This militia underlines Russia's great interest and ambition in Africa, a continent with which Moscow has boosted its diplomatic, economic and cultural relations in recent years

Russia launches African Legion to replace Wagner on the continent

Vladimir Putin, President of Russia - PHOTO/FILE

According to two sources close to the Russian Defence Ministry quoted by the Vedomosti newspaper, the African Legion will be activated in the summer of 2024 and will operate in five African countries: Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali, Central African Republic and Niger.

  1. Objectives of the African Legion 
  2. Russia in Africa 

This move reflects Moscow's desire to extend its military influence on the African continent, countering the European and US presence, as well as to protect its economic and strategic interests.

Sources consulted by the Russian newspaper pointed out that the African Legion will report directly to the Defence Ministry and will be supervised by Deputy Defence Minister Yunusbek Yevkurov, former president of the Russian Republic of Ingushetia. 

This new military force will be made up of former operatives of the controversial Wagner Group and private security contractors affiliated with Russian companies operating in Africa. In addition to former Wagner members, who will account for about half of the total number of fighters, the militia will be made up of Russians who participated in the war against Ukraine.

African soldiers and fighters with high combat skills, such as driving combat vehicles and tanks, piloting drones, radar systems and air defence systems, may also join its ranks. 

PHOTO/ Cortesía PMC Wagner vía Telegram vía REUTERS
- Yevgeny Prigozhin, jefe del grupo mercenario privado ruso Wagner, da un discurso camuflado y con un arma en las manos en una zona desértica en un lugar desconocido, en esta imagen fija tomada de un vídeo grabado posiblemente en África y publicado el 21 de agosto de 2023
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian private mercenary group Wagner - PHOTO/Courtesy PMC Wagner via Telegram via REUTERS

The African Legion was created in August 2023 after the death of Wagner's founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, to replace the organisation as it faced legal and political challenges for its activities in Africa.

As such, the African Legion will be a more formal and legitimate military force, reporting directly to the Russian Ministry of Defence and cooperating with the African Union and regional organisations. 

AFP/ROMAN ROMOKHOV  -  Miembros del Grupo Wagner
Members of the Wagner Group - AFP/ROMAN ROMOKHOV

Objectives of the African Legion 

Its objectives include providing security and training services to the African governments with which it partners, as well as protecting Russian interests and investments on the continent.

However, the African Legion will not engage in direct combat operations, but will only serve as a deterrent and stabilising force in conflict-torn countries, according to the newspaper, which also states that the militia will cooperate with the African Union and regional organisations, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the G5 Sahel, to support peace and security initiatives in Africa. 

Región del Sahel - PHOTO/ARCHIVO
Sahel region - PHOTO/FILE

The African Legion's presence in the Sahel region is also critical to Russia's strategic objectives in Africa, as it will enable it to challenge the influence of former colonial power France and the US.

This new corps will be deployed in five African countries: Libya, Burkina Faso, Mali, Central African Republic and Niger. Libya will host the main headquarters of the corps because of its connection to the Mediterranean coast, as it is a strategic location for securing military supply lines and the movement of corps members to other African countries.  

The newspaper does not mention the budget for the African Legion, but does note that it will be financed by the Russian Defence Ministry and Russian military companies.   

Russia in Africa 

For the first time since the end of the Cold War - when the Soviet Union supported socialist regimes on the continent - Russia will once again have an official military presence in Africa through the African Legion.

This new corps underlines Russia's strong interest and ambition in Africa, a continent with which Moscow has boosted its diplomatic, economic and cultural relations in recent years. 

PHOTO/AFP - Varios simpatizantes ondean banderas rusas y una pancarta con un lema contra Francia mientras se manifiestan en apoyo de la junta nigerina en Niamey el 30 de julio de 2023
Protesters in Niger wave Russian flags and a banner with a slogan against France - PHOTO/AFP

However, this militia will also be a challenge and a test for Russian military capabilities, as they will have to deal with complex and diverse security threats, terrorism, insurgency, ethnic violence, human trafficking, drug trafficking and piracy in Africa.   

The African Legion will also have to prove its legitimacy and effectiveness to African governments and peoples, as well as to the international community. It will also have to compete and coordinate with other foreign military actors in Africa, such as France, the US, China and Turkey, which have their own interests on the continent. 

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