Analysts say it’s too early to assess how the Wagner Group’s operations in Africa will be affected after its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin threatened to lead troops into Moscow over the weekend before backing off.
The U.S. Treasury Department has designated Wagner Group, a private mercenary army, a “criminal organization” and accused it of mass executions, rape, and physical abuse in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali.
After Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s brief rebellion in Russia over the weekend, analysts wonder what it might mean for some countries in Africa.
Charles Bouessel, a senior consultant for the International Crisis Group, said more robust armed patrols were seen in the Central African Republic capital of Bangui.
“This shows that the Bangui regime fears armed action linked to especially what’s going on in Russia,” Bouessel said.
Abdoulaye Diarra, a researcher at Amnesty International, said Wagner plays an important role in CAR’s security.
“This role has increased since the attacks on Bangui in December 2020 by a group called ‘Coalition of Patriots for Change,’” which brought together several armed groups and was led by former president [Francois] Bozize,” Diarra said. “They [Wagner Group] managed to oust the armed group from CPC.”
With the recent announcement of a constitutional referendum in July, which may allow current CAR President Faustin Archange-Touadera to run for a third term, Diarra said the Bangui government doesn’t have the capacity to operate without the help of Wagner forces.
“Today the situation is still fragile,” Diarra said, “and attacks continue in the country with major human rights violations documented on all sides and the Central African armed forces need their [Wagner] support to hold their ground.”
While the Wagner chief has been critical of the Russian Defense Ministry’s handling of the Ukraine war, its operations in the CAR wouldn’t be possible without the Russian Defense Ministry, Bouessel said.
“What we know and what we can say also is that Wagner in CAR totally depends on Russia’s Ministry of Defense logistics,” he said. “Wagner doesn’t operate on its own. Most of the material and equipment delivered to CAR for Wagner has been delivered by kind of the Russian armed forces. So, the logistical activities will be disrupted if the ministry of defense stop to support them.”
Whether Prigozhin remains Wagner’s chief might not make a difference. There may be others who could replace him, Bouessel said.
“A lot of the key figures in the Wagner Africa operations have since been recruited by other Russian private military companies such as the Concord group for instance,” Bouessel said. “These men have very good knowledge of the Wagner organization in Africa, and they could easily take over Wagner activities in Africa without disrupting it.”
Bouessel gave as an example Konstantin Pikalov who had been one of the main managers of Wagner activities in Africa since 2018 and was recruited by another private military company in Russia.
For now, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen in the CAR or other countries, both analysts told VOA.