The fate of Wagner and its leader

PHOTO/Canal Telegram del grupo Concord  - Yevgeny Prigozhin sosteniendo una bandera nacional rusa. frente a sus soldados que sostienen banderas de los Grupos Wagner en Bakhmut, en medio de la invasión rusa de Ucrania
PHOTO/Concord Group Telegram channel - Yevgeny Prigozhin holding a Russian national flag. in front of his soldiers holding Wagner Group flags in Bakhmut, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Days after Wagner's mercenary uprising, the Kremlin decreed the virtual dissolution of the organisation as an independent force, forcing its members to sign a contract with the Russian Defence Ministry or lay down their arms. In addition, it announced the transfer of heavy military equipment in Wagner's hands to the Russian Armed Forces. As for Prigozhin's fate, although hours after halting his advance towards Moscow it was announced - following an agreement with the Kremlin - that he had taken refuge in Belarus, Belarusian President Lukashenko has denied his presence in the country and there is no clear evidence of his whereabouts. 

On the other hand, numerous Russian sources suggest that Moscow intends to take control of the different entities that make up the Wagner leader's business empire, which, in addition to his mercenaries, includes media, logistics, catering and mining companies. In this context, the paralysis of the nationalist media group Patriot Media, which is owned by the Russian oligarch, is particularly noteworthy. For his part, President Putin has assured that an in-depth investigation will be carried out into Wagner's finances, in the face of suspicions of possible misappropriation of public funds. Thus, for the first time, the Kremlin officially admits state financing of Prigozhin's emporium. 

And in Africa? 

In Africa, Moscow has always sought to disassociate itself from the Wagner group, while defending the right of African governments to call on its services, as in Mali, CAR and Sudan. After the mercenary mutiny in Russia, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov assured that private military instructors and contractors would remain in CAR and Mali, and various Russian authorities have tried to project a sense of continuity regarding Wagner's presence in Africa. However, there are already many signs that seem to herald changes in its structure and organisation outside Russia: from alleged arrests of senior military officials in Syria, to constant airlifts since late June in CAR, although the Central African authorities reiterate that these are standard procedures associated with its daily operations. 

Other experts point to the low probability of a precipitous withdrawal of Wagner from the African continent, especially given the copious profits he brings to the Kremlin. However, there are many issues of concern that cast doubt on the organisation's continuation, at least as it has been, in Africa; the biggest of these is its funding. Unlike the mercenaries deployed in Ukraine, most of the troops on African soil are high-ranking, economically and commercially motivated, and are paid directly by Prigozhin's business conglomerate. Given his alleged dismantling, it seems unlikely that the Kremlin will be able to afford these hefty fees. 

Second, Prigozhin accumulates considerable power and prestige among the group's members, especially for his close leadership during the Russian invasion of Ukraine and for his harsh criticism of Russia's top commanders for abandoning their mercenaries. Moscow now faces the difficult task of dismantling an extremely personalistic organisation without affecting its operations and objectives on the African continent. 

Against this backdrop, several options arise regarding Wagner's future. Firstly, the restructuring of the group through national subsidiaries with independent hierarchical structures, with the aim of limiting the concentration of power in one person. Another alternative would be to change the name and structure of the paramilitary organisation in order to dissociate it from Prigozhin's business conglomerate and perhaps link it directly to the Kremlin. In this case, the Russian government would have to face the constant accusations of human rights violations that Wagner has been accused of, as well as the necessary international accountability, which it has so far avoided due to its lack of de jure links to Wagner. Finally, the possibility of replacing this mercenary militia with other private security companies with a presence in Africa also seems to be on the table; or diversifying the subcontracting - through new actors - of the activities that the group has carried out until now. 

Whatever the case, from the West, the Wagner group's drift in Africa is a cause for deep concern. Therefore, the direct consequences of the departure of these mercenaries in such critical regions as the Sahel are analysed, when the Western presence in this area is at its lowest ebb with the departure of French forces from Mali, the UN's decision to end the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the recent cancellation by the uprising military in Niger of defence and security cooperation agreements with France. However, the uncertainty caused by Wagner's failed rebellion, the Kremlin's organisational problems and Putin's possible weakening and lack of control over such organisations should open a window of opportunity on African soil for Western powers, allowing African governments and people to decide on the most appropriate international allies to build a prosperous, inclusive and secure future. 

Alba Vega and Anastasia Herranz/Article30