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Russia's Wagner Group reportedly deployed in Africa

In line with Russia's geostrategic vision, private military company trying to expand influence in continent, says report

Mustapha Dalaa, Halime Afra Aksoy   | 05.03.2021
Russia's Wagner Group reportedly deployed in Africa

ISTANBUL 

Although Moscow does not officially recognize its activities, Wagner – a private Russian military company – is reportedly operating under different names and structures, such as companies related to gold and diamond mining, military training, and cyber warfare. 

Bloomberg agency, citing anonymous sources, said the Russian mercenaries have been deployed in several countries, including Sudan, Central African Republic, Libya, Zimbabwe, Angola, Madagascar, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, and possibly the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Furthermore, the affiliates of the military company were quite likely to have been deployed in Libya, South Africa, Sudan and Mozambique in a bid to train local armies, protect high-level figures, fight rebel and terror groups in addition to protecting the resources of diamond, gold and uranium.

In exchange for these services, the Wagner offshoots were reportedly granted exclusive privileges and licenses to procure weapons, technology, and military service and use minerals and natural resources in these countries.

In line with the Russian geostrategic vision to expand its influence in the continent of Africa, some countries are of greater priority for Wagner activities and among them are Libya, South Africa, Sudan and Mozambique. 

Libya case: Search for permanent military base

Having spread in Sirte and Jufra -- located in the east and southeastern Tripoli respectively -- Wagner mercenaries are currently deployed in Jufra Airbase located in central Libya and Ghardabiya Airbase in Sirte.

Sources linked to the US and the UN argue about 2,000 Wagner mercenaries -- from Serbia, eastern Ukraine and mostly Russia -- were present in the country. Additionally, it is believed that the mercenary company also brought Syrian sellswords through the military companies under its inspection.

Wagner's military inventory reportedly includes light-weight reconnaissance and surveillance UAVs, sniper rifles, Pantsir missile system along with warplanes such as MiG-29 and Sukhoi Su-24.

The adversaries in Libya, following a UN-led agreement in Geneva on Oct. 23, 2020, agreed to deport foreign forces, Wagner in particular, out of the country within a course of three months.

However, forces loyal to warlord Khalifa Haftar have not yet left Sirte and Jufra, meaning the mercenary group is doing groundwork for Wagner's Russian army to establish one naval and two aerial bases in NATO's "soft" southern flank.

Central Africa: Gold and diamond mines 

While the internal conflicts deteriorated the security atmosphere of the Central African Republic since 2013, it is argued that Russia pushed out France, the most influential country in the region, and the Wagner group has transformed into one of the prominent actors.

Under the name of military training, hundreds of Russian soldiers and some 450 Wagner elements have allegedly held activities in the country since 2018. The Africa Report claims that there are over 1,000 "military trainers" provided by Wagner in the country.

Wagner provides security for various institutions and plays a pivotal role in training the presidential guards and army. In fact, Wagner affiliates, in addition to military training, protect President Faustin Archange Touadera against the rebel groups which control nearly two-thirds of the country.

It is reported that the activities of Wagner members are not limited to the security field as they protect gold and diamond mines of the country and hold a certain amount of the revenue.

Most of these mines are located near Bambari city in the northeastern regions of the country where mostly Muslim Seleka groups have an influence.

It is noteworthy that the Russian Lobaye Invest Company received a license to search and extract gold and diamond in some regions a few months after Moscow dispatched military equipment such as rifles, rocket launchers and heavy armored vehicles to capital Bangui in 2018.

"Russian trainers" stay at the Berengo Palace which was allocated to them in 2018; the place was the residential area of Jean-Bédel Bokassa, the self-proclaimed emperor (1966-1979). The Russian military is known to have established a military base in an area of 40 hectares of the palace. 

Sudan: Logistical base for operations in Africa

According to the news published by Sudan and western media organs, Wagner launched its search for gold in Sudan in 2017 through companies named "Meroe Gold" and "M Invest".

Wagner also trained the rapid support forces in the Darfur region and military personnel of the Sudanese army.

While Wagner operates in various Sudanese cities, including Port Sudan, Khartoum and Darfur, some local and western media outlets report that the mercenary group carried weapons and personnel from Sudan to the Central African Republic via airports and borders.

This arguably was one of the reasons why the US administration included "M Invest" -- a shell company of Wagner -- in its sanction list on July 15, 2020. 

Mozambique: Daesh/ISIS presence

Wagner also reportedly operates in the Cabo Delgado Province located north of Mozambique and known to have rich natural gas fields. In 2018, Ansar as-Sunnah announced its loyalty to the Daesh/ISIS terror group, and it has a presence in the region.

However, the group was forced to change its tactics in this region due to environmental and climate conditions.

While an estimated 160-300 Russians have been present in the country since 2019, they are said to have access to UAVs and high-tech military data analysis equipment.

Furthermore, the group's mercenaries are said to be deployed in the port city of Mocimboa da Praia in Cabo Delgado Province, along with Nacala and Namialo regions near the province; international firms have invested $60 billion in this region to benefit from the open sea gas fields.

The Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) Party leader, Ossufo Momade, accused Moscow of spreading "Russian mercenaries who launched acts of sabotage". However, Russia rejected this accusation with an official statement.

*Writing by Ali Murat Alhas

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