how many former Wagner operatives are now employed by US three-letter agencies?  They would bring an undoubted ruthlessness to the field that US operatives may lack.  There are stories circulating . . . )



Blue said...

I will admit to sniggering when the article singled out "human rights abuses". In Africa.

Chris Nelson said...

It's amazing where Russia and the US have troops, mercenaries, and "developments" overseas.

BIL retired from Army, spent plenty of time in Middle East and the rest in Africa. Wife's cousin was a "project" coordinator overseas.

Dan said...

How is what Russia is doing in Africa significantly different from what US companies have been doing everywhere for decades....or the British Empire did in the 19th century. Their tactics may be slightly different but the fundamentals are the same.

Beans said...

Dan, what is going on is just 'out in the open' now. The Soviet Union used to have lots of 'advisors' formed up in 'training groups' that fought in the wars in Africa and SE Asia. Pilots flew 'training missions' for their host countries. Naval forces 'practiced and trained the sole local aboard Soviet ships and boats.

Seriously, the Soviets/Russians have been doing this at least since the Spanish Civil War. Just nobody in the media has called them out for it until recently.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like what the Soviets and US have been doing for decades. Using mercenaries to shore up all those little overseas adventures. Anyone remember Blackwater? USAID(CIA)? Protecting "American interests" overseas?

This is being splashed out on the media now because why? Oh, that's right. Our Administration has a hard-on for the Russians and Putin, because their Ukraine scam is seeing the end of the tunnel.

Gerry said...

I thought Africa was the Chicoms playground?

Jen said...

Yeah, this.

Anonymous said...

Wait till the Russians find out about the DMV or IRS, Talk about ruthless and without moral compass.

MNW said...

Mainly on the East coast.