Russia’s Wagner Group is having an increasingly difficult time in Africa. About a year ago, Moscow was crowing about beating the West and China in securing private military contracts, underbidding several western countries’ bids by touting their “Syrian Model” of success. As a result, they ended landing upwards of 20 private military contracts in Africa. But all of that euphoria is drying up.

They entered Mozambique full of confidence: In August of 2019, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi met with President Putin and came to an agreement for the Russians to support the Mozambican military. This agreement gave Russia numerous rich gas concessions in the country. 

The Wagner Group deployed shortly after in October 2019 with 200 contractors. It landed at Mozambique’s Nacala Airport, to help the government’s ongoing struggle against ISIS in the northern region of the natural gas-rich region of Cabo Delgado.

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, the Central African Republic as well as Mozambique. They also have a large presence in Libya and Syria.

Wagner Group is essentially an arm of Russian state policy: they have never been employed anywhere without Kremlin’s approval. And while not officially recognized as such, they are in fact proxy forces of Putin’s government. “I make no distinction between Russian soldiers and the Wagner Group — the way they cooperate,” Jasmine Opperman, a South African terrorism expert told the Voice of America in an interview.

As we wrote last fall in SOFREP, although there are several African protection firms — with a wealth of experience in this area of the continent — available for hire, the Mozambican government nevertheless opted to go with Wagner, due to its obvious political clout and its much cheaper price tag than that of other firms. While a firm from Africa with 50-60 qualified soldiers with vast experience in the area would cost the government between $15,000 and $25,000 a month for each mercenary, the Wagner Group sent in 200 mercs for between $1,800-$4,700 a month each. 

But the old caveat, “You get what you pay for” is an apt description of what has transpired thus far in the region.

The overconfident Russian contractors, supported by Hind gunships and ferried about with Mi-17 Hip helicopters, moved deep into the interior along the Mozambique-Tanzania border. Air and ground forces were supposed to operate in close cooperation with the Mozambican army (Forças Armadas de Defesa de Moçambique: FADM). However, ISIS didn’t hesitate. As reported by Southern Times following the arrival of the Russians, ISIS quickly reinforced its units in Mozambique by rushing in “volunteers” from other East African countries, especially from Somalia. This soon led to an intensified series of guerrilla onslaughts.