The Wagner Group: The Beginning and the End

Written by Al-Tijani Salah Abdullah Al-Mubarak

In the nearly three decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russian influence has declined significantly in Africa. By 2006, the Soviet strategy aimed to renew its influence on the continent, resulting in the signing of 19 military agreements with African ruling regimes. These agreements primarily involved arms and ammunition sales and the expanded use of private security companies, such as the Wagner Group. The Wagner Group’s role includes providing security for African presidents, training government forces, and suppressing any military attempts to seize power.

The Wagner Group (Russian: Группа Вагнера) is a Russian paramilitary organization often described as a private military company (PMC) or private military contracting agency. Its contractors have been involved in various conflicts, including operations in the Syrian Civil War supporting the Syrian government and participating in the 2014-2015 war in the Donbass region of Ukraine to aid separatist forces in the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. Some sources, including reports from the New York Times, suggest that Wagner is an autonomous unit of the Russian Ministry of Defense or the disguised Main Intelligence Directorate, used by the Russian government in deniable conflicts. These forces are believed to be trained at Ministry of Defense facilities. The Wagner Group is thought to be owned by businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Wagner Group is often referred to as “mercenaries” in Western media. Its members are typically retired veterans of the State Security Services, aged between 35 and 55. The group also includes fighters who support Moscow’s interests from the former Soviet Union and its ally Serbia. By December 2017, the number of Wagner Group members had grown to around 6,000 fighters from 1,000 at the beginning of 2016. Monthly salaries for group members range between $1,200 and $4,000, with senior employees and those working abroad generally receiving higher wages.

Despite the professionalism of the Wagner Group’s fighters, the group lacks official legal legitimacy from Russia to monopolize the use of violence. Russia views this as a violation of its constitution and Article 359 of its Criminal Code, which criminalizes and prohibits mercenaries. Efforts to legalize the work of Russian military companies, including Wagner, have faced challenges due to concerns over the state’s monopoly on the use of violence and conflicts of interest between security agencies.

In exchange for providing security services to dictatorial and fragile African regimes, such as protecting ruling regimes and suppressing coup attempts, the Russian strategy aims to exploit Africa’s wealth and resources, including oil, gold, uranium, and lithium. This strategy aims to counter the expansion of Western countries and the United States in the region.

In the competition for African resources between Moscow and Washington, the Wagner Group’s role in Africa is seen as an attempt to undermine European and American influence on the continent. This strategy aligns with Moscow’s broader goal of establishing military systems run by militias or African military authorities, supported by the Wagner Group’s security services, in exchange for contracts involving valuable minerals like gold and uranium.

The Wagner Group also carries out various military, political, and media tasks. Beyond combat operations, the group provides training for security services, protects facilities, mines, and oil wells, and guards ports. It benefits from a significant portion of the profits generated by these facilities.

The United States has imposed sanctions on the Wagner Group and its founder. The group’s influence has faced resistance from African populations who reject the exploitation of their resources. Instances like the rebellion of Wagner militia and their involvement in the Russian-Ukrainian war have weakened their influence in Africa.

The recent reported death of Wagner’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, may impact the group significantly. However, the Wagner Group’s success was not only a result of internal factors but also specific global circumstances that allowed the privatization of war and the failure of Western interventions in Africa.

Sources:

[1] Wikipedia, Wagner Group, (accessed on August 25, 2023): https://tinyurl.com/2799tnm2

[2] Al Jazeera Net, Soldiers for Hire… The secret history of the relations of Wagner’s mercenaries and Russia, October 24, 2020, (accessed on August 25, 2023): https://tinyurl.com/2p8bs238

[3] Egyptian Institute for Studies, Ahmed Farid Mawlana, The Russian Wagner Company: Origin, Role and Influence, February 3, 2021 (accessed on August 25, 2023): https://tinyurl.com/5n6wxxzd

[4] Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper, This is how the Russian “Wagner” steals the wealth of Africa and undermines American and European influence, May 4, 2023, (accessed on August 25, 2023): https://tinyurl.com/yxksuwms

[5] Al Jazeera Net, The Wall Street Journal: Wagner sends geologists to explore resource-rich areas in Mali before expanding to it and expelling its residents, August 22, 2022, (accessed on August 25, 2023): https://tinyurl.com/5c58hz5u

[6] Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper, Thus Wagner’s rebellion serves France’s influence in Africa, June 26, 2023 (accessed on August 25, 2023): https://tinyurl.com/5eerv4w2

[7] Noon Post, Aed Amira, Wagner mercenaries.. Russia’s weapon to extend its influence in Africa, September 15, 2020 (accessed on August 25, 2023): https://www.noonpost.com/content/38300

[8] Arab Post, Wagner in Africa.. Has the life of Russia’s long arm become short? No, and these are the reasons, August 10, 2023 (accessed on August 25, 2023): https://tinyurl.com/25ydput8

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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