New African

What is the Wagner Group and what is it doing in Africa?

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African conflicts have long hosted troops from outside the continent but the large-scale involvemen­t of Russian mercenarie­s is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Most have arrived as part of the much-documented Wagner Group, which officially does not exist but which is believed to be funded by those with close ties to Vladimir Putin, and which some have claimed is actually controlled by the Russian Ministry of Defence.

Some of its members are said to be members of the far-right, an associatio­n that is also supported by the fact that it was named after the 19th-century opera writer, Richard Wagner, who has gained global notoriety as Hitler’s favourite musical composer.

Washington estimates the total number of Wagner employees in

Africa at 3-5,000. About 1,000 appear to be deployed in Mali, with analysts guessing that they are being paid in kind with mineral resources by the military junta. It is often linked to the activities of Russian mining companies in the affected countries. The group has also been involved in Libya, Sudan and in countering Islamist militants in northeaste­rn Mozambique, although apparently without success, as it was quickly replaced with the Rwandan army by Maputo.

Following human rights abuses in the Central African Republic, the EU imposed sanctions on three people and three organisati­ons connected to the Wagner Group. The EU reported that the group had “sent private military operatives to conflict zones around the world to fuel violence, loot natural resources and intimidate civilians in violation of internatio­nal law, including internatio­nal human rights law”.

Russia more generally is more involved in Africa than it has been for many years. This could explain the decision of more than 25 African countries not to condemn the invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations, while Eritrea – which actually voted against a resolution condemning Moscow’s actions – hosts Russian military bases. However, there also appears to be some historic affection for Russia as a result of Soviet support for movements opposing southern Africa’s racist government­s.

The invasion of Ukraine raised the possibilit­y that the Wagner troops could be pulled out of Africa to fight in Ukraine. Russia had already recruited fighters from Chechnya and Syria to fight there. This could have a profound impact on some African government­s, including the junta in Mali, which has ended support from France against rebel forces, choosing to rely on the Wagner Group instead.

 ?? ?? Above: A peacekeepe­r working for MINUSCA (r), a Russian private security contractor (c) and a member of the the presidenti­al guard (l) in Bangui, CAR. Russian operatives have assisted the government in the civil war
Above: A peacekeepe­r working for MINUSCA (r), a Russian private security contractor (c) and a member of the the presidenti­al guard (l) in Bangui, CAR. Russian operatives have assisted the government in the civil war

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