The Wagner Group has led Russia’s covert operations in Africa for the past decade. Successfully propping up several juntas, the mercenaries have unvetted access to several strategic African nations that now fund the group’s operations through natural resources.

The partnership with Wagner with the African juntas now faces uncertainty after a decapitation strike against the organization’s leadership has effectively crippled the mercenaries. Now wanting to consolidate power against any potential rivals, the Kremlin looks to excerpt its influence across all Russia’s overseas activities.

The Strike on Wagner’s Leadership

Initially promising exile to Wagner’s leaders, it appeared Vladimir Putin went back on his agreement with the group and had Yevgeny Prigozhin and his deputies assassinated. Prigozhin’s assassination sent shockwaves worldwide, but all signs have pointed to an FSB-orchestrated liquidation, as Putin is known never to forgive or forget any slights.

Immediately after the assassination, Putin signed a law stating all non-government militias to swear an oath of loyalty to the Russian flag. The remaining Wagner members must sign contracts under Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu or Russia’s foreign intelligence, the GRU.

Wagner’s Presence in Africa

Wagner maintains a heavy presence in Africa, and the continent is arguably more of their power base than the Russian Federation. At the beginning of the 2010s, the PMC established a broad network across African nations with political turmoil or Islamic extremism.

Making deals with sanctions leaders and military juntas, Wagner pledged to combat militant groups in return for access to Africa’s rich natural resources, which fund their operations. Wagner currently has a presence in Mali, Libya, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic and influences Niger and other African nations dissatisfied with Western policies.

The group’s experience in counterinsurgency operations (COIN) has successfully pushed back groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda, primarily due to the mercenaries not following the rules of war, allowing them to enact hardline methods. Along with COIN, the PMC has been the Kremlin’s arm in hybrid warfare, specializing in destabilizing African countries where Russia would look like the hero by offering help.