Prigozhin back in mix in Africa as Kremlin gives Wagner blessing to continue

Yevgeny Prigozhin says Wagner will ‘be here in Belarus for some time’

Leaders in Africa watched the aftermath of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s attempted mutiny in nervous anticipation.

They were not worried about the consequences for the Wagner Group chief but about what they might mean for mercenaries stationed in their countries.

Weeks have passed since then, and now, has been told that it is “business as usual” for Prigozhin and the Wagner Group in Africa” — a relief for many a despot and dictator on the continent.

But things are still unclear, and the mercenary outfit continues to prop up unstable regimes at the same time as Russia itself looks increasingly on the precipice.

Putin for his part has tried to smooth things over, inviting African leaders to a recent summit in St Petersburg.

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“Prigozhin was on hand to meet with leaders,” Simon Rynn, from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told

The turnout was far lower than in previous years, with many countries choosing not to make the journey in protest at Russia’s war in Ukraine.

But those who did turn up were promised things like free grain in return for unspoken support in spite of the conflict.

Of the 17 heads of state that appeared, many lead countries that Wagner has been stationed in for years.

“The fact that he was there,” said Mr Rynn, “indicates he’s back in the mix.”

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“Maybe he’s been reined in, but it looks for now like business as usual in Africa for Prigozhin with the bless of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and probably the Kremlin.”

Not only is Prigozhin back in business but the Wagner chief could well be looking to expand his operations in Africa, using the summit as a way to court new suitors.

Mr Rynn explained: “The target list could include a dozen or more states with whom there have been reports of Wagner interaction, from Zimbabwe to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar and South Africa.”

Embattled Burkina Faso and Niger are likely to be on the top of Prigozhin’s list of new countries Wagner can provide security and support to.

Even before this, Russia gave away that it was more than aware of Prigozhin’s bargaining power in Africa.

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Just two days after his attempted mutiny, Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, assured that Wagner would continue to operate in Mali and the Central African Republic.

Mr Rynn said Putin will not “abandon” Africa but noted that he may encounter trouble in allowing Wagner to continue its operations on the continent.

Currently, Wagner’s services are promoted by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has representatives in embassies abroad, meaning that African nations dealing with Wagner have agreements not with the group but with the Russian government.

With possible troubles ahead, Putin could decide to disband Wagner entirely and use other mercenary companies linked to the Russian government to absorb Prigozhin’s men. Where this would leave the current Wagner chief is unclear.

Mr Rynn noted, however, that many Wagner personnel in Africa are loyal not to the group but to Prigozhin himself, such as Dmitri Utkin or Ivan Aleksandrovich Maslov.

If Wagner in Russia and the surrounding region is disbanded, Putin may well decide to continue its operations in Africa as a tool of foreign policy, and “perhaps Prigozhin could remain at the helm in Belarus,” said Mr Rynn.

Wagner’s economic and political activities in Africa have proved extremely important to Putin, just as important as the role played by the group in Ukraine.

It has been paid for its services in some countries, but it is generally thought that Prigozhin offers his work in return for control over things like gold and diamond mining operations in a country.

In the Central African Republic (CAF) alone, Wagner’s mining profits are believed to be close to $1billion (£786million), while forestry-related businesses also brought in nearly $1billion. Some of this money finds its way to the Russian state coffers, enabling the country to comfortably exist in spite of Western-backed sanctions.

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