Incursions by Russia’s Wagner Group
The drama of Russia’s attempt to bring its former republic of Ukraine back into the fold added another chapter when the Wagner Group, a Private Military Company (PMC) largely unknown to much of the West, staged a rebellion (albeit short-lived) against their handlers within the Russian hierarchy. Apolitical observers in the West became aware of these events when American athlete Brittney Griner was detained in Russia for 11 months in 2022 for possessing a nominal amount of cannabis. The arrest came coincidentally one week prior to the invasion of Ukraine.
Causes for the revolt are complex and not completely clear, but may stem from disagreements about the conduct of the military campaign in Ukraine. Prigozhin commented on the advance towards Moscow which ended after a one-day mutiny, by explaining that they “…started our march because of injustice.”
"The aim was to prevent the destruction of the PMC and to bring to justice those persons who made a huge number of mistakes during their unprofessional actions. This was demanded by the public, all the servicemen who saw us during the march supported us."
He also referenced the government’s possible intention of formally absorbing Wagner into the Russian military apparatus to “…incorporate it into the defense ministry.”
Ukraine’s internal strife afflicts the world at large since it is a leading provider of grain to the rest of the world, per the European commission. The Russian invasion caused disruptions in food distribution (compounding shortages from the COVID-19 Pandemic right before) to the rest of the globe. This scarcity hit the African continent especially hard since 30% of its grain is imported from Ukraine, Russia, and France (per analysts at the economic consulting firm Concerto). Africa is also a place where Wagner established its presence early in its existence.
—the ability to deny any involvement in illegal or unethical activities, because there is no clear evidence to prove involvement.
Private military companies can be more efficient than regular military personnel in that they are able to quickly respond faster in some situations, and can be less likely tied to parent governments in the event of scandals, hence the possibility of “plausible deniability.” This technique has been used by the American government, notably during the attempts to element Cuban politician Fidel Castro during the late 20th century. Private contractors have been used in recent operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait, and allegedly during Hurricane Katrina circa 2005.
Since its inception, Wagner has “cut its teeth” by performing various and sundry “dirty jobs” for the Russian state (and Putin). These have included such locales as Venezuela, Syria, and numerous countries on the African continent. Africa poses an especially attractive destination in that it possesses an inordinate amount of the world’s natural resources. Conversely, much of this issue also struggles with the dysfunction lingering decades after the collapse of colonialism, a flaw that more “developed” nations are all too eager to exploit under the guise of humanitarian charity.
Wagner is the invention of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St. Petersburg native who reinvented himself by amassing a fortune in the realm of food and hospitality after serving time in prison for fraud, robbery and other crimes. Initially operating a hot dog stand, he transitioned into casinos, supermarkets, and restaurants patronized by the Russian elite, becoming known as “Putin’s Chef.” He in turn secured lucrative contracts supplying food to the military, and by 2014 convinced Putin to form the Wagner Group to assist in annexing the Crimean Peninsula south of Ukraine.
Wagner also provides internal security within the country as a precaution against coups (short for coup d’état, or sudden, violent seizures of power by disgruntled factions within Russia). It is just one of several PMCs instrumental in promoting the Putin/Russia agenda aboard, but its own resume has earned it a mythical status in the shadowy world adjacent to legitimate diplomacy.
Prigozhin has meddled in the United States election 2016 through his Internet Research Agency (IRA), an entity known for influence peddling and propaganda.
He basically said as much in November 2022, on the Russian social media platform Vkontakte.
"We have interfered (in U.S. elections), we are interfering and we will continue to interfere,” he declared.
“Carefully, accurately, surgically and in our own way, as we know how to do."
is a continuation of the Cold War brinkmanship that the East and West preoccupied themselves with just a few years ago. The United States was essentially forced to establish its own Combat Command in 2007 (the United States Africa Command, or AFRICOM) merely to counter the presence of all these oppositional influences. In some circles, the American diplomatic “foot dragging” is a major factor for the debacle witnessed today.
Dr. David L. Horne, a past critic of U.S. foreign policy, notes:
“The U.S. Foreign Policy Statement on Africa produced by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s Foreign Policy Advisor in the 1970’s, still holds sway...”
“Except for periodic, direct involvements like helping to assassinate different African leaders who appeared to be troublemakers (Nkrumah of Ghana, Lumumba of the Congo, Khadafi Libya, etc.) the U.S. has pretty well stayed on that path. AFRICOM is a product of that strategy.
“Remember, you are White, a man of the superior race.”
—Lt. Grigorii Chertkov, an emissary of Russian Emperor Nicholas sent to Ethiopia in 1897.
Russia’s attempts to join its European brethren in the “scramble for Africa” of the late 1800s failed miserably. Today, long after the fall of the Romanov Dynasty and the erosion of colonialism, the relatively new Russian Federation maintains a healthy interest in its neighbor in the Eastern Hemisphere to the south, politically, diplomatically, and especially economically.
Horne has been a frequent visitor to Africa since the 1970s. After a half century of travel, observation, and discussion, he acknowledges the folly of expecting foreign interlopers into the Dark Continent with good intentions. However he has also recognized the continued support of independence and liberation movements by the Russian Federation (and its predecessor the Soviet Union) throughout that time.
“Russia has been a trusted friend to various African liberation movements for decades,” he says.
This is in direct opposition to the other major players on the continent including Belgium, England, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands.
“Russia was able to create its own relationship with Africa by supporting the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.”
Among these parties striving to exploit African instability in one form or the other, he points to France as perhaps the most sophisticated in manipulating wealth from its former colonies. Wagner made headlines early this year by forcing the withdrawal of 5,000 French troops from the west African country of Mali, a place under Franco control since 1905. Horne takes this in with a grain of salt.
“The French are definitely still there, particularly inside Malian banks, businesses and schools.”
“It (Wagner) is specifically an aide in seizing political authority and maintaining terrorist order inside a country,” Horne maintains.
None-the-less, rumors abound involving torture, ultra violence and cult like connections with Neo-Nazi elements. In the Central African Republic (CAR), Wagner has provided security for that country’s lucrative diamond and gold mining operations, while turning a blind eye (or actively aiding) to President Faustin-Archange Touadéra in his efforts to turn CAR into a transnational hub for money laundering, narcotic and weapons trafficking, and other illicit venues.
Much of this has been documented (visible via satellite photos on the internet) by reports from the United Nations and watchdog groups like the investigative and policy organization the Sentry (https://thesentry.org/).
Regardless of good intentions, financial and monetary necessity eventually comes into play. China, not mentioned in the course of this narrative, poses a unique relationship here, due to the fact that alone of all these interlopers it was colonized itself, says Horne.
“Since China was a formerly colonized country now able to compete with former colonial states for economic success, it has since the 1970’s enjoyed a rare positive reputation virtually all over Africa.”
The presence of apex predators at this watering hole of prosperity means that none of them are above reproach. The intrusion of humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) into impoverished areas are the modern equivalent of missionaries who brought religion to the unwashed savages a few centuries ago.
“Africans must care about and for themselves. All other outside national interests are there for economic, political, religious, military gain. None is there to benefit Africa.”
Tags: Wagner Group, David L. Horne, Vladimir Putin, Brittney Griner