Presumed Death of Wagner Leader Puts In Doubt Group’s Future in Africa

Presumed Demise of Wagner Chief Places In Doubt Group’s Future in Africa

A high adviser to the president of the Central African Republic stated on Friday that Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the chief of the Wagner paramilitary group, had visited the nation days earlier than the aircraft he was believed to be touring on crashed in Russia.

“He got here right here to impress his troops after which went elsewhere in Africa,” stated Fidèle Gouandjika, the adviser to President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, who in recent times has welcomed Wagner mercenaries to combat insurgent teams in trade for mining concessions.

Mr. Prigozhin’s presumed loss of life might have profound penalties for African shopper states and warlords who, within the span of some years, helped flip a mercenary enterprise into one among Russia’s strongest and recognizable belongings on the continent.

In nations such because the Central African Republic and Mali, Wagner operatives have supplied safety to autocratic leaders searching for to remain in energy, in addition to troopers to assist underequipped nationwide armies combat rebels and extremist teams. In others, together with Libya and Sudan, they’ve equipped warlords with weapons and coaching to mount challenges to fragile governments.

In return, Wagner’s African shoppers equipped it with money, together with gold and diamond mining concessions. And Wagner’s 1000’s of operatives and dozens of shell firms have been additionally concerned in different industries, together with timber, beer and vodka, logistics and leisure.

The way forward for this enterprise empire now seems unsure, with its most recognizable determine believed to be lifeless.

“He was a gifted individual, a gifted businessman. He labored not solely right here in our nation, and acquired outcomes, but additionally overseas, specifically in Africa,” President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia stated on Thursday about Mr. Prigozhin. “There he was engaged with oil, gasoline, valuable metals and stones. Simply yesterday, so far as I perceive, he returned from Africa and met right here with just a few officers.”

The final recognized photographs of Mr. Prigozhin, in a video he launched earlier this week, seem to have been shot someplace in Africa. Many analysts instructed it was in Mali, the place round 1,500 Wagner mercenaries have been deployed.

In an indication of the aura the group has cultivated on the continent, Russian flags have appeared at protests in some West and Central African cities in recent times, together with the emblem of the Wagner group and posters of Mr. Prigozhin. Its prominence has grown whilst its mercenaries have been accused of widespread human rights abuses together with executions, rape and torture.

Since Mr. Prigozhin led a short-lived mutiny two months in the past towards the Russian navy management, the Kremlin has tried to guarantee African shoppers that it was in management.

John Lechner, an impartial researcher writing a guide on the Wagner group, stated little would probably change within the quick time period for the group’s actions in Africa. For Wagner’s contractors, it is likely to be enterprise as common so long as they preserve being paid, he stated. However he added that with Mr. Prigozhin’s presumed loss of life, the group “would possibly go on in a a lot much less charismatic means.”

Over time, different non-public navy firms extra intently affiliated with the Russian authorities might search to recruit Wagner mercenaries, Mr. Lechner and others argued.

“The Wagner group is a device in Putin’s device package that he gained’t need to quit simply because Prigozhin and the management of the Wagner group are gone,” stated Cameron Hudson, a former C.I.A. analyst who’s now an Africa specialist on the Middle for Strategic and Worldwide Research in Washington.

Nonetheless, Russia could battle to exchange its most outstanding determine on the continent, Mr. Hudson stated, due to what he referred to as Mr. Prigozhin’s “star character, this mythic attraction in lots of components of Africa.”

Mr. Gouandjika, the Central African presidential adviser, referred to as Mr. Prigozhin a nationwide hero who had saved the nation. He posed carrying a Wagner T-shirt this week in a tribute to the group’s chief and stated in a phone interview on Friday that he was grieving — however that the partnership with Russia would proceed.

“There will probably be one other Prigozhin,” he stated. “We’re awaiting the subsequent one.”

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