Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Wagner Shifting Focus from Ukraine

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia's Wagner mercenary group, is allegedly turning his focus away from Bakhmut and towards Africa. The group is already present in Sudan, the CAR, Mali, and other sub-Saharan African countries. What has caused this shift? 

There may a few factors at play. The mercenary group is infamous for recruiting from Russian prisons, but it appears that Putin has rescinded that allowance and has given it to the Defense Ministry. The shift may also be due from the increasing complications from Wager's activities in Bakhmut. Prigozhin recently admitted that intense urban fighting in the city had "badly damaged" the group. 

What does an increased presence in Africa suggest for the group's future? While the group competed for resources from the Kremlin with Russia's actual military in Ukraine, Wagner's presence in Africa serves as an extension of Russian influence on the continent. The greater role of Wagner in Africa (and therefore, the smaller footprint they have in Ukraine), the less competition will be had with Russia's conventional military forces. 

Wagner's increasing relationships with African countries has a detrimental influence on the continent. African nations often give the group rights to natural resource rents for a number of years in exchange for their services. While this may seem attractive for those countries, many of which suffer from little control over their territory or even their own armed forces, the relationship will ultimately do more harm than good. 

While other forces, such as UN peacekeepers, are seen as ineffectual, Russian mercenaries are seen as heroes to be celebrated. Wagner, however, has been accused of troubling human rights violations while providing their services in the continent. The group, by its nature, also detracts from the legitimacy of the countries' own armed forces, however poor in quality they may be. 

Russia's bid for influence is already paying off - this can be seen in the voting results of the UN resolution condemning Moscow's war against Ukraine, where numerous African countries abstained or even voted with Russia. Will Wagner's human rights violations catch up with them, prompting popular discontent in the countries hosting it, or will demand for mercenaries in the region negate any wrongdoing? Only time will tell.

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