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Russia tightens control over Wagner forces in Africa a year after failed mutiny

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For years, Russia has covertly supported authoritarian leaders, exploited natural resources and fought extremists in some African countries.

Russia works through the Wagner Group, a secretive network of political consultants, entrepreneurs and mercenaries. But it has never revealed how closely it controls Wagner’s activities around the world, and it has kept its distance when the group’s operatives on the ground were accused of numerous human rights abuses.

Wagner is led by Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, a ruthless tycoon who was once a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. A brief rebellion Last June, Prigozhin faced off with Putin. Died in a plane crash.

Since then, Russia has been carving up Wagner’s assets and redistributing them among the Kremlin’s various arms, according to interviews with more than a dozen diplomats, military and intelligence officials from Western countries, Russia and Ukraine. The Russian Defense Ministry has taken over Wagner’s mercenaries in Africa and placed them under a larger umbrella organization, the Afrika Korps. The Russian Defense and Foreign Ministries did not respond to requests for comment.

Here’s what you need to know about the Afrika Korps.

Hundreds of instructors from the Afrika Korps first arrived in Burkina Faso, West Africa, late last year, according to Western officials and the group’s channel on the Telegram messaging app, which is considered a reliable source about the group by diplomats, analysts and Russian news media.

Since April, the group has sent about 100 instructors to Niger to train the army, a mission that until recently was led by the United States and European countries. The United States announced it would withdraw its troops About a thousand military personnel from Niger.

Sergey Eledinov, a security analyst and former representative of a Russian private military company in Africa, said that because the Afrika Korps is directly under the Russian government, “in the eyes of African governments it looks more legitimate.”

Russia has also supplied weapons to both countries, whose military juntas are struggling to contain jihadist insurgents in the Sahel, a semi-arid region that straddles both nations.

Afrika Korps mercenaries have also been sent to Libya, which Russia has long used as a logistical hub for its military deployments in sub-Saharan Africa. Wagner’s mercenary activities there have been incorporated into the Afrika Korps, according to a European military official and a U.S. State Department official.

The Afrika Korps said on its Telegram channel that about half of its recruits are Wagner veterans. The jobs, according to the group’s ads, are largely the same: Afrika Korps needs bodyguards, ground troops, drone operators and “electronic warfare experts.”

But the Afrika Korps is an umbrella for Russia’s paramilitary activities on the continent — not just Wagner but other private military companies as well. The mercenaries deployed in Burkina Faso are from a new group called the Afrika Korps. BearFor example.

“There is some kind of competition between these companies,” said Oleksandr V. Danylyuk, a former special adviser to the head of Ukraine’s Foreign Intelligence Service.

Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, oversees Afrika Korps operations, according to the U.S. State Department.

“The goal is the same: to establish control in several African countries,” added Mr. Daniliuk, who recently co-wrote a Report On Russia’s military activities outside Ukraine.

The name Afrika Korps evokes the Afrika Korps, the Nazi expeditionary force deployed in Africa during World War II. The Wagner Orchestra also has Nazi overtones: it is named after Richard Wagner, Hitler’s favorite German composer.

Wagner has not completely disappeared: Some of its operatives remain in the Central African Republic and Mali, and their close ties to the local military, political and economic circles make them difficult to dislodge and too useful for Russia to get rid of them, Western diplomats and Russian officials say. Analyst explain.

A new advocacy channel, the Africa Initiative, was also created to promote deepening relations between Russia and African countries. Supported According to the US State Department, this was the work of Russian intelligence services.

In short, Russia wants geopolitical influence and natural resources. But African leaders have many suitors: not only Russia, China, the United States and European countries, but also Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, among others.

Mercenaries and disinformation experts from Wagner have played a key role in undermining Western interests on the African continent and replacing European and American troops and UN peacekeepers in several countries.

These developments alarmed U.S. officials.

“The Russian Federation does want to take over Central Africa and the Sahel,” said Gen. Michael Langley, head of U.S. Africa Command. Tell Congress in March.

Russia claims that it supports a new multipolar world order that will help African countries consolidate their sovereignty. But it is also seeking to expand its number of allies: during the UN vote, many African countries did not condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but even expressed support.

According to the Russian Satellite News Agency, Russia has signed military cooperation agreements with 43 African countries since 2015. European ParliamentRussia is also the largest arms supplier to Africa between 2018 and 2022, accounting for 40% of arms imports to the continent.

Agent Wagner Central African Republic and Sudan. Russian mining companies from Angola and Zimbabwe, and from Guineaetc.

Russia is also increasingly pursuing more traditional state-to-state relations.

For example, Afrika Korps instructors arrived in Burkina Faso late last year, following Putin’s meeting with the country’s leader, Captain Ibrahim Traoré, last summer. Russia also reopened its embassy there.

Russia has also pledged to help Burkina Faso and Mali develop their nuclear industries and take in more African students as Europe tries to stem immigration.

A Burkina Faso newspaper said: “Our friend Lavrov is back!” Recently wrote Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has visited Africa, one of at least a dozen African countries he has visited since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Mr. Lavrov promise Burkina Faso provides more supplies and instructors to the army.

“Western influence on some African countries has weakened,” said Afrika Korps wrote “The ‘window of opportunity’ to achieve our geopolitical interests has opened,” the group announced on its official Telegram channel last year.

West African leaders seeking a closer partnership with Russia want physical protection, soldiers and weapons to fight insurgents and Islamist insurgents linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Civil society activists, civilians and local politicians in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso interviewed over the past year said Russia is delivering on its promises.

“This partnership with Russia will help us end this war on terror,” said Boureima Ouédraogo, a pro-Russian civil society activist in Burkina Faso. “Our soldiers will no longer be afraid.”

But just as African armies have failed to defeat the rebels, despite US and Europe Security experts say the United States, despite Russian support, has had limited success with its Russian partners.

Since these armies hired Russian instructors, abuses against civilians have surged, with Wagner mercenaries accused of Mass killings and torture In Mali and rape and other criminal acts Central African Republic.

Soumaila Lah, a Malian security analyst, said people living in large cities believed the Russian presence was necessary. “But in remote areas where mercenaries are operating, local residents have noted instances of torture, arbitrary arrests and assassinations,” Mr. Lah added.

“In those places, people don’t need them anymore.”

Eric Schmidt Contributed reporting.

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