How the Wagner Group's Influence Continues to Shape Geopolitics

The Wagner paramilitary group became part of the world public after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the active participation of Wagnerians in it

by Sededin Dedovic
How the Wagner Group's Influence Continues to Shape Geopolitics
© PBS NewsHour / YOutube channel

Since the suspicious death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, on August 23rd of last year, there has been less and less information available to the public about the group's activities. The Wagner Group, a paramilitary organization, became known worldwide after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the active participation of its mercenaries in the conflict.

However, shortly after the outbreak of hostilities, disagreements arose between Prigozhin and the Russian military leadership regarding how the war should be conducted. Prigozhin, who was once Vladimir Putin's personal chef before founding the Wagner Group, publicly complained during the invasion that the Russian military leadership was making mistakes in conducting the "special military operation" and that his group was not receiving the resources it needed to effectively participate in the invasion.

The escalation of Prigozhin's dissatisfaction resulted in a rebellion by his group and a "march" on Moscow in June 2023, ostensibly demanding the replacement of the defense minister and chief of staff. A few weeks later, he died in a plane crash along with most of the Wagner Group's leadership.

The public, likely with good reason, suspected Putin was behind Prigozhin's death. But what will happen with Wagner after death of main man.

Prigozhin ex head chief od Wagner Group who died in suspicious circumstanes© PBSNewsHour / Youtube channel

The answer appears to be a shift towards formalization.

A Wagner Group course on drone piloting emphasizes in its FAQ section that it is not affiliated with the Russian military. "We are a private, civilian school," it states. "Just like other private drone schools or courses, we only teach people how to operate drones and do not share personal information with third-party organizations, including the Ministry of Defense." In addition to the mercenary force that forms its core activity, the Wagner Group has several companies involved in various business activities, with those related to mining being particularly prominent.

After Prigozhin's death, the Wagner Group was placed under the strict control of the Russian military intelligence service and now operates under a new name - The African Corps. According to a BBC report from February of this year, Russia offers African governments a "regime survival package" in exchange for access to strategic natural resources.

The report, based on leaked Russian government internal documents, details how Russia is actively lobbying for changes to mining laws in West Africa in an attempt to keep Western companies out of resource-rich areas.

Wagner Forces in Africa© Warographics / YOutube channel

In this way, the Russian government is taking over some of the Wagner Group's activities.

"Multi-billion dollar operations are now largely conducted as Russian 'expeditionary corps,'" the BBC writes, led by a man accused of trying to poison Sergei Skripal with the nerve agent Novichok on the streets of Britain.

"Russia is now stepping out of the shadows in terms of its Africa policy," Jack Watling, a land warfare specialist at the Royal United Services Institute and one of the report's authors, told the BBC.

According to Dr. Watling, "a meeting was held at the Kremlin relatively soon after Prigozhin's rebellion, where it was decided that Wagner's African operations would fall directly under the control of the GRU, Russia's military intelligence service." Control was supposed to be handed over to General Andrey Averyanov, head of Unit 29155, a covert operation specializing in targeted assassinations and destabilization of foreign governments.

However, it seems General Averyanov's new job is not destabilizing governments, but rather securing their futures, as long as they pay by giving up mineral rights. In early September, General Averyanov, accompanied by Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, embarked on a tour of former Wagner Group operations in Africa.

They began in Libya, where they met with General Khalifa Haftar. Their next stop was Burkina Faso, where they were received by coup leader Ibrahim Traore. They then flew to the Central African Republic, likely the most thinly spread Wagner operation on the continent, before heading to Mali to meet with the leaders of the junta there.

Mali is one of the largest gold producers in Africa and has significant reserves of silver, manganese, diamonds, lithium, and other rare metals. The Malian government likely cannot afford to pay Wagner, or the African Corps, cash for military support in the fight against Islamist and separatist forces.

In the meantime, Russian geologists have been spotted surveying Mali's gold regions. On subsequent trips, they also met with General Salou Djibo, one of the soldiers who took power in Niger last year. Transcripts from various meetings show that they assured Wagner's partners on the continent that Prigozhin's death did not signify the end of their business arrangements.

"In short," the BBC concludes, "Prigozhin's death did not mean the end of the junta's relationship with Russia."

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