Two days after the Wagner uprising, Sergueï Lavrov assured on Monday that the paramilitary group will continue “its operations in Mali and in the Central African Republic”. An update from the head of Russian diplomacy, who then intervened, the experts wondered about the future of this private militia, the spearhead of the new Russian expansionism in Africa.
Will the crisis between Wagner and the Kremlin put an end to five years of Russian expansionism in Africa? After Evguéni Prigojine’s failed rebellion, questions are growing about the presence of the private militia on the continent, which since 2018 has woven its web from Sudan to the Central African Republic via Mali and Libya.
Moscow sought to be reassuring on Monday, June 26, assuring that the “events” of the past weekend will not change anything in the group’s activities on the continent. Wagner members are working in Mali and the Central African Republic “as instructors. Of course, this work will continue,” Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with the RT channel.
05:06 © France 24
Sergueï Lavrov also believed that the armed rebellion by Wagner’s leader Evguéni Prigojine and his men stationed in Ukraine would not change anything in relations between Russia and its allies. “There have been many calls (from foreign partners) to President (Vladimir) Putin… to express words of support,” he said.
Officially, no African capital has commented on the events of the past weekend. But according to Cyril Payen, senior reporter for France 24, Russia “probably appears to be a slightly less secure partner” since the Prigojine uprising. “We bet in Bangui and Bamako we are wondering what the future will be.”
“The Malian state is actually today engaged in a dual partnership, with the Russian state – the Putin camp – and with the Wagner group – the Prigojine camp. Which so far has not made much difference, but it could change if the two camps will not unite in the long term”, says lawyer and political scientist Oumar Berté to RFI.
Asked by AFP, however, a senior official from the Central African presidency indicates that Russia will continue to operate in the Central African Republic, with or without Wagner. “The Central African Republic signed (in 2018, editor’s note) a defense agreement with the Russian Federation, and not with Wagner,” said Fidèle Gouandjika, ministerial special adviser to Central African President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. “Russia has subcontracted Wagner. If Russia no longer agrees with Wagner, then they will send us a new contingent.”
The Central African Republic is a bridgehead for Russian ambitions on the continent and is particularly dependent on the Russian militia, whose men go so far as to serve as personal protection for President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.
Present since 2021 in Mali, where Wagner has about 1,500 men, the paramilitary group has also forged close ties with the ruling junta and participated in training soldiers as well as in operations to fight terrorist groups.
In Africa, the men from Prigojine have also been identified in Libya, Sudan or Mozambique. Since Wagner’s arrival in Africa, the paramilitary group has been regularly accused by the UN, international NGOs and Paris of committing abuses and crimes against civilians.
To promote its peasants, the private militia uses the same strategy every time: disinformation campaigns that surf the rejection of the former colonial powers and an offer of security in return for the exploitation of natural resources, which will feed Prigojine’s war chest and serve the interests of the Kremlin.
In Sudan, the partnership between Wagner and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by the junta’s number two, General Mohammed Hamdan Daglo, has thus enabled the militia to fuel illegal gold smuggling, but also to organize the route of the yellows. metal directly into the coffers of the Russian state, helping to inflate its gold reserve to circumvent Western sanctions.
“Wagner is an entity that both defends private, even criminal, interests and promotes the interests of the Russian state. The two are inextricably linked,” sums up Niagalé Bagayoko, president of the research center African Security Sector Network, on the branch of France 24 .
“A Kremlin Creature”
“The tensions with the Kremlin arose on the Ukrainian front, not in Africa, where, on the contrary, there is an alignment between the interests of Wagner and the Russian power”, confirms Thierry Vircoulon, researcher at the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri). and specialist in Africa. “The paramilitary group is a strategic asset for Russia and it would be inappropriate to suspend its activities when it has been the most important tool of its diplomacy”.
If Russia cannot do without Wagner, the reverse is also the case. “Since its creation, Wagner has been a creature of the GRU (the Russian military intelligence service) and the Kremlin and has benefited from the logistical, political and financial support of the Russian state”, continues the expert.
If the suspension of Wagner does not seem to be an option today, a recalibration of its activities seems inevitable. According to Thierry Vircoulon, one could imagine several scenarios, especially splitting up the group’s activities. “If Prigozhin stays in the countryside, one could imagine that he is only concerned with external operations and that he is evacuated from the internal front, that is, from the Ukrainian conflict”.
Evguéni Prigojine broke his silence on Monday in an audio message, claiming he never intended to topple power. He did not reveal his whereabouts, while the Kremlin assured that he would travel to Belarus. Russian news agencies all reported that the criminal investigation against him for “incitement to armed mutiny” was still ongoing.