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Russia begins efforts to seize full control of Wagner abroad: WSJ

June 29, 2023 at 2:40 pm

Members of the Wagner Group prepare to depart from the Southern Military District’s headquarters and return to their base in Rostov-on-Don, Russia on June 24, 2023 [Arkady Budnitsky/Anadolu Agency]

Russia has launched efforts to seize full control of the “global empire” built by the leader of the mercenary Wagner Group, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, Anadolu Agency reports.

Senior figures from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs contacted the governments of Syria, Central African Republic and Mali, according to the Journal.

The report said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergey Vershinin, flew to Damascus to establish direct contact with Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, urging him to stop Wagner forces from leaving Syria without Moscow’s oversight.

A statement issued by Assad’s office after the meeting said developments regarding Wagner’s presence in Syria were discussed “in the light of recent events”.

READ: US accuses Russia Wagner of providing missiles to Sudan paramilitary forces

According to two people close to the subject, Wagner forces, which act largely independently in Syria, were ordered to go to an air base in the Syrian port city of Latakia under the control of the Russian Ministry of Defence and they followed this instruction.

Russian officials call president of Central African Republic

The next leg of the Kremlin’s attempts to take control of Wagner and to ensure the continuation of Wagner-supported operations in Africa was the Central African Republic, according to the Journal.

In this context, Russian Foreign Ministry officials held phone conversations with Central African Republic President, Faustin-Archange Touadera, whose personal bodyguards include Wagner mercenaries.

In these talks, Russian officials assured that the crisis that broke out on Saturday would not hinder Russia’s activities in Africa.

Presidential Security Adviser, Fidele Gouandjika, emphasised that the Wagner issue is an internal matter of Russia and noted that the developments are not of great importance for his country.

“It is reassuring to see that nothing has changed. If Moscow decides to call them back and send us Beethoven or Mozart, we will get them,” said Gouandjika.

Russian jets fly to Mali

Jets belonging to the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry shuttled between Syria and Mali to ensure the continuity of the Wagner Group’s presence in Mali and to protect its interests in the region.

In Mali, Wagner forces supported by Russian warplanes and helicopters have been helping to battle an insurgency since 2012.

“Wagner has helped Russia increase its influence, and the government is reluctant to give up,” J. Peter Pham, former US Special Envoy for the Africa Sahel, said in a statement.

Around 6,000 Wagner personnel carry out activities outside of Russia and Ukraine, ranging from private security and mine clearance in the Central African Republic, whose civil war dates back 10 years, to defending oil wells and government-held areas in Syria.

While the US and Western countries have taken various steps to stop Wagner’s activities and reduce its influence, the US this week announced sanctions on Africa-based gold companies that Wagner has allegedly used to help finance its operations in Ukraine.

READ: Wagner moves from the shadows to the spotlight

US officials pointed out that additional sanctions against Wagner will be announced in the coming days.

Revolt of Wagner Group against Russian rule

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the private security company, accused the Russian army of carrying out an attack on Wagner and threatened to retaliate.

Wagner fighters left Ukraine and entered the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

Amid the tensions, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) opened a criminal case against Prigozhin and the Wagner fighters on the charge of an “armed riot”.

Russian President, Vladimir Putin, described Wagner’s rebellion as “treason”.

Prigozhin announced that they would go to Moscow, and the Kremlin administration had increased security measures in many parts of the country.

It was reported that Prigozhin accepted Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s proposal to de-escalate tensions in Russia. Prigozhin also announced that they would turn their convoys back and return to the field camps according to plan.

The Kremlin said the criminal case against Prigozhin would be closed and announced that the “rebel leader” would go to Belarus.

“Today you have the opportunity to continue serving Russia or to return to your family and friends, by concluding a contract with the Ministry of Defence or other law enforcement agencies. If you want, you can go to Belarus,” Putin said in a publicly televised address on 26 June.

READ: Russia withdraws mercenaries from Libya amid setbacks in Ukraine invasion