Wed Jun 19, 2024
June 19, 2024

The Wagner Group: Russian Mercenaries in Africa

The occupation of Ukraine has opened several debates on international policy issues. In this text, we want to examine a little-known organization called the Wagner Group. These militiamen are highly trained in insurgency, counterinsurgency, producing fake news, and acting to stabilize or destabilize governments according to their interests.
By César Neto
The hybrid war
For decades, Marxists have analyzed the social composition of the Armed Forces. In general, the hierarchy is composed of middle class or directly bourgeois sectors. In the social base, i.e., the soldiers and corporals come from sectors of the working class who join the military for economic reasons. Because this sector suffers at the hands of capitalism, they are more critical towards the unsavory acts of war they might be asked to complete, making them a liability to expose the reprehensible acts committed in combat. Therefore, some theorists of the bourgeoisie began to design Armed Forces with few soldiers and corporals, a lot of state-of-the-art technology and operated by mercenaries.
There are several examples of how the main repressive apparatus of the bourgeois state came in to conflict due to deflection. The Brazilian Armed Forces suffered a major upheaval in 1963 when sailors mutinied against their superiors. In 2001, in Ecuador, the middle commanders [non-commissioned officers] joined the indigenous and popular sectors to occupy the Carandolet Palace and oust President Jamil Mahuad. These examples, and others, serve to explain the choice of mercenaries to replace soldiers and corporals. These, obviously, do not entirely replace armed forces, but hired militas resolve some of the aforementioned problems that the military faces.
Wagner Group: Russian neo-fascists at Putin’s service
The so-called Wagner Group cannot be seen as a company with its formal rituals. It is an organization of private military contractors that offer their services on a network of mercenary businesses for various purposes. Among these businesses we can mention: repression of popular protests, stability to puppet governments, diffusion of false news, etc. In exchange they receive authorization to extract gold, diamonds and other natural resources.
Their commanders, such as Dmitry Outkine Utkin, are admirers of Hitler and agree with Nazi ideology. That is why they put themselves at the service of Putin, who is an ultra-right bourgeois ruler.
The Wagner Group is a bourgeois company that defends the interests and investments of the big Russian tycoons and their allies, but they are also imbued with all the “Great Russian” prejudice denounced by Lenin. They are defenders of the thesis that it is necessary to oppress other nationalities in order to better explore and enrich themselves.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, Putin’s chef, heads the Wagner Group
The organizer and main financier of the Wagner Group is Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has no military background. In the late 1990s he opened a restaurant that was frequented by the advisor to the mayor of St. Petersburg, Vladimir Putin. The advisor became president of the country and continued to frequent the restaurant of his friend, who was able to expand his business to provide food and meals to supply the Kremlin, provide school snacks and a ranch for the military. Prigozhin is known as Putin’s cook. This close relationship allowed his business to continue to expand and today he is the main organizer and financier of the so-called Wagner Group.
A commodity called war
In 2011, the Arab Spring broke out, followed by civil wars in Libya and Syria. In these countries, the Russian bourgeoisie saw its investments at risk. Intervention in these processes could not be through regular Russian forces and the alternative was the introduction of the so-called “hybrid” generation conflicts. For this purpose, Putin’s government created the Russian Special Operational Forces (SOF – Special Operational Forces) and the first PMC (Private Military Company). In an interview, Putin said that “private military companies are a unique tool in the hands of the state, so they cannot perform tasks without being linked to it” [1].
First, the Special Operations Forces (SOF) were created and subordinated to the General Staff. It is a force capable of carrying out “reconnaissance, sabotage, subversion, counter-terrorism, counter-sabotage, counter-intelligence, guerrilla, anti-partisan and other actions” [2] . Every February 27 is celebrated the National Day of SOF (Special Operations Forces). This date was instituted by the President of the Russian Federation. “The date of the holiday was not chosen by chance. On February 27, 2014, armed men in camouflage, unidentified, took control of the building of the Supreme Council and the Government of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, then part of Ukraine, and in the following days over the Simferopol airport and other strategic facilities on the peninsula. In addition, they helped to ensure order and security during the March 16, 2014 referendum on the annexation of Crimea to Russia.” [3]
The second step was the creation of the first private military company (PMC), the Slavonic Corps Limited with the aim of commercializing wars through the use of de facto private armies. Again, according to Putin: “The creation of the PMC has become an important step in the qualitative development of the Russian Armed Forces, increasing their mobility and combat readiness. The country has another powerful and effective tool for protecting national interests.” [4] T The national interests referred to by Putin, as we will see below, are safeguarding access to mineral and natural resources, especially in Africa.
Wagner in Ukraine in 2014 in the service of the counterrevolution
The use of PMCs and and SOF began during the Arab Spring. When the crisis broke out in Ukraine, the country became a real training ground for these Russian companies. Taking advantage of the impacts of the Maidan Square struggles, the inter-bourgeois division and the weakening of the Ukrainian army after the annexation of Crimea, Russian PMCs proved to be effective in conducting (para)military operations, including frontal attacks, guerrilla and anti-guerrilla warfare, as well as sabotage. Thus, Ukraine indisputably became a “testing ground” for a more profitable mission, Syria, where the experience gained in Ukraine would prove to be of crucial importance.
The operations in the Ukrainian Crimea and in the Donbass, the annexation of Crimea (January-March 2014) with the intensive use of PMCs and SOF created the necessary conditions for future operations in Syria. Without this preparation in Ukraine, this would have been impossible. In this preparation and selection process the so-called Wagner Group stood out as one of the most prepared PMCs.

The posters say: “Russia = hope for Mali. Putin = solution;” “Against military interventions;” “Self-determination”
Russian neo-fascists in the service of national oppression
One of the justifications Putin tried to give for the occupation of Ukraine was that it was related to the presence of fascist forces in those countries and that the occupation of the country was to liberate Ukrainians from these fascists. It is true that the Azov Battalion operates in Ukraine under the complacency of the government, however the Wagner Group command has the same ideology and is better prepared and equipped to fight revolutionary processes wherever they arise. Let us demonstrate this:
– Janjaweed and the Wagner Group: the Sudanese militia Janjaweed is one of the most violent in the world. In the large mobilizations for the overthrow of former dictator al Bashir, the Janjaweed, now known as the Rapid Support Force, killed more than 100 youths in one demonstration. The Janjaweed is closely linked to the Wagner Group.
– Assumoi Goita, coup leader in Mali, closed the Congress and decided to grant himself power. Under pressure from French imperialism, he sought and obtained the support of the Wagner Group to stabilize himself.
-Operation Wagner is directly linked to the assassination of three Russian journalists who went to the Central African Republic to investigate arms trafficking in the civil war. The same happened to the Syrian journalist, a Wagner critic who died when he fell, in a very suspicious situation, in the area of the apartment where he lived.

Brothers Vladislav and Artem Krasnolutsky, members of the Wagner Group

  • The young Nazis and Wagner [5]. The brothers Vladislav and Artem Krasnolutsky do not deny to anyone their adoration for the Third Reich and Nazism. Vladislav died while sheltering in Syria and working for Wagner. Artem was sentenced to eleven years in prison, charged with kidnapping, and escaped from prison and joined Wagner.

Founder of the Wagner Group and Nazi: Dmitry Outkine Utkin is recognized as one of the founders of the Wagner and decorated by Putin. Dmitry likes to appear grimacing and shirtless. In the photos we can see the Nazi tattoos on his body.

An admirer of the Third Reich, Dmitry had two coats of arms tattooed on his shoulder. One of the Schutzstaffel, better known as SS; and another with the Reichsadler, the Nazi eagle and emblem of the Third Reich.

– The incredible story of the tablet abandoned in a lost battle [6]. The Wagner Group was active in Libya defending Gal. Khalifa Aftar and the oil installations he had appropriated during the conflict in that country. In one of the battles, a Wagner soldier left a tablet with manuals on landmines, improvised explosive devices, reconnaissance images captured by drones and some books, such as Adolf Hitler’s My Struggle.
All the above-mentioned elements prove that the Wagner and other Russian private armies are not libertarian, since every paramilitary group carries within itself Nazi ideas and methods.
Private armies in the service of dictators, transnational corporations, and mineral thieves
In the past, the former Soviet Union sent its soldiers to Angola, Mozambique and other countries to support, in its own way, bourgeois nationalist governments or those that had gone through independence processes. Today, after the reconstruction of capitalism in Russia, subordinating the country to the world capitalist system in its imperialist phase, Russian soldiers, through private armies such as the Wagner Group and others, go out in defense of dictators, transnational corporations, and take advantage to participate in the theft and plundering of natural resources. Let us look at some examples:
Wagner in Syria
Russian action in Syria was carried out by regular forces and PMCs, in particular the Wagner Group. In that six-year period, approximately 7,000 civilians died as a result of airstrikes carried out by the Russian Aerospace Forces. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) report published in September 2021, the bombings killed 6,910 people, of whom 2,030 were children.
In addition to regular forces, several PMCs were also involved. Aircraft of the 76th Airborne Division, provided by the Russian Ministry of Defense, carried the initial transport of PMC Wagner mercenaries. Today they use civilian airlift belonging to the Syrian airline Cham Wings.
The Associated Press reported that it had received a copy of the contract between Euro Polis, a company associated with Prigozhin, and the Syrian state-owned General Petroleum Corp. The contract stipulates that Euro Polis will receive “25% of the profits from the extraction of oil and gas from the fields that its contractors captured and protected from Islamic State militants.” [7] The contract also stipulates that Euro Polis will receive “25% of the profits from the extraction of oil and gas from the fields that its contractors captured and protected from Islamic State militants.”[8]
Wagner in Mozambique
Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world. Cabo Delgado, in the far north, is the poorest province in the country. Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) was discovered there and today it is one of the largest investment projects in Africa. The investors are the companies Total (French), ENI (Italian), Chevron (USA) and Rosneft (Russian). The population dreamed of a new life of employment and dignity. The dream did not come true but turned into a nightmare in the form of Islamic armed groups, who slit men’s throats, rape women, kidnap boys for armed struggle and girls as sex slaves. Who finances these well-armed groups and the payment of salaries for so many soldiers?
In September 2019, a Russian transport airplane, Antonov 124, arrived at the airport of Nacala and delivered military equipment that was then sent to Cabo Delgado. There are photographic records of the Antonov 12 unloading on trucks and transport helicopter Mi-17.
With the declaration of war by the alleged Islamic group, a climate of terror was installed. As a result, more than one million people have been displaced to other regions. Thus, the Russians, at war with the Islamists, began to clear the ground for French, Italian, American, and Russian companies.
In his 2018 annual interview on December 20, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated, “If this ‘Wagner group’ violates anything, the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic should make a legal assessment. About their presence anywhere abroad, I repeat once again: they do not violate Russian law, they have the right to work, to promote our business interests anywhere in the world” [8].
In one of the poorest countries in the world, in its poorest region, Cabo Delgado, the Wagner Group acted so that the companies TOTAL, ENI, CHEVRON, French, Italian and American, respectively, plundered the LNG of that country. They are confronted in the occupation of Ukraine, but they form an alliance with these imperialist multinationals on the condition that Rosneft (Russian) participates in this theft.
Wagner in Sudan
After the division of the country in 2011, Sudan had to reorganize its economy without oil, which was left to South Sudan. The structure of dictator al-Bashir’s government was based on the military complex (Army, police and intelligence agencies), but this was insufficient to restart the country’s economy. During this period, repression was outsourced through the dirty service provided by a group of militias. These militias imposed control over the wetlands, savannahs and dry deserts that harbored oil and gold exploration in their subsoil. When international oil prices fell, Sudan began to increase agricultural and livestock production to control the balance of trade. The militias organized patrols to guarantee the harvests, bought a bank (Livestock Bank) and were able to create their own bank (Gulf Bank) in partnership with capitalists from the Arab Emirates.
Janjaweed was the militia that developed first and gradually unified and incorporated other small local militias. Janjaweed was transformed into a regular force called Rapid Support Forces. Janjaweed became dominant, as it had the unification of several groups and gangs, superior equipment, mainly all-terrain vehicles equipped with machine guns, but above all the material and logistical support of the state-controlled by the al-Bashir dictatorship.
In 2019, when Janjaweed had already transformed into Rapid Support Force, they were responsible for the mass murder of more than a hundred demonstrators against al-Bashir’s dictatorship.
With the fall of al-Bashir and the assumption of the transitional government, Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemeti’, commander of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), was appointed vice president of the Sovereign Council.
The links of the RSF commander Hemeti with gold mining and smuggling are constantly denounced by the Sudanese opposition, as well as the link between Hemeti and the Wagner Group.
Since October 25, 2021, the Sudanese people have returned to the streets demanding the end of the military government of Burhan (ally of al-Bashir), with gigantic weekly demonstrations, and more than 100 deaths. The repression has been carried out by the Rapid Support Forces, former Janjaweed militias.
Shortly after the invasion of Ukraine, Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemeti’ paid an official visit to Russia, organized by the Russian Wagner mercenaries “to find a way out for their ally in Sudan and to ensure their stay in power so that they can continue plundering the country’s resources” [9].
Wagner in the Central African Republic
Political instability in CAR is resulting in a civil war that has lasted nearly a decade. Government forces control only about one-fifth of CAR’s territory, with about a dozen rebel factions active in much of the country.
In early 2018, Russia received UN Security Council authorization to supply arms to the country’s government. Along with the weapons it sent 170 military trainers linked to PMCs, in particular from Wagner.
CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadera was invited to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in 2017, where he met with President Putin. After a few weeks, Russian military instructors began to arrive. Touadera appointed a Russian, Valery Zakharov, as his special security advisor.
Zakharov is connected with the company M-Finans, one of several Russian companies active in the Central African Republic. M-Finans was run by Yevgeny Khodotov until June last year, when he sold it to his wife. The company’s documents describe its core business as “gemstone mining.” The link to Wagner’s operations is clear, insofar as M-Finans’ email address has the same domain as Concord Catering, part of the Prigozhin empire, which, as we said, is Wagner’s strongman.
Shortly after the start of Russian training operations, several companies restarted operations in diamond mines that had been closed due to the civil war. Some of these mines are in rebel-held territory, but Russian authorities have established relations with several of the groups even while training government security forces.
The UN panel of specialists accuses Russian trainers operating in coordination with CAR armed forces of indiscriminate killings, looting and enforced disappearances in the country. Although the UN Security Council report does not formally accuse the Wagner members, the working group informally acknowledges it.
Powerful diamond giants such as De Beers and Signet have been able to regain their supplier network in the country since the Wagner Group began supporting the government and negotiating with the militias. At the same time, one of Prigozhin’s companies, Lobaye Invest, received several concessions to mine diamonds and gold.
These companies are more interested in protecting profits and extraction at the cost of many lives, including those of Russian citizens.
Wagner and the latest coup d’état in Mali
Since the coup d’état in August 2020, which overthrew the government of Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, a staunch ally of France, Mali has been experiencing great instability. The new government, calling itself the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, is headed by Colonel Assimi Goïta. Assimi received training in the United States, France and Germany, and has experience working with U.S. Army Special Forces.
Assimi Goïta, who initially proposed an interim government and elections in 18 months, reversed this initial proposal and decided to extend his term to six years. The fundamental discussion is not about the extension of the mandate, but about the relationship with the French state that has kept the country occupied for years by Operation Barkhane troops and provoked more violence and outrage and resistance from the population. Assimi has to control the anger of the population and the crisis within the Malian Armed Forces following successive military defeats with Islamic groups.
This tense relationship led France to shift who it backed, placing its bets on the Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) and the African Union (AU), and pressing for immediate elections.
Assimi Goïta, feeling the pressure, sought new allies and found in the Russians of the Wagner Group military protection and took control of the mobilizations. With the new ally, Goïta expelled the French ambassador; the French troops then withdrew from the country, with the PMC Wagner assuming military control. Repression continued unabated for the Malian people. As for gold exploration and uranium control on the border with Niger, they now have new and real stakeholders.
At the same time, the Russians are involved in the occupation of Ukraine and are confronted with the interests of European and American imperialism. In Mali, the relationship is different. Wagner is controlling the country and has taken no action against European or US-owned gold, phosphate and uranium mining companies.
The military defeat of Russia will be achieved only with the support of the international working class for the Ukrainian resistance
Many honest activists repeat the arguments of the advocates of the invasion of Ukraine. According to them, the invasion has to do with the neo-Nazis active in that country. And in this line of reasoning, the Russians would be the guardians of universal democracy and invaded that country to ensure Ukrainian human rights. This line of reasoning, first of all, does not take into account the sovereignty of a people to solve their internal problems. Others say that the Russian invasion is an anti-imperialist struggle against the United States and NATO. These two lines of reasoning do not take into account that Russia is a backward capitalist country and to balance itself in this system it created several PMCs (private military companies), just like other imperialist countries, with the objective of sustaining or overthrowing governments (according to their interests) and then controlling the natural wealth of those countries controlled by the PMCs. In short, it is the same relationship of oppression and exploitation applied by US and European imperialism.
Precisely for this reason, only the working class, independent of the bourgeoisies, and without relying for a second on American and European imperialism, which has no intention of helping Ukraine in its struggle for independence, will be able to guarantee the victory of the Ukrainian people in this war. We must do this together and with the support and solidarity of the Russian workers mobilizing against the invasion inside Russia and the fighters of the Ukrainian resistance. This is the task ahead of us.
Translated from the Spanish version published here
[2] “Unleashing the PMCs and Irregulars in Ukraine: Crimea and Donbas,”
[4] Idem.

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