The uncertainty regarding Wagner’s succession and future command chain has created a tense environment and appears to conflict the interests of the Russian government. The future will tell us if this ongoing conflict with Moscow will turn violent again, but all the options are on the table. Whatever the outcome of such a conflict, Wagner’s current crisis will have huge repercussions for Africa.
The king is dead, long live the king!
Over the last decade, Wagner has established a strong presence in Africa (as you can see on the map). Wagner also maintains a strong non-military presence in many African states, regularly talking to government officials, financing humanitarian operations or gaining influence in the country through their businesses (such as Lobaye Invest).
After Prigozhin’s death, Putin didn’t wait long to move his pawns, sending Yunus-bek Yevkurov, Deputy Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation, on a tour in Africa. His task? Fill the vacuum left by the demise of Wagner’s former leader and maintain Russia’s strong positions on the African continent and the Middle-East. Yevkurov started his tour end of August, visiting Libya, Syria, Mali, the Central African Republic and Burkina Faso in the span of a few days. During his visits, he tried to reassure Russia’s partners and made several promises.
Towards a war of succession?
While meeting with the Eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar, Yevkurov explained that Wagner forces will report to a new leader from now on. This indicates that Putin indeed wants to exercise direct control over Wagner’s activities. Nobody knows who this commander will be, but it will most likely be someone close to the central authorities.
In Ouagadougou, Yevkurov made some ambitious promises. While discussing with the leadership of Burkina Faso, he said that Moscow would support the country in the military sector, but also in the field of nuclear energy. An agreement was also reached on the training of Burkinabè cadets and officers, including Air Force pilots, in Russia.
While these declarations suggest that the Federal government is taking over Wagner’s operations, nothing is set in stone yet. Several rumors about Elizarov, a.k.a. “Lotus”, having emerged as the new Wagner leader, are circulating. While these rumors have not been confirmed yet, this could indicate that Wagner as an organization will have a fractured line of command: While some branches of the PMC will report to a new commander appointed by the Kremlin, other branches will be led by Elizarov. Several factors will be decisive for Wagner’s future: Will Elizarov be able to rally Wagner’s troops? Will he be tolerated by the Kremlin? Will local African leaders push back against the Kremlin’s wish, as it already happened?
Private military companies: A flourishing business in Russia
Other Russian PMCs, which emerged recently, might also play a prominent role in Africa. Even after Wagner’s rebellion and Prigozhin’s death, it is likely that Putin will continue to partly rely on PMCs to exert power and wage war. While the list of these PMCs is almost endless, two PMCs currently stand out: Convoy and Redut.
Convoy, the PMC rooted in organized crime
Founded in Crimea in February 2022, Convoy is a PMC that quickly grew in popularity. Mostly advertising its activities on social media, such as Telegram, the PMC was able to recruit enough personnel to become quite powerful. Convoy was founded by Sergey Aksyonov, the head of the Kremlin-backed administration in Crimea.
He is a known businessman in Russia with alleged links to organized crime. According to former members of the PMC, enlisted men sign two contracts: one with Convoy and another with the Russian ministry of Defence. This double contract has one main purpose, namely ensuring the loyalty of the troops and avoid another coup against Russian central authorities. The pay of one mercenary is said to be around $2,500 monthly. Fighters are also promised with land in Crimea or Abkhazia after a full year of service. The organizational structure of the PMC is still unclear, but according to iStories “an early estimate put the number of Convoy militia fighters at 300 and they are operating in Crimea and the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson.” Aksyonov is not the only rich businessman with links to Convoy: In autumn of 2022, the PMC received 437,5 million rubles (approximately 4,4 million euros at the time). The money came from Ai-Petri Sanatorium, a company owned by Putin’s friend Arkady Rotenberg.
Redut, the billionaire protection service
Redut is another Russian PMC that is slowly emerging. Founded by former employees of the Russian MOD, Foreign Intelligence Service, and the Russian Special Forces, Redut has “a long history of serving the Kremlin and operating for Russia abroad” and has “attracted the attention of the oligarchs, who wanted their corporations in Russia and abroad to be guarded and secured.”
Along with Convoy, Redut might become one of Russia’s main actors in the field of security and military operations, both in Ukraine and abroad. Initially, Redut was created to protect the assets of one man: Gennady Timchenko, “a former KGB officer and a Russian oligarch close to Putin, who’s also known for holding enormous amounts of assets in his gas empire”. Redut’s influence has been rising and the group has been actively recruiting mercenaries from Wagner, which has created conflict between the two PMCs.
Wagner’s future remains unknown
When looking at Yevkurov’s Africa tour and the emergence of new PMCs, one thing becomes quite clear: Putin is hanging on to his crumbling empire in Africa. Whether Wagner will completely be absorbed into new PMCs, and if such an absorption will happen peacefully, is yet to be determined. But the emergence of these mercenary structures also suggest something else: Despite Wagner’s failed coup, Putin cannot do without the services of PMCs, whether in Ukraine or Africa, and is not ready to disband them. Whether such a decision will lead to a new bloodshed within Russia and its area of operations is yet to be seen, but cannot be excluded.