“Prigozhin would use Belarus as a transit country to reach Africa, where he has both military and economic business. Lukashenko seeks to develop economic relations with Africa as well”

Two military groups, former allies, went against each other. The first one is forbidden by law, but supported by the state head. The second relies on the power of a dictator holding his country for more than 20 years. The third factor is an illegitimate ruler of a bordering state.

See also: Not only Ukraine. Where Rebel Warlord's path leads to? Ups and downs of PMC Wagner in Africa, EP2

The general plot of most military conflicts in Africa this time describes the recent events in Russia.

Although the riot of PMC Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin is primarily associated with the war in Ukraine, there is a clear trail leading to political life on the African continent.

‘March of Justice’ leads to Belarus. Or to Africa?

Russian mercenaries led by Yevgeny Prigozhin have been facilitating their ‘March of Justice’ for nearly 24 hours which has ceased with an announcement issued by the Russian president's press service.  

Wagner paramilitary Group founder would reportedly leave Russia for Belarus at the invitation of Alexander Lukashenko and with his assistance.

From there, he would likely move to Africa, Belarusian ex-diplomat,  politician Pavel Latushko suggests.

“Prigozhin would use Belarus as a transit country to reach Africa, where he has both military and economic business. Lukashenko seeks to develop economic relations with Africa as well,” said on air of TV Rain channel Pavel Latushko, the deputy head of The United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus and the head of The National Anti-Crisis Management.

There is an ‘African trace’ in the conflict between Putin's warlord on the one hand and both the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation and the General Staff on the other.

The public attacks of PMC Wagner's founder on the Russian military leadership were largely connected not only with Ukraine but also with the Russian campaign in Africa.

“Our activities are good for nothing in those African matters in which I am involved quite deeply. Our bureaucracy creates the longest processes… 

There are colossal difficulties in our interaction with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, and other departments, in the areas of  PMC Wagner units' presence,” Prigozhin stated via his Telegram channel in April 2023.

So the assumption about the ‘African trace’ is well-founded. 

For several years, PMC Wagner has made close ties with local leaders and rebels there; also expanded its influence, and set its stable income. At the same time, Wagner Group has become more experienced in military coups matters.

Assessing the root causes of Yevgeny Prigozhin's Saturday riot, political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin also refers to the Russian-African case.

“Putin has destroyed the statehood. Since statehood is a system of political institutions, such as a constitution, free elections, independent courts, and free both media and law enforcement agencies.

Putin reduced all that from the state to the chiefdom. Whereas political competition has not been canceled. Thus, he safely lowered Russia to the level of Sudan,” the expert said, commenting on the PMC Wagner's marching against Moscow.

Wagner Group rebellion is very similar to the current events in Sudan, where the leader of the militia is at war with a former ally, now the head of state, who requires the mercenaries to unite with the ranks of the official armed forces so as to subjugate them.

Here is the first of the Belarusian Investigative Center publication series covering PMC Wagner's participation in the expansion of the African continent. Dedicated to Sudan and Chad, where the Wagnerians have experienced armed coup practice for the first time.

In this article, you'll learn what kind of military experience a private military company founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin gained there and what the intersection of interests between the son of Alexander Lukashenko Viktor and PMC Wagner looks like.

Sudan is Russian 'key to Africa'

The events of June 23-24, known as Prigozhin's ‘March of Justice’, are somewhat reminiscent of the conflict between two generals in Sudan, which’s been ongoing since April 2023. 

Unlike the Wagner Group rebellion, the fighting in Sudan is continuing up to now.

In terms of area and gold mining production, Sudan ranks third among African countries. By the way, gold is mined there by Belarus and Russia too.

Russia was smuggling gold out of the country to finance the war in Ukraine, CNN reported a year ago. In general, according to official estimates, 80% of the mined gold is illegally exported from the country.

Both gold mining production and a series of military coups led to the Russian mercenaries' presence in Sudan.

“On the one hand, the Wagner group usually occurs in places where a civil conflict unfolds. On the other hand, there is a very weak civil society that cannot resist external influence. 

And the third component is always the presence of minerals or precious metals,” expert Africanist Maksim Matusevich said in an interview with Belsat at the end of April.

In 2018, democratic protests erupts in Sudan. Then, in 2019, former allies turn against President Omar al-Bashir, who ruled the country for 30 years. They are Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the leader of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), and Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly known as Hemedti, the head of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

According to the US authorities, the PMC Wagner was called to support preserving the al-Bashir regime. A year before, al-Bashir has asked Putin for protection from the United States during his 2017 visit to Moscow.

In return, al-Bashir's agreed to discuss the matters of deploying a Russian military base in Port Sudan, the Red Sea coast, and, in general, the possibility of Sudan becoming Russia's 'key to Africa'.

Al Jazeera viewed this visit as “a desperate attempt to stay in power”. 

The local media outlet Dabanga reported that PMC Wagner has begun training the Sudanese army in 2017. According to eyewitnesses, there were about 500 Russian mercenaries at the military base in South Darfur.

Then Russia and Sudan sign an agreement on gold mining concessions for the Russian company M Invest, which is a front covering the activities of PMC Wagner in the country, the US Department of the Treasury considers

Concessions allow Prigozhin to benefit from unprecedented advantage: his companies are exempted from the obligation to give 30% of gold mining income away to local authorities.

A concession agreement is a contract that gives a company the right to operate a specific business within a government's jurisdiction or on another firm's property, subject to particular terms. 

Concession agreements often involve contracts between the nongovernmental owner of a facility and a concession owner... The agreement grants the concessionaire exclusive rights to operate their business in the facility for a stated time and under specified conditions.

Weapon of Mercenaries  — Safety of Lukashenko 'wallets'... in Sudan

Meanwhile, Alexander Lukashenko also became interested in Sudanese gold.

In 2018, Sudan granted Belarus the right to develop gold mining there. 

Lukashenko personally thanked al-Bashir for that. 

As it turned out later, it was not Belarus that received this right, but the UAE offshore company Sohra Mining, affiliated with Belarusian businessman Alexander Zaitsev.

Alexander Zaitsev, being Lukashenko's ‘arms wallet’, is under sanctions from the European Union, the United States, and other countries.

In April 2023, the BIC published the investigation pointing to Zaitsev, first of all, as the ‘wallet’ of Lukashenko’s eldest son Viktor.

Zaitsev used to work as Viktor's assistant on the Security Council, and then the ruling of a multi-million dollar arms and logistics business followed. Both businesses enjoy preferences from the Belarusian state.

Belarus had been a major arms supplier to Sudan long before 2018. For example, Belarusian weapons were used in the Darfur conflict in the early 2000s, Amnesty International reported.

Due to the genocide, Darfur became world-famous in the early 2000s.

Local Arab militias, supported by the government, massacred mainly black separatists. ​​That conflict claimed the lives of about 300 thousand people.

The militia fighters, already known as the Rapid Support Forces, were commanded by Hemedti as well.

However, the Lukashenko family entourage has set their sights on Sudanese gold only since the PMC Wagner settled there. Assumably, due to security. Only the mercenaries are able to protect the mines from local tribes and rebels.

Coup by coup

As for former Sudanese President al-Bashir, the deal with Prigozhin's militants has been good for nothing.

Both Generals have managed to overthrow al-Bashir and imprison him.

The military commander, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has for years been the de facto leader of Sudan. And the deputy-chair of the ruling Transitional Sovereignty Council Hemedti has become the second person in Sudan.

Among their promises also was to hold elections and hand power over to civilians by 2021.

That’s not been realized so far. In October 2021, al-Burhan interrupted the process of democratic change by dismissing the civilian prime minister.

In mid-April 2023, hostilities in Sudan started again. Former comrades-in-arms, leaders of the military junta al-Burhan and Hemedti opposed each other. The latter now controls the Darfurian gold mines. 

The very gold zones, areas of ​​Darfur Western Region, as well as the capital Khartoum, are now the bloody battlefields of the most intense fighting.

Former allies accused each other of treason. Al-Burhan demanded that the RSF fighters commanded by Hemedti join the army.

In return, Hemedti accused al-Burhan of striving to establish a military dictatorship and called the 2021 takeover a 'mistake'.

Hemedti is ‘Sudanese Prigozhin’

Experts compare Hemedti with the Russian warlord, calling him ‘Sudanese Prigozhin’, and note the similarity of life paths.

“As if it were translated into Russian realities, he would be such a Prigozhin, an origin from outside the traditional elites, without a classic position in the traditional hierarchy, who wants a bigger role for himself and quarrels, doggies online with the traditional elites,” BBC newsperson Grigor Atanesyan says.

Hemedti dropped out of school in the third grade and later became a camel trader. 

The most common story about Hemedti is that he was compelled to take up arms in the Darfur conflict when men attacked his trade envoy, killed 60 members of his family and looted his camels.

Finally, after joining the militias, he attracted the attention of President al-Bashir, who was recruiting people to put down the rebellion.

Hamidti soon became the leader of the militia, the paramilitary RSF.

Yevgeny Prigozhin is now mainly associated with Wagner Group, which fought in Ukraine, including Donbas in 2014—2015, Syria, and African countries.

But his path was not always connected with military structures.

Prigozhin comes from a doctor and a ski instructor family.

In 1979, he was given a suspended sentence for theft. Two years later he was sentenced to 13 years of real imprisonment on charges of theft, fraud, involvement of a minor in criminal activity, and robbery. In 1988 he was pardoned.

Prigozhin started his business selling hot dogs, then went to grocery stores, restaurants, and catering services. And as a result, he obtained a monopoly on school meals in Moscow.

The next step was the construction business.

Prigozhin's cooperation with the military starts with Army meal contracts and cleaning services for Ministry of Defense facilities.

The Kremlin and MD orders for cleaning services have been shared between Prigozhin and Belarusian Eduard Apsit, whom Belarusian Investigative Center published an investigation about.

Commitments not met, but mission completed

The position of Wagner PMC in Sudan has remained unchanged after President al-Bashir was overthrown. Mercenaries stayed in the country.

Yevgeny Prigozhin did not publicly support either side of the new conflict.

Moreover, in a statement published by his press service, Prigozhin offered himself as a mediate person between al-Burhan and Hemedti.

“What is happening in Sudan now is not what we trained Sudanese to hold weapons for. We trained them to defend their borders from enemies,” Prigozhin said.

At the same time, PMC Wagner supplied RSF with surface-to-air missiles, CNN reported, citing local diplomatic sources.

Therefore, the Hemedti militias resist the regular army more effectively.

The RSF denied having any ties with Wagner and, in return, claimed the army was linked to the Group.

Previously, Prigozhin’s also stated that he had no connection with Hemedti. However, according to the BBC, the latter, being an agent of the Wagner PMC, offered the services of the Russians to the leadership of other African countries.

The Washington Post reported that RSF fighters have trained and fought along with Wagner mercenaries in Libya. 

The other side of the conflict, al-Burhan, had reasons to be suspicious of the Wagner Group.

According to Associated Press, at the beginning of 2023, the director of Egypt’s Intelligence Directorate Agency conveyed Western concerns in talks with the head of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, Gen. al-Burhan. He urged al-Burhan to find a way to address Wagner’s “use of Sudan as a base” for operations in neighboring countries such as the Central African Republic.

What al-Burhan said in response is unknown.

Anyway, Russian mercenaries involved in large-scale hostilities in Sudan have not been witnessed yet.

Summing up their presence in that African country, one can say that the Wagner Group's not fulfilled its part of the deal with al-Bashir, who did not manage to hold his power.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has been satiating its appetite for influence and gold-mining profits.

Both Hamidti's militia and Prigozhin's mercenaries have expanded their influence to the neighboring Central African Republic and Libya, the matter of which we would cover in the next publication.

Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Libya have become the springboard for the campaign against Chad.

Wagner Group is on the rebels' side. Welcome to Chad

Sudan, Libya, and the Central African Republic border Chad. This country produces oil, but most of the population lives off agriculture. In the south, for example, cotton is grown for export to Europe and the United States.

The oil found in 2003 gave rise to armed conflicts in Chad. Various groups are trying to gain control over the deposits.

President Idriss Deby has added to the instability by 2005 abolishing constitutional limits on the number of presidential terms.

That caused mass protests and armed rebellions, which, however, did not lead to a coup.

PMC Wagner does not support the government of Chad but Group does support the rebels who surround the country from three sides, that is, on the borders with Libya, Sudan, and the Central African Republic.

On April 11, 2021, presidential elections were held in Chad. On the same day, the rebels from the 'Front for Change and Concord in Chad' attempted to do a blitzkrieg. From Libya, they broke in through the Chadian border posts.

According to representatives of the rebels themselves, they’ve been marching by two columns through almost the whole of Chad and have liberated the province of Kanem, some 220 km from the capital N'Djamena.

President Idriss Deby of Chad, who drove to the line of clashes, was killed in action on 20 April, a day after the announcement of the preliminary results of the election, in which he was expected to win for the sixth time in a row.

The late president's son, Mahamat Idriss Deby quickly seized power by suspending the constitution and dissolving both the government and parliament.

Under his leadership, the Chadian troops defeated the rebels and pushed them back to Libya. Then The Times reported that the rebels were trained by PMC Wagner.

But so far, there is no other independent proof found by the BIC.

In 2023, both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal sources in Washington and N'Djamena told that US intelligence has warned Deby Jr. that Russian mercenaries have been working with Chadian rebels who planned to overthrow the power and likely kill him.

So far they haven't succeeded.

Prigozhin would go to Belarus 

Not yet clear, whether one would call Prigozhin's march failed and compare it to the riot in Chad.

There are several questions unanswered. For instance, what goals were actually pursued by the PMC Wagner founder?

The only known for sure is that he would go to Belarus.

Assumably, Lukashenko would either send Wagner Group to guard his African mines or use Prigozhin's ties on the continent in his favor. 

Seems reasonable to suppose that the permanent ruler of Belarus would involve mercenaries to quell potential internal protests, as was the case with the Berkut soldiers who fled to Belarus from Ukraine after the 2013 revolution.

In Sudan, the Wagner Group had the bad experience of cracking down on protests. Unlike some of the other African countries, where they were successful.  

Our next story tells further about the African path of the rebellious Russian warlord.

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