Yevgeny Prigozhin is dead. At least that’s what they say. And with that, the body of Dmitri Utkin, number two in the Wagner group, also burned. Russian mercenaries, those war dogs who patrol the most hostile territories from Syria to Mali, undeterred by death’s provocations, today mourn the loss of one of the most charismatic men in most nationalist Russia. Some cry out for revenge without knowing exactly whowhile the official Wagner channel on Telegram calls for calm and patience while its commanders choose the next path, and for the time being limits itself to dismissing its historical leader with a sentence that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end: “Even in the Hell there will be the best!”
All eyes are on Africa. Again. After this march on Moscow, during which Prigozhin seemed to be escaping Vladimir Putin’s thirst for revenge, the activities of the mercenary group (who were not transferred to Belarus) focused more than ever on the African continent. So much so that the last video recorded during the oligarch’s lifetime showed him sometime in Mali in military uniform, frowning in front of the camera and declaring: “Africa will be free!”.
With his death, the questions are piling up: will the Wagner group disappear? Will one of your commanders take over? Will Putin integrate the mercenaries into Russia’s armed forces or keep the group as a useful contractor that prolongs Russia’s foreign policy?
Survive against all odds
David Soler, founder of trade magazine África Mundi, warns LA RAZÓN that the key in Africa, particularly in the Sahel, is that “Wagner is Russia and Russia is Wagner, you can’t separate them. When the citizens of Niger, Mali or Burkina Faso take to the streets with Russian flags, they don’t talk about Wagner, because for them Wagner is actually Russia, and the mercenaries can’t get rid of this tricolor.” Both blocs are in after Prigozhin’s death a delicate situation when it comes to continuing their African relations. The oligarch has built an image on the continent that without him will be difficult for Putin himself to sustain. His best bet would be to leave the Wagner group on the continent, follow the same plan and use the traditional method of international relations between Russia and Africa based on proxy relations… but without Prigozhin’s involvement.
As? Soler believes that “basically, the ideal for Putin would be for Wagner to continue to fund himself with concessions in Africa and payments from African governments, not Russian state funds.” That’s something to remember Between May 2022 and May 2023, the Russian government allocated around 86,000 million rubles (840 million euros) for the upkeep of the Wagner Group, as Vladimir Putin himself confirmed a few weeks ago. A state aid that ended after the June riots, forcing the company to fund itself entirely from African resources. Now everything will depend on the reaction of the mercenaries to the death of their leader; Putin wants to ensure his submission by signing a decree this week, forcing Wagner supporters to pledge allegiance to Russia in an unprecedented way. But if the urge for revenge blinds them even more than expected, and the mutiny that began last June culminates in a full-scale uprising, the Kremlin will have to reconsider its alternatives.
In any case, the founder of África Mundi firmly states that little is changing for Europe. “Anti-French sentiment in particular, and anti-Western sentiment in general, that prevails in several African countries will not go away because a person dies. The fact that Wagner’s leader and his closest collaborator fell from the sky will not destroy the image that the African has built up of the European over the past two hundred years.
His analysis is consistent with recent statements by the Central African Republic’s Presidential Advisor, Fidel Guandjikawhen he announced this Thursday that Prigozhin’s death would not change anything about the cooperation: “It is sad news, because (Prigozhin) saved our democracy, and that is why the country is mourning.” But nothing changes for us at all .”
It is recognized that the military junta that has ruled Mali since the 2021 coup has become heavily dependent on mercenaries (they are currently accompanying the Malian military in an offensive underway in the north of the country). two weeks ago) and the Central African government, and that both will do their best to keep them on their side. THE REASON I have already warned that this would happen: Leaving national security in the hands of Russia runs the risk of being dependent on a country that deep down, if not so deep down, has little interest in the well-being of its partners. Just as Africans were shocked by the collapse of the USSR and the abandonment of the Soviets at the end of the 20th century, today some tremble in anticipation of the consequences that the death of the oligarch might bring.
Another big question to deal with would be Who will replace Prigozhin? if the company continues. David Soler acknowledges that all aspects of the future are subject to uncertainty and nothing can be guaranteed with certainty, adding that the biggest uncertainty here is in finding a new leader. “Prigozhin was a highly valued person, and who Wagner’s leader will be crucial. In this knowledge, is Wagner being guided by one of the bosses he maintains in Mali or the Central African Republic?
And three names stand out now: Ivan Alexandrovich MaslovLeader of the Wagner group in Mali and complicit in the massacre of 500 civilians in the town of Moura; Vitalii Viktorovich Perfilev, leader of the Wagner group in the Central African Republic; And Konstantin Alexandrovich PikalovWagner’s chief of operations in the Central African Republic.
Three names that could get enough support from the mercenaries when it comes to choosing a new leader who will be respected by his subordinates and who can keep the African business going. If Putin allows it. If Putin doesn’t tear the group apart for good or put a man at the top who’s easy to control. Ironic, Today, Wagner’s survival depends on the agreements remaining in force with the African governments they hired to defend themselves and not to defend the governments from the mercenaries.
an uncertain fate
Marta Driessen, a fellow at the Elcano Royal Institute based in West Africa and a great connoisseur of private military companies on the continent, takes a more forceful stance on the fate of Wagner, whom she describes as “a very personal organization dependent on the… figure of Prigozhin.” “. Considering that large numbers of troops were transferred to the Russian armed forces after the June mutiny and that, according to the latest information, these numbers have increased in the hours after the oligarch’s death, Driessen points out “The Wagner we know no longer exists”.
Wagner’s final point is always an alternative to put on the table. It wouldn’t happen today or tomorrow, but even the Roman Empire collapsed because of its existence. Just as there are countries in Africa that consider working with the mercenary company essential, there are others that view their presence on the continent with skepticism and plead for their disappearance. The most visible example can be found in Egypt, which in January 2023 sent a delegation to Sudan to persuade General Al Burhan to break his treaty with the Wagner supporters, but to no avail. Egypt, which wanted to counter Wagner’s influence by also training Nigerian, Malian, and Burkinabe troopswhile a handful of other ECOWAS countries currently deny Russian influence in West Africa.
After the death of Prigozhin, Africa is divided: those who tremble and those who celebrate.
Driessen also does not rule out that this could be the opportunity the West has been waiting for to regain the positions lost in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel because “it will be interesting to see if the West’s attitude changes .” African coup governments in view of France and other powers”. Again, it will depend to a large extent on how the Kremlin handles the situation.. “If (Putin) takes advantage of everything that Prigozhin has built, cleans up what remains of Wagner and puts in his place figures sympathetic to the state and the Defense Ministry, then he would find his chance here.”
What’s stopping Putin from splitting now? the Prigozhin business complex in Africa in small and affordable pieces to distribute a more stable loyalty among other businessmen? The Russian president can learn from the mistakes made and maintain the Wagner structure to develop his ties with Africa, but without repeating a dynamic in which so much power is concentrated in one and the same person. Divide and conquer is an unbeatable slogan. Ivan Maslov, Vitalii Perfilev and Konstantin Pikalov could be the leaders of smaller mercenary companies, each focusing their activities on one country.
The fate of the Wagner Group in Africa is uncertain and could see its complete disintegration or a vicious reconfiguration, leaving the legacy of a man who, in Vladimir Putin’s words, “made grave mistakes in his life”. The only thing that seems clear, as Marta Driessen confirms, is that “it is hard to imagine Russia giving up its influence in Africa through Wagner, where countries like Central African Republic and Mali are heavily reliant on Russian support .” in terms of safety”. All doubts will be clarified in time.