At the end of 2017, Prigozhin convinced Putin to go to the African continent in order to strengthen Russia's geopolitical influence.

For Wagner Group, Vladimir Putin offers three options: either to sign an agreement with the Ministry of Defense, to finish a mercenary career and come back home, or to go into exile in Belarus after Yevgeny Prigozhin.

See also: Not only Ukraine. Where Rebel Warlord's path leads to? Ups and downs of PMC Wagner in Africa, EP1

After the PMC founder mutiny, what the President of Russia didn't touch upon in any of his speeches was the future of Prigozhin himself and his African empire. Unlike the Belarussian Investigative Center with our second part of the story about the rebellious warlord. 

Yevgeny Prigozhin has arrived in Belarus, where Alexander Lukashenko allowed him to “hang out for a little while”, BelTA reported on June 27.

In Russia, the criminal case against Prigozhin is closed for now, but Prigozhin’s firm Concorde would be investigated, as Vladimir Putin said.

Prigozhin's Concord catering company made 80 billion roubles from state contracts, although it included PMC Wagner, which had been "fully financed from the state budget," Putin said.

Before they invaded Ukraine, the Russian authorities had denied any connection with the mercenaries. And now they mention the Wagner Group only in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian war. 

Meanwhile, there are thousands of Wagner contractors in Africa.

At the end of 2017, Prigozhin convinced Putin to go to the African continent in order to strengthen Russia's geopolitical influence and to oust Beijing’s influence in the “third world”, an anonymous source told the media outlet Project in the spring of 2019.

In Russia, mercenarism is considered as crime by the Criminal Code.

This may explain the fact that the Kremlin has long denied connection with the PMC Wagner units located in SyriaMaliLibya, and Sudan.

Nevertheless, Wagner contractors, who allegedly had no ties to the Russian authorities, obtained their passports from a department linked to the Ministry of Defense, trained at the GRU base, and used army aircraft.

In the first part of the story covered Prigozhin's African path, we described the activities of PMC Wagner in Sudan and its participation in the coup attempt in Chad.

In the second, we tell you what Russian mercenaries have done in some of the other countries of the continent.

To block the path of oil to Europe. Libya

Libya is the largest country in Africa in terms of oil fields, and the fifth in terms of gas reservoirs. The bulk of revenue comes in budget from the sale of crude oil.

In 2011, after Muammar Gaddafi's overthrow and killing, a civil war broke out in Libya.

The western part of the country with its center in Tripoli was taken under the control of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord. The eastern part was held by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, leader of the so-called Libyan National Army (LNR).

Gen. Haftar was explicitly or indirectly backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt. France was suspected of the same, according to Reuters, but Paris denied everything.

Turkey, Qatar, Italy, and Western countries in general favored the Government in Tripoli.

In 2020, several independent media, citing a UN expert group, reported that up to 1,200 Wagner contractors fought on the side of Gen. Haftar. In turn, the Kremlin has denied Russian involvement in the Libyan civil war, claiming to be neutral.

Meanwhile, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held talks with Haftar in November 2018. Yevgeny Prigozhin was also present there.

According to The Washington Post, Gen. Haftar was also supported by the leader of the Sudanese militias Gen. Hemedti, whom we talked about in the previous part of the story. They reportedly have exercised joint training with the PMC Wagner fighters.

The Kremlin chooses an ally

In the Libyan conflict, the Kremlin did not immediately choose which side to take, the Russian investigative media outlet Projekt learned from its sources. Among the other options, they considered teaming up with the Sudanese militias for a joint attack on General Haftar.

When as of March 2019 both Russian mercenaries and Sudanese militias came to Libya, siding with Gen. Haftar, he had controlled most of the country. With the help of new allies, he began a military campaign to completely capture the country.

He almost succeeded. By 2020, the capital with its surroundings remained under the Government's control, but Gen. Haftar besieged it.

Gen. Haftar's allies had got Russian-made S-300 systems and 30 jets at their disposal, according to the Turkish Anadolu news agency. The number of mercenaries was estimated at 7,000 by the end of 2020.

Capturing the capital seemed to be a matter of time. But it failed as Turkey got involved in the conflict. The Libyan Government offered Turkey to explore oil and gas in Libyan waters in the future.

So Ankara repositioned several thousand of its Syrian mercenaries to Tripoli, from among those who fought against Bashar al-Assad.

Not only did they manage to lift the siege of Tripoli, but also pushed Haftar out of the borders, which he had controlled at the beginning of the joint offensive with the Wagner and the Sudanese fighters. 

The counter-offensive of Government troops stopped only after the threat that Egypt, supporting Gen. Haftar, would intervene in the hostilities.

Option for blackmailing as a result 

The result of the Libyan campaign of PMC Wagner was a failed assault on the capital, causing a large-scale retreat.

The oil fields that remained under Gen. Haftar's control have become a dead asset for him.

Since, following the international agreement, the money for this oil can only be transferred to the account of the Central Bank of Libya, which is controlled by the government in Tripoli.

That is, PMC Wagner would've been able to receive income from oil only if Haftar had seized full power in the country.

Nowadays, control over oil and gas reservoirs is mainly a tool of blackmail. Opponents of the recognized government periodically arrange oil blockades.

Still, for Russia, supporting Gen. Haftar was not meaningless. There are only two gas pipelines between Europe and Africa along the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. The first comes from Algeria and the second  — from Libya.

The civil war led to a partial shutdown of production in the last-mentioned country. Libya, considered by the EU as an alternative to Moscow in terms of gas supply, has become an unreliable partner that has not been able to make up for the shortage of gas in the EU after the reduction in supplies from Russia.

Besides, the two main Libyan gas fields are located in the territories controlled by Gen. Haftar and the Wagner Group.

The center of Russia's influence lies south of the Sahara. CAR

The Central African Republic (CAR) is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of mineral deposits (10th in diamond exports) with the poorest population.

Before the Russian mercenaries appeared at the end of 2017 (about the same time they arose in Sudan), the government had held control of the capital Bangui.

Conversely, his influence has been restricted in those provinces, where rebels and other armed groups have seized power.

Finally, in October 2017, CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra asks Russia for assistance. 

Moscow has persuaded the UN Security Council to ease the embargo on arms supplies to the country. And in 2018, Russia began to supply weapons to the CAR by air. 

Then, based on the military cooperation agreement, training of the armed forces personnel by specialists, mainly “from the former military”, started in CAR, Human Rights Watch reported.

Source: BIC

In the same 2018, Russian journalists Orkhan Dzhemal, Kirill Radchenko, and Alexander Rastorguev, who came to CAR to shoot a documentary about PMC Wagner, were murdered.

According to the official version, local rebels killed them during a robbery. 

The Center Dossier is convinced the crime was premeditated and professionally executed.

At the end of 2020, the CAR government's condition worsened. As of January 2021, the militias have controlled approximately two-thirds of the country's territory and have approached the capital.

At the same time, Wagner contractors have got a chance to prove themselves in combat missions. Finally successful.

By May 2021 the government, with the help of the Wagner fighters, has regained most of the previously lost territories. The allies in the counteroffensive were, in addition to the Russian mercenaries, the Sudanese militias of Hamidti, as well as the military contingent of Rwanda.

The Rwandan army is said to be one of the most disciplined and efficient in Africa. For example, it jointly carries out UN peacekeeping missions.

The Rwandans stopped military cooperation with the Wagner Group in June 2021 due to cases repeatedly accusing Russia of killing civilians.

In 1994, the genocide began in Rwanda, as a result, 800 thousand people died in 13 weeks. The main targets were mostly representatives of the Tutsi ethnic group.

Representatives of the Hutu ethnic group, who rejected to persecute the Tutsis, were killed too.

After the setting of peace, the country headed for national reconciliation. According to many ratings, Rwanda is now considered to be one of the safest countries in Africa.

For example, there is Rwanda in the top ten safest countries in the world on Gallup's Law and Order Index.

The UN calls Rwanda a small giant of peacekeeping operations: it ranks fourth in the world in terms of the number of peacekeepers sent to UN missions. And the Foreign Policy magazine calls Rwanda Africa's policeman.

Capitalization of influence

The CAR government, having hired PMC Wagner back in 2018, had been losing its territories until the end of 2020, when the Rwandan defense forces arrived in addition to the peacekeeping contingent there.

Despite the controversial combat capability, the Wagner Group managed to capitalize on their stay in the country.

In 2017, Yevgeny Prigozhin's M Invest firm, which mines gold in Sudan, registered a subsidiary, Lobaye Invest, in the Central African Republic.

The subsidiary received licenses for gold and diamond exploration. Over the 2022 year, Wagner Group has significantly expanded its work in the Central African Republic, Politico reported.

The PMC Wagner could see mining profits soar to almost $1 billion, according to the official and the diplomatic cable. Bringing in millions is likely to spend on the purchase of weapons for the war in Ukraine, a  source said to Politico.

However, one of Prigozhin's main successes in the CAR is intensifying Russia's influence in Africa.

In addition to mercenaries and military instructors, Russian political technologists with translators have also flocked to the country.

Since 2022, the CAR has introduced compulsory study of the Russian language in universities, the Russian embassy holds beauty contests, and children are shown a cartoon about a Russian bear rushing to the aid of friends in Africa.

Both France and the European Union, have lost most of their influence in the Central African Republic, Le Parisien said in November 2021.

The Wagner Group activities have crowned a success in the CAR, as the government managed to capture additional territory. Although Wagner militants do share their wins with the allies.

However, in early 2023, The Guardian reported that the PMC Wagner was suffering heavy losses in battles with the rebels for the deposits, which points out that control over territories has been argued, and the enemy has not been neutralized.

To oust the peacekeepers. Mali

Among African countries, Mali ranks third or fourth in terms of gold production, according to various sources. Gold accounts for 80% of the republic's exports. The country is also rich in iron ore, uranium, lithium, and limestone.

In the northern part of Mali, separatists from the Tuareg ethnic group are combating for independence. In the central part, farmers are fighting with pastoralists for access to water. 

There are also branches of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the country that oppose everyone, including each other. In the south-west part of the country, there are government-controlled gold mines.

Source: BIC

In August 2020, events that took place in Mali were in many ways reminiscent of the Sudanese scenario: mass opposition protests began; the military seized the initiative and carried out a coup, promising to provide a civil government with a transit of power.

Then, one year later, the former comrades-in-arms ceased to be allies. 

In May 2021, the military, under the leadership of Vice President Assimi Goit, overthrew the head of state Ba Ndao, so the transit of power was postponed until 2026.

In December 2021, it became known that Wagner fighters arrived in Mali, the military junta called them 'military consultants'.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov argued that the Kremlin had nothing to do with it, being forced to comment on the deal between Russian mercenaries and the Malians.

And in April 2022, the Mali authorities reported that they had received attack helicopters and mobile radar stations from Russia.

According to UN reports, this helped government troops, together with the Wagner Group, to achieve certain successes in the central and northern regions.

Оver 2022, the share of provinces in the central and northern parts of the country controlled by the authorities increased from 10%—20% to 44%.

War crimes allegations and withdrawal of peacekeepers

Russian mercenaries have been repeatedly accused of extrajudicial executions, human rights violations, and looting.

Thus, during the assault on the village of Mura in central Mali, 500 civilians were reportedly killed.

Such reprisals against the population, according to the opinions of some human rights activists, are beneficial to extremists who use social discontent for recruiting.

Experts attribute the surge in violence to the presence of Wagner PMCs in the region. Between June and September 2022, an al-Qaeda-linked group carried out more than 90 attacks against civilians and military personnel, compared to six in the same period a year earlier.

There are about a thousand Wagner PMC mercenaries in Mali, who are paid in total $11 million a month by the government, the news agency Reuters reported, referring to its source, in fall 2021.

PMC Wagner presence in the country and the failure of the junta to meet its obligations to hold elections — all this led to a weakening in Mali's relations with France, its European allies, and Canada.

In February 2022, they all announced the complete withdrawal of their forces involved in the counter-terrorist operations Barkhane and Takuba.

In August 2022, Germany suspended the mission of the Bundeswehr in Mali and demanded an explanation of the Russian forces' presence in the country.

In January 2023, experts cooperating with the UN called for an independent investigation into the activities of both Russian mercenaries and government forces.

Then on June 16, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mali demanded that the UN Security Council withdraw the international peacekeeping contingent from the country, since, according to the official, UN forces did not improve the situation in the country.

The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali has been operating in the republic since 2013 and was considered one of the most dangerous operations of the organization.

At the same time, the combat successes of Russian mercenaries are few. Despite their efforts, extremist activity in the country is on the rise, according to a report from the US Combating Terrorism Center.

However, Wagner Group seems to have been able to extend influence from Mali to gold-rich Burkina Faso, where the Russians have already been developing mines.

Gold and coups are honeypots for ‘military instructors’. Burkina Faso 

Burkina Faso is one of the largest cotton producers in Africa. Cotton is the country's second source of income after gold.

In 2022, two military coups took place in Burkina Faso. As a result of the first, in January, the interim president, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba, has come to power.

After that, Russian flags began to appear on the streets. And Yevgeny Prigozhin was also accused of mass-targeted anti-Western propaganda on residents on social networks.

However, in September, President Paul-Henri Damiba was accused of being unable to cope with the jihadists, and then he was deposed by army Captain Ibrahim Traore took, who dissolved the transitional government and suspended the constitution.

The next self-proclaimed leader, the former commander of the Cobra special forces, Ibrahim Traore, unlike his predecessor, enjoys the support of PMC Wagner.

Having come to power at the age of 34, Traore became the youngest head of state in the world. He has already taken several notable steps: he allowed Russian billionaire Alexei Mordashov's Nordgold to mine gold, then denounced the agreement on the presence of the French armed forces,  and invited Russian ‘military instructors’.

It's too early to talk about any military successes of the Wagner Group in Burkina Faso.

Overconfidentсe and defeat. Mozambique

The next country where the Wagner fighters checked in, situates in the southeast part of Africa. Mozambique is rich in gold and natural gas.

Here Russian mercenaries suffered perhaps the greatest defeat on the continent.

Since 2019, PMC Wagner has been set in Mozambique in order to fight radical extremists calling themselves Al-Shabab. They organized a series of attacks on the province of Cabo Delgado, rich in deposits of natural gas and valuable minerals.

PMC Wagner was contracted by the local government, but mercenaries were reportedly ambushed and suffered heavy losses.

The defeat of the Russian mercenaries in this area was explained by the fact that combat took place in both thick jungles and tight urban settings for which the group was not prepared. Before this, the militants fought mainly in the deserts and savannahs of northern and central Africa. They were unfamiliar with jungle combat and survival tactics, preferring to travel by helicopter than by foot.

In addition, poor integration with local forces was an extra case for the defeat. The mercenaries regarded local forces as being underprepared and ‘too undisciplined’.

The Rwandans, probably funded by France, changed Wagner PMC in Mozambique and finally stopped the militants' advance.

Despite the failure of Russian mercenaries in Mozambique, at the beginning of the year, the government of the Congo could reportedly ask them to help in the fight against rebels. Congo is the largest country in Africa after Algeria and one of the richest in the world in mineral resources.

Gold and diamonds in exchange for supporting the dictatorship

In Africa, PMC Wagner managed to gain a foothold in several countries: Sudan, Libya, the Central African Republic, as well as Mali, from where its influence now extends to Burkina Faso.

Moreover, the Wagner support the rebels in Chad. However, the simultaneous assistance of Yevgeny Prigozhin's private military company to African regimes and rebels, as a rule, does not create a significant preponderance of forces.

Mali can be considered the only military success of the Russian mercenaries, albeit with reservations. However, judging by media reports, the situation in the country is heating up.

The Central African Republic can be called an incomplete victory: before the arrival of the Rwandans, Wagner PMC did not achieve noticeable success there.

One may assume that, for employers, the main value of the Wagner Group is the support on behalf of the Kremlin of the dictators' power in exchange for control over deposits of gold, diamonds, and other valuable minerals and billions of dollars of profit, used, among other things, for the war in Ukraine.

What is the future of the African empire of PMC Wagner founder is a great question.

The Kremlin would likely seek to replace Prigozhin as the leader of the mercenaries and to maintain their ties on the continent to continue the operations they have begun, according to a report by the US Institute for the Study of War.

Perhaps, Prigozhin would go to Africa as a representative of Belarus. 

He and Lukashenko "may have, or may already have, joint business interests" there, political observer Alexander Klasovsky supposes.

The Belarusian regime has long been interested in Africa, while Prigozhin has personal ties there and good experience in promoting the interests of the employer.

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