How Wagner Group Contributes to Destabilizing Africa

Blogs   |  30.08. 2023

Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) European media went abuzz with recent news about the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Russian paramilitary organization known as the Wagner Group, which played a significant role in the conflict in Ukraine. Many speculations and theories surround the circumstances of the plane crash with Prigozhin and Wagner Group commander Dmitry Utkin, after whom the group is named. Utkin was also known as “Wagner” due to his favorite composer.

The widely believed theory remains that the plane was shot down by Russian anti-aircraft defense, possibly due to Prigozhin falling out of favor with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The theory suggests that Prigozhin’s recent coup attempt, which was a response to the Kremlin’s efforts to incorporate the Wagner Group into regular units of the Russian army, triggered this attack. Putin has a reputation for not forgiving transgressions against his authority. Anyone who ever dared to challenge the power of the current Kremlin ruler had to consider facing retribution in the form of a bullet, radioactive polonium, or a “fall from a window.” Now, it seems Prigozhin has fallen into this category, with plane downing as the latest method of eliminating Putin’s opponents.

Overlooked Activities in Africa
The Wagner Group is widely known in relation to battles in Ukraine, especially the Battle of Bakhmut. However, its activities in areas thousands of kilometers away from Russia remain outside the media attention. Few know that Russia has often utilized the military group in conflicts where sending its regular army was not feasible. For example, the Wagner group infamously fought alongside Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria. Their presence has extended to other regions as well, including South America, where they supported authoritarian ruler Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.

A separate chapter is the group’s extensive involvement in Africa, covering countries like Libya, the Central African Republic, Madagascar, and Mali. Prigozhin’s last public appearance was alleged in one of these African nations. It is no surprise because these governments provide access to gold and diamond deposits in addition to financial support, as evidenced in the case of the Central African Republic.

However, information about events in sub-Saharan Africa rarely reaches mainstream media, which is undoubtedly unfortunate. Wagner Group and Russia’s activities in the region deserve much more attention. Russia has long been engaged in strategically important African resource-rich nations to bolster its influence, mirroring the aims of mainland China, all at the expense of Europe and the West. One such crucial country is Mali. The paramilitary units established by Prigozhin now operate in this Sahelian African nation, a move made in January of the previous year.

Rise of Terrorism in Mali
More than 1,600 Wagner Group members are currently present in Mali. They were invited by the local military junta led by Assimi Goïta, who staunchly opposes France and the West, turning towards Russia instead. Prigozhin received $10 million a month from the junta for deploying the Wagner Group in Mali. Since the group’s arrival at the end of 2021, approximately 3,000 civilians were killed. This is four times higher on average compared to previous years when French soldiers were present. Wagner Group members and the military junta jointly killed at least 957 civilians.

Consequently, the number of individuals aligning with Salafist-jihadist terrorist groups, who are driven by the atrocities committed against civilians by Wagner Group members, as witnessed in Ukraine. Such crimes have heightened the motivation to fight against them but unfortunately, the only effective resistance is often terrorist groups. The prominent terrorist groups in Mali include the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS) and Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM).

I would also like to remind you here that the Wagner Group was involved in the largest massacre of the civilian population in the Mali conflict. It took place between March 27 and 31, 2022. Malian army units, along with Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group, besieged the town of Moura, which had been under the control of radical Islamists affiliated with the aforementioned JNIM organization for many years. During this operation, within four days, around 380 civilians were brutally killed!

Therefore, it’s no surprise that there has been a rapid increase in terrorist attacks in Mali. Many believe that Russia is aiding in maintaining peace and stability in African countries. However, this is a false illusion. On the contrary, it is Russia that has an undeniable share in the deteriorating security situation, not only in specific states but also across the entire region, as their actions inadvertently elevate the popularity of terrorist groups in the eyes of many residents.

Wagner Group, or rather Russia, enjoy such favor among African dictators, primarily because they do not impose various conditions like the EU or its member states. They do not enforce respecting human rights and striving for democracy. At the European Parliament, we are closely monitoring the recent developments in neighboring Niger and we hope that the entire situation can be resolved peacefully and without external military intervention.

Source: Brussels Morning