HomeNewsWagner mercenary group to focus on Africa, Prigozhin says in new video

Wagner mercenary group to focus on Africa, Prigozhin says in new video

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RIGA, Latvia — In his first video address since sending mercenary fighters toward Moscow during a short-lived mutiny in June, Wagner Group boss Yevgeniy Prigozhin indicated that his guns-for-hire group, once a key fighting force in Ukraine, is now focusing its operations on Africa.

Standing in an unidentified location in the desert, wearing a camouflage bucket hat and holding a rifle, the 62-year-old business mogul said that Wagner continues “to work and is looking for real bogatyrs” — Russian folklore heroes famed for their strength — to advance Russia’s goals on the continent.

“The temperature is 50-plus degrees Celsius, everything as we like,” Prigozhin said, with armed men on a truck waiting in the distance. “PMC Wagner is conducting a reconnaissance operation, making Russia even greater on all continents and Africa more free … We continue to fulfill the tasks we promised to succeed at.”

The video first appeared on Wagner-affiliated Telegram channels on Monday, though it is unclear where or when it was filmed. Prigozhin has largely disappeared from the public eye after leading the short-lived rebellion, which saw his fighters briefly occupy a military headquarters in southern Russia and march on the capital, shocking President Vladimir Putin and the country’s military leadership. Under a deal brokered with Putin by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Prigozhin agreed to call off the mutiny in exchange for pardons and the ability to relocate his fighters to Belarus.

Putin appeared paralyzed and unable to act in first hours of rebellion

Since then, Prigozhin has been spotted in his hometown of St Petersburg attending a Russia-Africa summit, and in a blurry video shot in near-darkness that purported to show him instructing his troops in Belarus on how to conduct themselves on their new base in exile.

The long-term fate of the Wagner Group remains uncertain. In the wake of the mutiny, Putin acknowledged for the first time that the group was government-funded; whether Prigozhin has the means to keep it running without state support is an open question. Wagner’s longtime base in the Krasnodar region of Russia is in the process of shutting down, and many fighters are being let go.

Last week, journalists from the independent Belarusian Hajun project, which tracks military activity, estimated there are 4,000 to 5,000 Wagner fighters stationed in the country, most of them in the village of Tsel, near a military base used for training sessions with regular Belarusian forces.

“The presence of mercenaries in Belarus is actively used to carry out informational provocations and create tension on the borders with NATO countries,” Hajun said. Lithuania closed two of its six border checkpoints with Belarus last week, citing the security risk posed by Wagner. Lukashenko previously said that Wagner was scheming an attack on Poland from his territory, but later said he was “joking.”

Wagner’s Belarus contingent likely consists of more experienced fighters, while convicts taken from Russian prisons to serve on the front lines in Ukraine, often in exchange for presidential pardons, have largely been dismissed.

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New ads posted on Wagner-linked channels alongside Prigozhin’s address suggest the group is returning to its prewar recruitment strategy, looking to attract experienced soldiers with clean records. The group is offering six-month contracts in the Middle East and Africa with monthly salaries ranging from $1,600 to $2,600.

Prigozhin has deployed several thousand fighters to the Middle East and Africa in recent years to prop up authoritarian regimes in exchange for lucrative deals over natural resources. Wagner mercenaries have been repeatedly accused of war crimes, from Libya to Mali.

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They are believed to hold the greatest influence in the Central African Republic, where since 2018 they have provided protection for the government of Faustin-Archange Touadéra in his long-running war against rebels.

After the mutiny, which left Wagner’s clients in Africa concerned about the group’s ability to fulfill their contracts, Moscow rushed to reassure its allies that the mercenaries would remain in place.

In mid-July, a large group of Wagner fighters arrived in the CAR capital of Bangui ahead of a constitutional referendum as part of a planned rotation, CAR officials said. Wagner-linked social media accounts have also amplified a recent ad posted by Russian House, a cultural center in CAR headed by a Prigozhin associate, which says it is looking for “Russian investors”

“We will help remove all barriers to investment in Central Africa and will become your guide in the CAR,” the ad read.

“It seems the Wagner Group is trying to attempt to relaunch itself on the continent, but from afar,” All Eyes on Wagner, an open-source research group, said.

Prigozhin has also pitched his services to Niger, hailing the recent military coup there as an anti-colonial triumph in an audio message posted on Telegram.

West African bloc says it is ready for ‘D-day’ intervention in Niger

“What happened in Niger is nothing other than the struggle of the people of Niger against their colonizers” he said. “This is why [there is] love for PMC Wagner … as a thousand Wagner soldiers can establish order and destroy terrorists, preventing them from harming the peaceful population of states.”

As Prigozhin searches for new clients, the fallout over his rebellion continues to reverberate in Moscow. On Tuesday, several Russian media outlets reported that Sergei Surovikin, once a highly regarded general credited with streamlining Russian operations in Ukraine, has been fired from his position as Air Force commander and moved to another position in the Defense Ministry.

Surovikin, known for his ties to Prigozhin, has not been seen since the mutiny, sparking rumors of a purge in Russia’s military ranks. Neither the Kremlin nor the Defense Ministry have commented on his whereabouts or confirmed his new position.

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