Who are the Wagner mercenaries of the Russian contractor army?

AGI – Officially the Wagner Group does not exist. There is no headquarters, no registration, no organizational chart. However, the presence of this small army of Russian contractors, many of whom cut their teeth in the Ukrainian Donbass on the side of the separatists. It is being reported in more and more crisis scenarios: Syria, Libya, Central African Republic and Mali, to name just a few of the hottest ones.

Known as “The Company” by its constituent ex-policemen and military, Wagner is believed to be attributed to Evgheni Prigozhin, the powerful businessman nicknamed “Putin’s Cook”. For its activities in the catering sector and its proximity to the Russian President.

And like the lesser-known Russian PMCs, Wagner is an important component of Russia’s international strategy, although the Kremlin denies any connection.

Moscow accused Westerners of “hysteria” following the double round of sanctions imposed on Prigogine in 2020 over Wagner’s activities in Africa. Putin commented on the information about the company’s presence in Cyrenaica, saying that “even if there are Russian mercenaries in Libya, they do not receive their salaries from Russia and do not represent Russia.”

Western analysts have a completely different opinion and believe that the contractors maintain close ties with the Russian military and intelligence services In order to allow Moscow to pursue certain interests without having to respond to its actions.

The goal, according to Katrina Duxi of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, is “to allow Russia to extend its geopolitical influence and restore agreements that were obtained before the fall of the Soviet Union.”

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“There is an African policy in Russia, especially in the traditional French sphere of influence,” Jalil Lounas, a researcher at Al Akhawayn University in Morocco, confirms.

“Russia does not ask questions about democracy and human rights,” Lunas notes, and this would make groups like Wagner the ideal interlocutor for authoritarian regimes on the continent. Compagnia’s contractors are often accused of human rights violations and abuses. The United Nations is investigating in particular an operation carried out by the Central African Armed Forces and Wagner’s men against the rebels, in which, last January, at least 30 civilians were killed.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies found, between 2016 and 2021, “clear evidence” of Russian PMCs in Sudan, South Sudan, Libya, Central African Republic, Madagascar, the United States and Mozambique.

According to other sources, Botswana, Burundi, Chad, Comoros, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congo, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria and Zimbabwe are added to the list of African countries participating in the Moscow mercenary network. And, of course, Mali, where 800 of Wagner’s men would work, although the ruling junta denied enlisting them.

French President Emmanuel Macron accused Wagner’s men in the Sahel region of “predatory intent”. On the day of the announcement of the withdrawal of French forces from Mali, Macron said that the mercenaries “mainly come to protect their economic interests and the junta itself”, and considers them the best allies to protect his power.

Doxsee argues that PMCs help carry out arms sales, protect local leaders and ensure the safety of highly profitable mining sites. The researcher explains that customers “are mainly countries with large reserves of natural, mineral and energy resources” and whose safety they cannot guarantee.

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However, the results of the Wagner group in the field will not always be equal. In Libya, Russian mercenaries supported the attack on Tripoli launched by Major General Khalifa Haftar in the summer of 2020 But they ended up surrendering to the pro-Turkish militias that came to the aid of the National Unity Government led by Fayez al-Sarraj. In Mozambique, Wagner’s contractors ended up being pushed back in the face of an ISIS advance and then replaced by South African units.

“They had no experience with the terrain they encountered” and did not communicate with local forces “for linguistic reasons and mutual mistrust,” Dukes explains.

“They were the cheapest but they didn’t have the power to succeed”, The researcher continues a “large number of failures”.

Only partial efficacy has its own logic. “If a country like the Central African Republic employs them to train its forces, it is in their primary interest to do their job enough to continue employing them,” Duxey concludes. is necessary.”

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