The Rise and Fall of the Wagner Group: Tracing Evgeny Prigozhin’s Activity in Africa and Links to the Kremlin

Prigozhin’s death was extremely sudden. Just a day ago, the Wagner Group released a video of unknown shooting time on social networks. In the video, Prigozhin is standing in a desert, wearing a camouflage uniform and holding a gun. “The temperature here is above 50 degrees Celsius, just as we like it,” he said charismatically. “The Wagnerian mercenaries are conducting a reconnaissance operation to make Russia greater and Africa freer on all continents… …”

He also said the Wagner Group was “looking for real warriors”. An ad that Wagner posted at the same time showed that they were recruiting experienced soldiers, offering six-month contracts in the Middle East and Africa, with monthly salaries ranging from $1,600 to $2,600.
This video is one of the few appearances of Prigozhin after the “coup” in June.

The former restaurant owner and former “chef” of the Kremlin founded the private military group “Wagner” in 2014 and became famous for his performance on the battlefields of Syria and Ukraine. In May of this year, Prigorzhin announced that “Wagner” had won the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which had been contested by the Russian and Ukrainian armies for nearly a year, at the cost of the death of 20,000 soldiers. Since then, he has frequently made remarks criticizing the Russian military. On June 23, Prigozhin swung suddenly north, approaching Moscow with little serious resistance, demanding that Defense Minister Sergey Kyzhyget oglu Shoygu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Guerra Valery Gerasimov resigned.

And just when the world was shocked, Prigozhin unexpectedly accepted the mediation of Belarusian President Lukashenko on June 24 and agreed to go to Belarus. Wagner withdrew his troops just 140 kilometers from Moscow without reaching any public claims.

Since then, Prigozhin’s movements are as unpredictable as this dramatic “coup”. After the agreement was reached on June 24, Prigozhin did not go to Belarus in accordance with the agreement, but continued to stay in Moscow and St. Petersburg to handle financial affairs. On June 27, he visited Belarus briefly. During the same period, Lukashenko spent five hours at a lakeside residence outside Minsk. This is where Lukashenko held private and secret meetings. Two days later, Russian President Vladimir Putin met Prigorzhin for a three-hour meeting in Moscow. On July 6, Lukashenko said at a press conference that Prigozhin was in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Wagner’s troops were also in Russia, and had withdrawn to “the camp where they were permanently stationed” after leaving the front line.

In the past month or so, some signs have begun to indicate that Wagner seems to be returning to their starting point Africa, which is also an option favored by the Kremlin. On July 27-28, President Putin chaired the second Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg. Two photos of Prigozhin appeared on social media. He took a photo with the Chief of Protocol of the President of the Central African Republic, Faustin Touadera. Hundreds of Wagner mercenaries reportedly arrived in the Central African Republic a week ago. The country held a constitutional referendum on whether to extend the presidential term and abolish presidential term limits on July 30.

Since then, the “Wagner” group announced on social media that they helped promote the Niger coup on July 26: “Evgeny Prigozhin continues to strengthen the status and influence of Russia and Wagner in Africa. Niger The coup d’état is proof.” This statement was not corroborated by other sources.

It is reported that since July, the Wagner Group’s long-term base in the Krasnodar region of Russia is being closed, and many fighters are being fired. Perhaps Prigozhin wanted to remind the Kremlin in this way that “Wagner” still has influence and value that cannot be ignored in Africa. He hailed the coup in Niger as a victory for anti-colonialism in an audio message on social networks, before changing the subject: “That’s why there is so much love for Wagner… a thousand Wagner fighters can establish order and destroy terrorists , to prevent them from harming the peaceful people of the country.”

Wagner has deployed thousands of troops to at least five African countries over the past few years, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Wagner has provided protection to the government of Faustin-Archange Touadéra in the Central African Republic since 2018, supporting it in quelling a civil war that has been going on since 2012 and fighting a long-running insurgency. Wagner deployed about 1,000 personnel to Mali following the December 2021 military coup in Mali.

Just last week, the European open research group All Eyes on Wagner reported that a plane linked to Prigozhin had landed in Bamako, the capital of Mali. Recent leaks of U.S. intelligence suggest that Wagner is working with Chadian rebels in an attempt to overthrow the country’s transitional president. Some analysts predict that Burkina Faso may soon hire Wagner to help deal with a growing jihadist insurgency after France withdrew its troops from the country earlier this year.

But Prigozhin’s African partners may also reassess his worth after the June coup.
Just on August 22, a delegation led by Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov visited Libya. “This is the first official visit of a Russian military delegation to Libya,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said.

The visit by the Russian Ministry of Defense was at the invitation of Khalifa Beiqasim Haftar, Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA). In 2014, Haftar raised troops against the Libyan National Unity Government. In the past ten years, he has been in a state of confrontation with the National Unity Government. In early March 2019, the British government announced that about 300 well-trained and well-equipped Wagner mercenaries supported Haftar in Benghazi and helped the Libyan National Army make great progress in the south, capturing several cities. and Libya’s largest oil field.

The day before Prigozhin’s plane crash, there was also new information on the whereabouts of another key figure who came under the spotlight during the June “insurgency”.

On June 27, The New York Times reported that reliable sources within the U.S. government said they were assessing whether General Sergei Surovkin, Russia’s top commander in Ukraine, helped plan Prigozhin’s operation over the weekend.

The New York Times reported on June 27 that a senior Russian general had advance knowledge of Evgeny Prigozhin’s plans to rebel against Russia’s military leadership, according to U.S. officials briefed by U.S. intelligence agencies. Officials said they were trying to understand the role of General Sergey Surovikin, Russia’s former top commander in Ukraine, in the insurgency.

Surovikin served in Afghanistan in the 1980s and took part in commanding the second Chechen war in 2004. He is known for his iron blood . He reportedly promised to kill three Chechens for every Russian soldier killed. After 2014, Sulovkin ‘s performance in the Syrian war won him the Russian Hero Medal, Russia’s highest honor, and was promoted to the commander-in-chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces in 2017. It was during the Syrian war that Surovkin and Prigozhin came into contact with each other.

In October 2022, Sulovkin began to serve as the commander-in-chief of Russia’s special military operations. But three months later, Chief of General Staff Gerasimov, who was publicly opposed by Prigoren, was appointed as the commander-in-chief of the Regional Joint Forces of Special Military Operations, and Surovkin was demoted to deputy commander-in-chief.

Surovkin has not been seen since the June “insurgency”, and neither the Kremlin nor the Ministry of Defense have commented on his whereabouts. But on August 23, the Russian state news agency RIA, citing unnamed sources, announced that Surovkin had been removed from the post of commander-in-chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces.

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