In 2014, a secretive mercenary organization called the Wagner Group came into existence, founded by a Neo-Nazi Russian army officer named Dmitri Utkin. Initially engaged in supporting the separatist pro-Russian republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine, the group’s operation received the Kremlin’s covert backing, affording Russian President Vladimir Putin a layer of plausible deniability. This relationship shielded Putin from international criticism while providing a covert operational arm to further Russia’s geopolitical ambitions.
As Wagner’s utility became apparent, the opportunity to deploy the group in other parts of the world opened up. A number of African countries, which had maintained relationships with Russia since the Cold War due to their former Soviet-aligned leaderships, proved to be a fruitful ground for the group’s expansion. Russia, using the Wagner Group as its covert arm, would step in to defend these countries when their pro-Kremlin or anti-Western regimes came under threat. The group’s operatives, primarily comprised of former Russian and Central Asian soldiers, grew in number, reaching an estimated 5000 troops stationed in Africa prior to the recent upheaval within the group.
Expanding Footprints and Extracting Resources: The Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan, and Libya
One of the most prominent examples of the Wagner Group’s involvement in Africa is in the Central African Republic (CAR). In 2018, the Wagner mercenaries helped CAR’s president fend off rebel forces. The successful operation led to the mercenaries becoming a crucial part of the president’s inner circle. As a result, Russia is now viewed as the CAR’s closest ally, with its influence permeating all aspects of society, including language education and civic symbols.
However, this alliance was not merely altruistic. In exchange for the group’s support, the CAR granted mining concessions to the Wagner Group. Genny Progosin, the group’s boss, set up Midas Resources, a mining company that now has permission to mine gold in the CAR. Another company linked to Wagner, Diamville, has been involved in shipping gold and diamonds from the CAR to the United Arab Emirates and Europe.