Is Russia’s most infamous mercenary back to business?
But this time around, it isn’t Ukraine, where his fighters have largely withdrawn from the front lines, that is taking center stage. Instead, it is the Wagner Group’s extensive, controversial and lucrative operations in Africa that look to be indispensable to the increasingly isolated Russian president.
A photograph has surfaced appearing to show Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner private military group who led an aborted armed mutiny in Russia, as Vladimir Putin hosts a Russia-Africa summit.
“Putin has a vested interest to keep the Wagner network alive as a tool of clandestine Russian statecraft on the continent,” Andreas Krieg, a professor at King’s College London and an expert on private military companies, said referring to Africa.
The image was posted on Telegram on Thursday, appearing to show Prigozhin shaking hands with a man wearing a lanyard matching the branding of the summit.
The image, now deleted, was shared on a Facebook account appearing to belong to Dimitri Sytyi, who was named by Prigozhin as having a major role in Wagner’s operations in the Central African Republic, a resource-rich country, which is among the world’s poorest nations.
NBC News reported in June that Wagner had taken control of a major gold mine in the country, although this has never been admitted. U.S. sanction documents say Wagner will not allow government officials to visit mining sites it controls.
Putin remains committed to Africa not just for mineral riches, but also to have a political and financial foothold in emerging economies, Krieg said.
“Wagner will continue to be a tool of expeditionary Russian statecraft in the global South,” he said. “It provides an important lever of security assistance, political and information warfare, as well as, if necessary, kinetic war fighting capability.”
Benjamin Petrini, a research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, an international think tank, said that Russia favors influencing African states’ affairs because it can bypass international rules, including sanctions.
“There is no accountability or checking on human rights records and no strings attached like there is to get the support of the U.S. and Western actors,” he said.
Putin, who accused Prigozhin of treason and “a stab in the back” for leading his fighters to within 125 miles of Moscow on June 23, underlined just how important Africa is to his foreign policy goals in a speech Friday at the