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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 24th August 2023

After Prigozhin, what next for Wagner in Africa?

Blue Lines

The crash of a plane on 23 August with Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of Russia's mercenary Wagner Group, said to be on board will do little to resolve the questions surrounding the company since its thwarted march on Moscow. Prigozhin and his deputy, Dmitry Utkin, were reported among the ten who died.

Whatever and whoever was responsible for the plane crash, it leaves the Wagner Group network ready for takeover by Russia's military or a merger with another quasi-autonomous mercenary company. This time, the Kremlin is likely to keep a tighter grip on the organisation, although it valued the plausible deniability of Wagner's operations. After the Niger putsch, the Kremlin backed the African Union's call for a speedy return to constitutional government; Wagner celebrated the putsch as a victory against French neo-colonialism. Whoever prevails in Niamey, Moscow would hope to have a line to them.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the fate of Wagner's contracts was in the hands of African states; Vladimir Putin then remarked that Wagner was 'fully financed' by the Russian state. Prigozhin was then spotted at the Russia-Africa summit hosted by Putin last month, prompting further questions about their relationship. Those seem to have been answered with the plane crash. The big question now will be how Putin manages Wagner's assets in Africa and how far he can control its surviving leaders.