Wagner Group Returns to Africa, Jeopardizing CCP Interests

Commentary Wagner Group’s resurgence in Africa poses a significant challenge to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) interests in the region, potentially straining the “unlimited friendship” between China and Russia. The Kremlin’s apparent loss of control over Wagner’s private military force has revealed divisions within Moscow’s leadership, indicating a potential power struggle. The heart of this conflicting interest centers on Africa, where Wagner Group’s return could lead to the revival and expansion of their charter operations and security businesses. Such a development could jeopardize the CCP’s Belt and Road Initiative and pose risks to Chinese interests and personnel in the region. Consequently, the CCP might need to reevaluate its regional threat assessments and bolster security measures to safeguard its investments. On July 20, audio recordings analyzed by the BBC confirmed the involvement of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner Group, in an alleged interview with an African media outlet. Prigozhin’s statements suggest that Wagner’s activities in Africa have not diminished and will continue unabated. He stressed their ongoing collaboration with various countries in the execution of current and future operations, particularly in combating gangs and terrorists under contractual agreements. These statements echo those made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who asserted that Wagner Group and Russia would persist in their presence in Africa despite recent events. On July 21, White House National security adviser Jake Sullivan stated during the Aspen Security Forum that Wagner Group’s mercenaries are currently not engaged in combat in Ukraine. However, there are indications that the private military force may be amassing forces in Africa. This situation could have serious implications for the interests of the CCP in the region. China’s direct investment in Africa has been steadily increasing since 2003, reaching $5 billion in 2021 from a mere $75 million at the beginning of this period. As the CCP continues to expand its involvement in Africa, it seeks security assurances from Moscow to safeguard its interests. Simultaneously, Chinese security companies operating in Africa, such as Haiwei, Huaxin Zhongan, Kunlun, and Xianfeng, have also been rapidly growing. These companies are mainly operating in relatively secure areas like Egypt, Kenya, and Uganda. However, some Chinese security firms are venturing into more complex and challenging environments. It’s worth noting that these Chinese security companies are not equipped with lethal weapons and must rely on local organizations or governments for armed protection. With Yevgeny Prigozhin exiled to Belarus, a significant portion of Wagner Group’s 25,000-strong army is expected to reinforce operations in Africa under new leadership. This prospect poses a potential disaster for the CCP’s interests in Africa. The presence of Wagner’s private military force could destabilize the security environment and put the CCP at a disadvantage in the region. In any conflict with Wagner’s forces, the CCP may face significant challenges and risks. During the Aspen Security Forum, Western officials suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin faced criticism from Russia’s elite following the Wagner-led armed rebellion. On July 20, CIA Director William Burns stated that the rebellion triggered deeper questions about Putin’s judgment, his relative detachment from events, and his perceived indecisiveness. He emphasized that Putin is known for his tendency to hold a grudge. “I would be surprised if Prigozhin escapes further retribution for this,” said Burns. Just before the deadly 36-hour armed rebellion, Prigozhin mentioned on his Telegram channel that once his work in Ukraine was done, he would retire and head to Africa. Now, it seems this might have been his best escape plan, as Wagner’s forces are providing security protection to various regimes in Africa, such as Mali and the Central African Republic, where they feel at ease and gain control over valuable resources. The case of Sudan illustrates how Wagner Group offered security and logistical support to former President Omar al-Bashir in 2017 in exchange for diamond mining concessions. Now as the Rapid Support Forces in Sudan, Wagner’s presence in Darfur continues, with the group relying on mining concessions as a source of income. In the Central African Republic, Russia’s military advisors and Wagner mercenaries have taken control of significant diamond and gold deposits, allowing them to sustain their operations in the region. Similar business models were employed in Mozambique and Mali, where Wagner provided support to local forces in exchange for resource mining rights and cooperation in combating extremist groups. Unlike their role in Ukraine, where they were essentially treated as disposable assets, the fate of Wagner’s mercenaries in Africa appears to be quite different. Retired soldiers withi

Wagner Group Returns to Africa, Jeopardizing CCP Interests

Commentary

Wagner Group’s resurgence in Africa poses a significant challenge to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) interests in the region, potentially straining the “unlimited friendship” between China and Russia. The Kremlin’s apparent loss of control over Wagner’s private military force has revealed divisions within Moscow’s leadership, indicating a potential power struggle.

The heart of this conflicting interest centers on Africa, where Wagner Group’s return could lead to the revival and expansion of their charter operations and security businesses. Such a development could jeopardize the CCP’s Belt and Road Initiative and pose risks to Chinese interests and personnel in the region. Consequently, the CCP might need to reevaluate its regional threat assessments and bolster security measures to safeguard its investments.

On July 20, audio recordings analyzed by the BBC confirmed the involvement of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner Group, in an alleged interview with an African media outlet. Prigozhin’s statements suggest that Wagner’s activities in Africa have not diminished and will continue unabated. He stressed their ongoing collaboration with various countries in the execution of current and future operations, particularly in combating gangs and terrorists under contractual agreements.

These statements echo those made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who asserted that Wagner Group and Russia would persist in their presence in Africa despite recent events.

On July 21, White House National security adviser Jake Sullivan stated during the Aspen Security Forum that Wagner Group’s mercenaries are currently not engaged in combat in Ukraine. However, there are indications that the private military force may be amassing forces in Africa.

This situation could have serious implications for the interests of the CCP in the region. China’s direct investment in Africa has been steadily increasing since 2003, reaching $5 billion in 2021 from a mere $75 million at the beginning of this period. As the CCP continues to expand its involvement in Africa, it seeks security assurances from Moscow to safeguard its interests. Simultaneously, Chinese security companies operating in Africa, such as Haiwei, Huaxin Zhongan, Kunlun, and Xianfeng, have also been rapidly growing. These companies are mainly operating in relatively secure areas like Egypt, Kenya, and Uganda. However, some Chinese security firms are venturing into more complex and challenging environments. It’s worth noting that these Chinese security companies are not equipped with lethal weapons and must rely on local organizations or governments for armed protection.

With Yevgeny Prigozhin exiled to Belarus, a significant portion of Wagner Group’s 25,000-strong army is expected to reinforce operations in Africa under new leadership. This prospect poses a potential disaster for the CCP’s interests in Africa. The presence of Wagner’s private military force could destabilize the security environment and put the CCP at a disadvantage in the region. In any conflict with Wagner’s forces, the CCP may face significant challenges and risks.

During the Aspen Security Forum, Western officials suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin faced criticism from Russia’s elite following the Wagner-led armed rebellion. On July 20, CIA Director William Burns stated that the rebellion triggered deeper questions about Putin’s judgment, his relative detachment from events, and his perceived indecisiveness. He emphasized that Putin is known for his tendency to hold a grudge. “I would be surprised if Prigozhin escapes further retribution for this,” said Burns.

Just before the deadly 36-hour armed rebellion, Prigozhin mentioned on his Telegram channel that once his work in Ukraine was done, he would retire and head to Africa. Now, it seems this might have been his best escape plan, as Wagner’s forces are providing security protection to various regimes in Africa, such as Mali and the Central African Republic, where they feel at ease and gain control over valuable resources.

The case of Sudan illustrates how Wagner Group offered security and logistical support to former President Omar al-Bashir in 2017 in exchange for diamond mining concessions. Now as the Rapid Support Forces in Sudan, Wagner’s presence in Darfur continues, with the group relying on mining concessions as a source of income.

In the Central African Republic, Russia’s military advisors and Wagner mercenaries have taken control of significant diamond and gold deposits, allowing them to sustain their operations in the region. Similar business models were employed in Mozambique and Mali, where Wagner provided support to local forces in exchange for resource mining rights and cooperation in combating extremist groups.

Unlike their role in Ukraine, where they were essentially treated as disposable assets, the fate of Wagner’s mercenaries in Africa appears to be quite different. Retired soldiers within the group can leverage their professional experience. Under the control of new leadership, Wagner’s forces are likely to expand their operations in Africa. This expansion is facilitated by factors such as political instability, abundant natural resources, and low-intensity armed conflicts prevalent in various African regions.

Simultaneously, no matter how much Putin may desire to eliminate Prigozhin, he is constrained from acting against him if Prigozhin maintains control over Wagner’s forces in Africa. Putin cannot risk confronting Wagner and jeopardizing Russia’s access to Africa’s valuable resources and influence, especially in the Middle East, notably Iran. Moscow must uphold the perception of Wagner Group’s allegiance and ensure seamless communication channels. The African region remains crucial for Moscow’s projection of power and economic gains from its abundant natural resources, and it is unlikely to forfeit the opportunity to wield geopolitical influence.

The presence of heavily armed Wagner mercenaries seizing resources in Africa is not unprecedented. The continent has a history of mercenary involvement, exemplified by South Africa’s Executive Outcomes, which influenced the outcomes in Angola and Sierra Leone with force. Currently, the situation in Africa has become even more complex, with Wagner Group being just one of the many contenders vying for the security services market. The continent has become a haven for quasi-military organizations, mercenaries, and private military companies, all equipped with fully armed forces.

Clearly, the CCP’s interests in Africa are facing security challenges. The return of Prigozhin and his private army to Africa, along with the intricate relationship between Putin and Wagner, exacerbates these issues. As several Russian private military companies explore opportunities to provide armed services for China’s overseas assets, numerous problems need to be addressed. Securing Wagner’s armed services for the CCP partly depends on their ability to navigate the complexities of relations between China, Russia, and Wagner and have opportunities for direct negotiations. However, Prigozhin’s rebellion may have severed any potential future collaboration opportunities with Chinese companies.

A decade ago, China’s security industry sought to replicate the model of the American private military company, Blackwater Worldwide. However, with the growing estrangement in U.S.-China relations, the Blackwater model has lost relevance for China’s private security industry. Now, the issue for non-armed Chinese security firms is not just about competitiveness but survival. This raises the question of whether the CCP will alter its strategy in African security affairs and engage in competition with dangerous armed groups. It is possible that the CCP may attempt to transform its security companies into private armies akin to Wagner Group, aligning with its desire to have a more active role in regional security affairs, such as Xi Jinping’s “Global Security Initiative.” However, a political obstacle stands in the way—the question of who holds the guns.

The CCP fears losing its monopoly on violence and the threat it poses to its regime. Consequently, the CCP restricts private security companies from acquiring arms, leaving them reliant on local or international institutions for armed guards. This essentially hinders their capabilities, and subjectively, Chinese security firms are also reluctant to engage in real military operations involving live ammunition.

Given the CCP’s mentality and caution, the emergence of a Wagner-style private armed force in China is unlikely. Especially with Wagner’s rebellion further validating the CCP’s concerns, such a possibility becomes even more implausible.

However, it is not impossible for the CCP’s military to be repackaged as pseudo-private military companies to expand its footprint overseas. Nonetheless, such CCP-state-owned or party-controlled pseudo-private military companies would encounter challenges in navigating the diplomatic and political landscape involving the CCP, making their operation impractical.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.