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Key Putin ally Prigozhin loses appeal on Wagner mercenary sanctions

Geopolitical rivalries are driving courtroom fights against Moscow's allies linked to private security and mining operations in conflict zones in Africa

The European Court of Justice's rejection of an appeal against sanctions by Kremlin favourite Yevgeny Prigozhin, who controls private military contractor the Wagner Group, will complicate the group's military operations in Libya, Mali, and Sudan.

It is one of many courtroom battles between the EU and Russian oligarchs and companies that will impinge on Africa in the wake of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. The EU put Prigozhin on its sanctions list for Wagner's role in Libya's civil war and is unlikely to stop there.

European officials say that Wagner's fighters in Mali have disrupted both France's bilateral counter-terror operations and the wider multilateral security operations such Operation Takuba (AC Vol 63 No 6, Danger looms for the UN in Mali). Its operations in Sudan, linked to gold-mining, have also prompted growing international scrutiny concerns (AC Vol 63 No 5, How Putin revived Moscow's reach). Earlier this year, the EU barred Prigozhin, accusing him of actions undermining the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

A close business associate of President Vladimir Putin, Prigozhin launched an appeal to the Luxembourg-based EU court claiming that he had 'no knowledge of an entity known as Wagner Group' (AC Vol 63 No 6, UN clashes with Wagner worsen). The Kremlin also denies any link to Wagner, which is challenging EU and United States interests in Africa.

The sanctions consist of asset-freezes and a visa ban, renewed for a year in 2021. A report by the UN's working group on mercenaries last year said Wagner may have been involved in 'grave human rights abuses' in Libya, including mass killings and torture.

In West and Central Africa, Moscow is capitalising on a growing wave of anti-French sentiment in Mali, Burkina Faso and Cameroon, which have defence agreements with Wagner.

Last year the US Treasury department identified 'a front company for Prigozhin's influence operations in Africa' which it said had sponsored phony monitoring missions in Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Congo-Kinshasa, South Africa, and Mozambique – an attempt to shape the politics of at least a dozen African countries.

A second Russia-Africa summit is scheduled for November in Putin's home city of St. Petersburg, which is also Prigozhin's base of operations. Several of Putin's allies, including former owner of Chelsea football club Roman Abramovich have launched their legal challenges against sanctions before the EU court.

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