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Russia orders Wagner mercenaries to pledge allegiance after Prigozhin’s death

Russian President Vladimir Putin

*Russia is also reportedly expanding ties and undercutting Western influence in Africa as a top priority just as the Kremlin seeks new allies amid its ongoing war in Ukraine, where Wagner forces also have helped to win a key battle

Alexander Davis | ConsumerConnect

Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday, August 25, 2023, ordered members of the Wagner Group to sign an oath of allegiance to Russia, following a plane crash believed to have killed Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the paramilitary force.

The decree, published on the Kremlin’s Web site, obliges anyone carrying out work on behalf of the military or supporting what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine to swear a formal oath of allegiance to Russia.

The order, effective immediately, followed the Kremlin’s denial Friday of suggestions from Western officials and news media that the Wagner leader may have been killed on Putin’s orders.

It is recalled that a private jet carrying Prigozhin, and his top lieutenants crashed Wednesday, August 23 North-West of Moscow

two months after he led an armed rebellion that challenged the authority of Putin.

There was wide speculation that the mercenary leader, who is presumed dead, was targeted for assassination because of his uprising, although the Kremlin has denied involvement in it, according to report.

The crash has raised questions about the future of Prigozhin’s private army, which fought alongside Russian troops in Ukraine before his brief uprising against military leaders in Moscow.

It was learnt the Russian authorities cited the need to await DNA test results to confirm Prigozhin’s death.

However, Putin has expressed condolences after the jet fell from the sky recently, Reuters report stated.

The Wagner Group’s presence extends from the ancient battlegrounds of Syria to the deserts of sub-Saharan Africa, projecting the Kremlin’s global influence with mercenaries accused of using brutal force and profiting from seized mineral riches.

But that was under Prigozhin, who in what may have been his final recruitment video, appeared in military fatigues and held an assault rifle from an unidentified dry and dusty plain as he boasted that Wagner was “making Russia even greater on all continents and Africa even more free.”

In African countries where Wagner provided security against extremist organisations, such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group, officials and commentators predicted Russia would likely maintain a presence, placing the mercenaries under new leadership, report said.

Others, however, say Prigozhin built deep, personal connections that Moscow could find challenging to replace quickly.

‘Africa is vitally important to Russia’

This summer, Wagner helped to secure a national referendum in the Central African Republic (CAR) that cemented presidential power; it is a key partner for Mali’s Army in battling armed rebels; and it contacted the military junta in Niger that wants its services following a coup.

Expanding ties and undercutting Western influence in Africa is a top priority as the Kremlin seeks new allies amid its war in Ukraine, where Wagner forces also helped win a key battle.

Report further indicates the Africa’s 54 countries are the largest voting bloc at the United Nations (UN), and Moscow has actively worked to rally their support for its invasion.

Commenting on the activities of the group, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the UN, Friday said Wagner’s forces “are destabilising, and we’ve encouraged countries in Africa to condemn their presence as well as their actions.”

The Republican Front in the Central African Republic, which is allied with the country’s ruling party Thursday equally  reiterated its support for Russia and Wagner.

The US envoy also noted that the Wagner forces were “determined to fight alongside the African people as they struggle for self-determination.”

Hitherto, they had served as personal bodyguards for Central African President Faustin Archange Touadera, protecting the capital of Bangui from rebel threats and helping Touadera win the July 30 constitutional referendum that could extend his power indefinitely.

Central African activist and blogger Christian Aime Ndotah said the country’s cooperation with Russia would be unaffected by new leadership at Wagner, which has been “well-established” in the country for years.

ConsumerConnect learnt the missions of Prigozhin, who founded Wagner 2014, were not simply about advancing Russia’s global clout.

His contractors in Syria, Libya, Sudan and elsewhere tapped the mineral and energy wealth of those countries to enrich himself.

Whereas some in the Central African Republic denounced the mercenaries, and the UN peacekeeping mission there criticised them in 2021 for human rights abuses.

Jean Serge Bokassa, former public security minister, reportedly said: “A state’s security is its sovereignty. You can’t entrust the security of a state to a group of mercenaries.”

Nathalia Dukhan, a senior investigator at The Sentry, a policy organisation based in Washington, US, predicted the Kremlin would try to bring Africa closer into its orbit.

Dukhan stated: “Wagner has been a successful tool for Russia to expand its influence efficiently and brutally.

“In the midst of all the turmoil between Putin and Prigozhin, the Wagner operation in Central Africa only deepened, with increased direct involvement by the Russian Government.”

High-ranking Wagner operatives have built relationships in Mali and the Central African Republic and understand the terrain, said Lou Osborn of All Eyes on Wagner, a project focusing on the group, report said.

Osborn also noted: “They have a good reputation, which they can sell to another Russian contender.

“It wouldn’t be surprising if a new organisation took them over.”

The Russian military contractors in Ukraine, such as Redut and Convoy, have recently expressed a desire to do business in Africa.

Redut was created by the Russian Defence Ministry, which had sought to put Wagner under its control. Following the June mutiny, Putin said the mercenaries could sign contracts with the ministry and keep serving under one of the group’s top commanders, Andrei Troshev.

It wasn’t clear how many troops accepted, but media reports put the number at a few thousand.

The Kremlin still could face challenges in keeping the strong presence in Africa that Prigozhin helped establish.

Former Putin speechwriter Abbas Gallyamov said Prigozhin may have been allowed to continue his post-activities because Russian authorities had to find people who would take over his work.

Gallyamov hinted that “time was needed to create the new channels, new mechanisms of control over those projects.

“And it’s not a fact that they have been successful in that. It’s possible that they have failed and the Kremlin may lose some of those projects.”

Britain’s Defence Ministry equally said Prigozhin’s demise “would almost certainly have a deeply destabilising effect on the Wagner Group.

“His personal attributes of hyper-activity, exceptional audacity, a drive for results and extreme brutality permeated Wagner and are unlikely to be matched by any successor.”

Meanwhile, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov, nonetheless, refused to comment on Wagner’s future, according to report.

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