The Russians are trying to expand their influence in Africa. For example take the case of Mozambique: While Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claims that Russia is only trying to forge economic and security ties with the country of Mozambique, the truth tells a different story. Russia is sending proxy troops into the country — and they haven’t been faring well. 

Peskov in October stated: “As far as Mozambique is concerned, there are no Russian soldiers there.” But recently five members of the Wagner Group were killed in an ambush in the country’s natural gas-rich Cabo Delgado Province’s Muidumbe district on October 27. In addition to the five soldiers killed, two vehicles were burned by Muslim insurgents in the ambush. 

South African media reports say that four of the dead Russians were decapitated and the fifth died in the hospital. 20 of the local soldiers of the FADM, the Mozambique Defense Armed Forces, were also killed in the ambush. 

Muslim insurgents have been growing in sophistication and power and have been targeting the Cabo Delgado district for the past two years. The Mozambican government has turned to the Wagner Group to protect its natural gas reserves there. 

But the Russian mercs from the Wagner Group have been ineffective so far in curtailing the violence. Jasmine Opperman, a terrorism expert from South Africa, said in an interview, “the Russians have been caught unaware of this level of sophistication and weapons available to the insurgents.”

The Wagner Group is a private military company owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch with very close ties to President Vladimir Putin. He’s known as “Putin’s chef” as he owns a vast catering firm as well. With Putin’s aim to expand Russia’s influence in Africa, Wagner Group proxy forces are operating in Sudan, Central African Republic as well as Mozambique. They also have a large presence in Libya and Syria. 

Recently the New York Times reported that a meeting in Moscow between Putin, Prigozhin and Madagascar’s then-president Hery Rajaonarimampianina ended with an agreement for proxy military support. Russian operatives were sent to the country to influence the local elections. The security for their operatives was reportedly provided by mercs from Wagner.

The Russians followed a similar playbook design in Mozambique. Two months before the country’s presidential elections, Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi flew to Russia, met Putin at the end of August, and signed a number of energy and security agreements.