Despite the deal with Lukashenko, it is difficult to see how Prigozhin lives on with his position and power after embarrassing Putin and exposing rifts in the highest ranks of the Russian state. And this begs the question of what the future holds for the Wagner Group. So while much of the attention in the coming days is likely to be focused on events in Russia and Ukraine, we should not overlook the serious implications this episode is likely to have elsewhere, implications that the United States and its allies must prepare for. Need to do asap.
The hope is that Wagner forces in Ukraine will be integrated into the regular Russian Army. But the Wagner Group operates around the world – from the Middle East to Africa to Latin America. Over the years, Wagner has served as the tip of the spear for Russia’s foreign policy in countries from Syria to Sudan to Venezuela, even as it has long bordered its ties with the Kremlin. Seeking to maintain plausible deniability about.
In Syria, Wagner has supported the regime of Bashar al-Assad, supplying the military force needed to help the dictator defeat the Islamic State and recapture vital territory. In Libya, mercenary guns have backed warlord Khalifa Haftar, acting as a shield for the expanding Libyan National Army as it seeks victory in that country’s civil war. In both cases, Wagner received concessions from contracts related to oil and gas installations that the group had helped seize and protect. These funds, as well as those obtained from mining resources in the form of diamonds and gold in Mali, Sudan and the Central African Republic, are helping the Kremlin evade sanctions.
If Wagner is forced out of some of the countries where it currently operates, it could create an opportunity for a US diplomatic offensive to help fill the resulting power void and gain influence in those regions. In particular, there may be an opportunity in some African countries where Washington may be able to offer security cooperation or create partner capacity arrangements in exchange for pledging to move towards democratic or good governance initiatives. Since China is also making inroads in Africa, this is an opportunity that the United States should not let go.
If Wagner withdraws from those countries, as many now expect, Putin and his inner circle may attempt to field another private military company in Wagner’s place. But it will probably take some time. Meanwhile, the gap will provide an opportunity for terrorists and other insurgents to go on the offensive, creating more instability. Even as the US prefers to move away from counter-terrorism to great power competition, it cannot allow the situation in the Sahel and other regions to become less stable and more dangerous as Wagner’s return threatens Islamic State and al-Qaeda allies. gets permission. To enhance your own activities.
In many ways, Wagner’s presence in Africa and the Middle East poses a greater challenge to the countries where it operates – although its forces are called upon to stabilize fragile states, its tasks are often invite more volatility, which creates more opportunities and leads to more demand. for its services. If Wagner backs down, it will pose a grave threat to the few regimes that depend on it for safety and protection. This presents an opportunity to the West if countries such as France and the United States are able to make some inroads in unstable regimes, especially in security-ravaged sub-Saharan Africa.
Furthermore, Wagner is not just a mercenary group. Wagner has demonstrated effective campaigning skills and logistical capabilities that many other mercenary organizations could not, continually diversifying his portfolio. Beyond the military training provided by Wagner, which includes conducting offensive combat operations and, in some cases, acting as regime security, the group also advises government leadership on political issues and conducts information operations. Is. In both Madagascar and Mali, Wagner engaged in electoral interference and false accusations to cover up war crimes using Prigozhin’s Internet Research Agency.
If the United States and other Western countries don’t step in, other actors will too. The way Wagner has been used by the Russians could prove to be a highly attractive model for other countries to emulate. Wagner profits through a series of shell companies that have invested in mining industries across Africa, gaining access and rights to the commodities in return for their security services. Wagner’s opaque structure allows him to meet Russian foreign policy objectives while shielding Moscow from significant setbacks – at least until recently.
Moscow has invested so much in Wagner Group that any change to the status quo would present huge challenges to Putin’s regime. There are other second- and third-order effects that can directly impact global stability, including new power spaces being filled by predatory states, especially those able to take advantage of their own proxy networks. .
Ultimately, Prigozhin’s rebellion exposed Russia as a second-rate power. Simply put, when we talk about great power competition, Russia is not included in the conversation. But a wounded and vindictive Russia could be a continuing source of instability, as the Kremlin seeks new avenues for influence, disrupting security arrangements in fragile states that will be unable to recover easily. The result could be a more dangerous world, even if the threat no longer emanates from Russian mercenaries.
It is a future we must act to prevent by taking swift action to reinforce the stability of regimes that may soon need to distance themselves from Wagner’s support.