Wagner Group Acts as 'Organized Crime Syndicate' in Africa, Expanding Putin's Power
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Surveillance photos from the French military show Wagner Group mercenaries burying bodies in the African nation of Mali.
The Russian private army, known for its atrocities in Ukraine and designated a "Transnational Criminal Organization" by the U.S. government, has taken its dirty work to Africa, where it has offered its services to a number of governments, expanding Kremlin influence on the continent.
Yevgeny Prigozhin's Wagner group is operating in several African nations, including Mali, Chad, Libya, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar, and might be moving into Burkino Faso.
Experts say where the Wagner Group goes, trouble usually follows.
Wagner offers African leaders a range of services from disinformation warfare against political opponents to armed protection against insurgencies to training for their armies, all tying the leaders closer to Moscow.
South African expert Pauline Bax, who tracks Wagner operations for International Crisis Group, says, "Wagner is a network of companies, basically not one single company. And most of these companies are under Yevgeny Prigozhin. They provide private security to the people in power. They take over private businesses or they establish private businesses. And these are often in natural resource extraction, such as mining or logging, for example."
To get around sanctions, Wagner Group has taken payment in the form of timber, precious metals, gold and diamonds.
The UN believes Wagner was involved in the massacre of more than 500 people in Mali last year. It's also suspected of committing atrocities in the Central African Republic.
Retired FBI Special Agent Eric Caron, the author of Switched On: The Heart and Mind of a Special Agent and a security consultant for several African nations, says of Wagner, "It's basically an organized crime syndicate that is operating on behest of the Russian government. They're essentially Russia's KGB, operating throughout Africa, committing crimes, committing murder and stealing resources in exchange for security."
U.S. officials accuse Wagner of using Mali as a base to funnel weapons from Turkey to the Russian military fighting in Ukraine.
It's also accused of fueling the war in Sudan by providing advanced weapons systems in a conflict that has displaced an estimated one million people.
At a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Alfred Mutua, Kenya's Foreign Affairs Secretary said, "We are asking external forces to leave Sudan alone."
The problem is that Wagner goes where it's invited. "It's not that Wagner just comes in and rolls into a country and does whatever it wants. It does this with the approval and often with the blessing of the ruling elites," Bax said.
And while Wagner profits, it works to increase the Kremlin's footprint throughout the continent, pushing the U.S. and Western nations out.
Bax said, "Russia has used these propaganda campaigns to say that Russia is a very friendly security partner and the West is just a neocolonial imperialist power, and you should get rid of them."
Caron says the White House should have paid attention sooner, before the Wagner Group established itself as a major player and a major problem on the African continent.
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