The spy story behind Wagner in Africa
The private military company (PMC) Wagner Group has secretly woven its web in Africa. The mercenaries have gained influence with opaque dealings, gradually increasing the areas in which the group is operating.
The Wagner Group is an informal network of companies revolving around private security, but also involved in mining, communication, propaganda, diplomacy, technologies and cinematography. Wagner has shown to start from one sector, sending in shadowy representatives and then creeping into other industries with covert campaigns.
The company is close to the Russian military. Some of its high level managers are former members of Russian intelligence and special forces. Political advisers, specialized in fields such as propaganda or arms trade are involved in murky deals in which several companies intervene. After that, Russian weapons and equipment surprisingly appear in the country. The de facto CEO of the group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, can sometimes be seen alongside members of the Russian military staff. He is attending meetings about sensitive matters, although his industry is actually catering.
The Wagner Group is mainly present in the Central African Republic (CAR). It has developed its position by taking advantage of its spies network. As the CAR was under an embargo, Russia proposed a secret deal, according to which it would exchange its opposition to the embargo with access to resources in the CAR.
Russia delivered an important amount of weapons, but insisted on providing military services to the CAR. In this manner, several subsidiaries of the Wagner Group entered the country – Lobaye Invest for mining and Sewa Security for military and security services. A former police officer, Yevgeny Khodotov, leads Lobaye Invest, while staying away from the media. Khodotov is trying to hide his cooperation with Valery Zakharov, an advisor to President Touadéra and formerly a member of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence. Khodotov is also the managing director of M-Finans, a company linked to Concord, a company coordinating the different subsidiaries making up the Wagner Group.
Wagner’s links to Russian intelligence are quite old, as the mercenary Group’s founder, Dmitri Outkin, was himself a member of the special forces and of the GRU. By using its extensive network of spies, the Wagner Group was able to gain a staggering political sway in the CAR. Quickly, Zakharov started summoning ministers of the CAR and became widely recognized as the main advisor to Faustin Archange Touadéra, the president.
In Russia too, the mercenaries have close connections with intelligence services. The first training facility of the Wagner group is located near the city of Krasnodar and formerly was a GRU training camp. Several leaders of the military junta in Mali went to such facilities in Russia to be trained there. They should therefore be regarded as entertaining close contacts with Russian spies. Assimi Goïta himself is said to have been trained there.
The covert manipulations of the Wagner Group pay off. The mercenaries led negotiations at the headquarters of the Sudanese intelligence services between the CAR government and the rebels. They reached, the “Khartoum agreement”, which can be considered the first major diplomatic agreement by the Wagner Group. The agreement also enshrined a deal for the subsidiaries of the Wagner group. They could make profit by retaining a share on the extraction of certain resources.
The spies of this private company were not only able to enter the field of diplomacy but also of public communication. Zakharov, was given so much power that he started communicating on behalf of the CAR on social networks. He chose which contents to denigrate and which ones to promote.
The actions of the Wagner Group in the CAR display how the group is undermining state legitimacy in order to gain power. We invite you to check this comprehensive analysis by the Africa Report to learn more.