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 last month.
Senior figures from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs contacted the governments of Syria, Central African Republic and Mali, in order to get the management transition on the way.
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.
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 Defense and they followed this instruction.
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.
Russian Foreign Ministry officials held phone conversations with Central African Republic President, Faustin-Archange Touadera, whose personal bodyguards include Wagner mercenaries.
Presidential Security Adviser, Fidele Gouandjika, emphasized 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.
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.
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 USA and Western countries have taken various steps to stop Wagner’s activities and reduce its influence, the USA this week announced sanctions on Africa-based gold companies that Wagner has allegedly used to help finance its operations in Ukraine.
Earlier in April, 2023 Russia had withdrawn around 1,200 of its mercenaries from Libya, amid a series of setbacks in its offensive in Ukraine and the pressure it has reportedly put on its military manpower.
According to the Financial Times, unnamed Libyan officials told it that 200 Russians belonging to the mercenary Wagner Group and 1,000 Syrians hired by Moscow had left Libya in recent weeks.
The report clarified, however, that 5,000 of the Russian mercenaries still remain in the country. Aside from Libya, it has also operated elsewhere in Africa such as the Central African Republic and Mali, where the group still has an overwhelming presence.
According to some media reports, an estimated 200 Wagner fighters have also left the Central African Republic in this recent withdrawal.
Russia’s reported withdrawal of the mercenaries comes amid setbacks suffered by the Russian military in Ukraine over the past two months, in which it has been forced to give up its attempt to capture the capital, Kyiv, and refocus its efforts in the south and east of the country.
It is expected that the Wagner Group mercenaries could be diverted and deployed to assist Russian forces in their operations in Ukraine, where the group has already long had a presence over the past eight years.
Ukrainian intelligence yesterday announced that a large number of Syrian mercenaries arrived in Russia to fight alongside the Russian army.
Russia has prepared lists of more than 40,000 fighters affiliated with the Syrian regime and groups loyal to it, to fight alongside the Russian army in Ukraine, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Kremlin announced four days ago that it would allow Syrians and citizens of other countries in the Middle East to fight alongside Russian troops.
This will not be the first time that Syrian fighters have taken part in wars in other countries. Thousands have fought in Libya and Azerbaijan alongside forces backed by Russia or Turkey.
In a country where the salary of a Syrian soldier ranges between $15 and $35, Russia has promised recruits who wish to go to Ukraine a monthly salary equivalent to about $1,100 and compensation of $7,700 in the event of injury, and $16,500 in the event of death.
Middle East Monitor / ABC Flash Point News 2023.