In the past decade, Africa has seen an increase in both civil wars and in Islamic insurgencies. Russia, seeking new areas to gain influence, has made the most of these opportunities to assist favorable governments. However, Moscow cannot always act in an official capacity. Private military contractors (PMCs) allow governments to bridge this gap and contract with these groups to go to war-torn countries. It is important to note there is technically a legal difference between mercenaries and PMCs. Mercenaries are independent soldiers who are not bound to a country; they fight for whomever pays them. PMCs recruit soldiers but are anchored to a country who recognizes them legally and allow them to operate. Mercenaries are illegal; PMCs are not.
One such group is the Wagner Group. This private military firm began in 2014 by Dimitry Utkin, a former special forces soldier. Since then, Wagner has taken part in the annexation of Crimea, the Syrian Civil War, the Sudanese revolution, the Second Libyan Civil War, and helped fight Islamic groups in Mozambique. They also provided paramilitary support prior to presidential elections for Hery Rajaonarimampianina in Madagascar and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. There is debate as to whether the Wagner Group is actually completely privatized or if it has ties to the Kremlin. While PMCs are not legally allowed in Russia, there are multiple firms. The government does not acknowledge them; yet, enlists their services. This allows the Russian government plausible deniability.
Most recently, Russia sent 1,400 soldiers through the Wagner Group to Libya to help Khalifa Hifter. Hifter’s government is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. The government in Tripoli is supported by the United Nations, the United States, and Turkey, mimicking the Syrian Civil War. Russia and Turkey continue to battle for dominance in Africa, with Russia involving itself in most regional disputes. Wagner is now no longer the only PMC in Russia. With at least four new ones forming in the past few years, it seems clear Russia has big plans to utilize these companies for its future.