According to sources familiar with the matter, the Kremlin is reportedly permitting Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group to retain some of its extensive operations in Africa. This decision comes as Russia aims to maintain its influence on the resource-rich continent following the attempted mutiny led by Prigozhin. The deal specifically includes Wagner’s operations in the Central African Republic (CAR) and has the support of President Vladimir Putin. Wagner, a private military contractor, has enabled Russia to pursue its foreign policy objectives in Africa, often at the expense of the US and former colonial power France, with the added advantage of plausible deniability.
Preserving Gains and Reassuring African Partners:
In response to the US attempting to exploit the mutiny to dislodge Wagner from the continent, Russia is taking swift action to safeguard its gains. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has reassured African counterparts of Russia’s commitment to security partnerships, including the provision of military instructors in CAR, which were established as ties with France deteriorated. Moreover, Russia will host its second Africa summit later this month to reinforce its engagement on the continent. However, there is a discrepancy between what Russia refers to as military instructors and what the US identifies as Wagner operatives fulfilling combat roles.
Challenges and Uncertainties:
Replacing Wagner’s complex operations in CAR, which include combat support and resource concessions, presents challenges for Russia’s Defense Ministry, particularly considering its current commitments in Ukraine and the constraints imposed by Western sanctions. Additionally, Wagner’s presence in Sudan and other African countries may be instrumental in achieving Russia’s foreign policy objectives. As discussions regarding the future of Wagner unfold, it is likely that operational control will be centralized, but the question remains whether it will continue under Prigozhin’s leadership or that of another oligarch.
CAR and Relations with Africa:
The Central African Republic, along with two other former French colonies, has strengthened security ties with Russia. Wagner forces have played a crucial role in assisting the CAR government in countering a rebel insurgency since 2018. However, the US and others have accused Wagner of involvement in massacres, creating controversy. Nevertheless, CAR remains confident in Russia’s ongoing support. Key interlocutors for Russia in CAR are local Wagner commander Vitali Perfilev and Dmitri Sytyi, who oversees the Russian House cultural center.
The Influence of Prigozhin and Future Prospects:
Prigozhin’s personal connections and loyalty among African leaders have made him an influential figure, although his access to Putin has become less critical. Replacing his influence may prove challenging due to these established relationships. The attempted mutiny prompted scrutiny and sanctions from the US, which has urged African leaders to sever ties with Wagner. If Wagner were to be “nationalized,” it could provide an opportunity for the West to rebrand its activities as Russian state policy toward Africa.
The Case of Sudan:
Sudan represents a critical consideration for Wagner’s future operations. Prigozhin has been assisting rebels while Russia maintains close ties with the Sudanese military leadership. The covert deployment of mercenaries allows Russia to pursue a dual policy, similar to its approach in Libya. The US has accused Wagner of delivering surface-to-air missiles to Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces, who seek to overthrow the military junta. Russia’s interests in Sudan go beyond Wagner, as it aims to establish its first naval base in Africa on Sudan’s Red Sea coast, granting Moscow access to vital maritime routes currently policed by the US and its allies.
As Russia grapples with the aftermath of the attempted mutiny, it is allowing Wagner Group to maintain some of its operations in Africa. This decision is aimed at preserving Russia’s influence on the continent and protecting its gains made through Wagner’s activities. However, challenges lie ahead, particularly in CAR and Sudan, where the presence of Wagner forces is contentious. The future of Wagner’s operations in Africa remains uncertain, and Russia will need to carefully consider its options to ensure the continuation of its foreign policy objectives on the continent.