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Analysts say the charismatic leader is gone but Wagner will remain in Africa | military news

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Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s Wagner group of mercenaries, has just left Mali where he filmed a video pledging to make “Africa freer” before he died in a plane crash back home.

His apparent death – which has yet to be officially confirmed – has alarmed some puppet governments in Africa who depend on his unique services.

Patronage to Prigozhin’s private military force has increased in recent years since some African governments began turning to Russia as an alternative international partner in their fight against growing insecurity from various armed groups.

Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadera was the first to turn to the feared militia in 2018, but the shifting sands of democratic governments that have seen a rise in military coups in the Sahel have opened the floodgates for Wagner. .

Across the Sahel and Central Africa, armed groups continued to expand rapidly, their rise coinciding with protests against former colonial power France, which still wields enormous influence across the region.

Prigozhin was the face of the group’s operations as he moved between Ukraine and Africa, increasing his equity in the trade. Analysts say his death will derail the Wagner machine in Africa.

“Brogozhin himself was an incredibly charismatic figure, and he had the administrative and business capabilities to bring all these disparate entities and people together in one way or another,” said John Lechner, a security analyst and author of a forthcoming book on Wagner. group.

Will the expansion continue?

When Prigozhin staged an abortive rebellion in Russia in June, exactly two months before his death, clouds began to hover over the military business empire Prigozhin had built on the continent.

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Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister at the time, said the group’s operations would continue. But the fatal accident that took the lives of him and his trusted lieutenant, Dimitri Otkins, raised questions about what would happen next.

“It doesn’t change much in places like Mali and the Central African Republic because there were already relationships and contracts. The Russians said they would honor those contracts. The real question is what is happening in the countries that Wagner was trying to expand, like Burkina Faso and Niger. Will this expansion continue? Under the Russian government? said Cameron Hudson, a senior associate in the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The brief insurrection in Russia last June was the culmination of a growing divide between Prigozhin and the Defense Ministry over the handling of the war in Ukraine. But African governments have also been caught in a delicate balancing act between the shadowy group of mercenaries and the Russian government.

The Malian coup plotters continue to refer to the armed group as “Russian-trained,” although the CAR authorities are more forthcoming.

“CAR authorities have always been uncomfortable,” Charles Boisel, CAR senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera.

“They didn’t know who was to be commended for helping Wagner. Sometimes they thanked the Russian authorities, sometimes they thanked Prigozhin. But what they want is for Russian help to continue, and they’ll be careful to express their opinion.” [on Prigozhin’s death] Emotionally connected.”


“degree of denial”

Officials have expressed that their commitment was to Russia and not to the mercenary group itself. Fidel Guandjica, an adviser to the CAR president, told the media that Prigozhin’s death would not change the relationship with Moscow.

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Experts said that while Prigozhin’s charm offensive was notably absent, the Kremlin would ensure it maintained its influence on the continent.

“There are a lot of Russian institutions that benefit from the Russian presence in Africa, and you will want to see these relationships continue,” Lechner said.

However, the conflict between Wagner and Russia’s military intelligence agency may reset diplomatic relations between African governments and Russia.

“I think they will rethink their approach… The countries that were considering a relationship with Wagner will all consider whether they want the same kind of relationship with Moscow. “Because for the Wagner Group, there was a certain degree of denial,” Hudson said.

“stifling environment”

Niger is the latest country to eye Wagner. Since the Presidential Guard seized power, it has been in open disagreement with the West. The regional bloc of West African states (ECOWAS) has threatened to invade the country in order to restore President Mohamed Bazoum, who was overthrown in a coup on July 26.

With Prigozhin’s death, Wagner’s appeal to new countries seeking military assistance from Wagner may wane, but analysts said the militia could still make inroads into new areas.

“I think we shouldn’t be surprised if Wagner continues to appear in Niger, even after Prigozhin’s death,” Lechner told Al Jazeera. “We are still in a stifling environment where African governments looking to partner with outside countries in the area of ​​security have relatively few options.”

Since 2020, there have been nine coups in Africa, according to a count by SBM, a geopolitical consulting firm in Nigeria. In this period, five of the fifteen member states of the Economic Community of West African States are under military rule.

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Experts said this wave of coups is a recipe for mercenary groups as military governments seek to consolidate their grip on power amid pressure from the West, and the decline of democratic governments will continue to invite such private military interventions.

“Illegal governments in Africa need security assistance to tighten their grip on power and order. That’s the point of all this: It’s not about supplying armed mercenaries, it’s about asking for armed mercenaries,” Hudson said.


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