Un año después de la revuelta, Rusia controla los restos del grupo

1 hour ago
By Matt Murphy, BBC News, in London
Reuters
Yevgeny Prigozhin led Wagner forces into the Russian city of Rostov virtually unopposed
Russia has effectively dismantled and replaced the Wagner Group in the year since the mercenaries shocked the world by launching a mutiny against President Vladimir Putin’s government, experts have told the BBC.
Yevgeny Prigozhin – the late leader of the paramilitary force – crossed from Ukraine on 23 June 2023 and seized the southern city of Rostov after months of increasing tensions with military leaders in Moscow.
His forces then began a brief charge towards the capital, meeting virtually no resistance. The “march for justice”, as Prigozhin called it, came to an abrupt end the following day after he called off the advance.
Just two months later, Prigozhin’s plane crashed and he was killed along with several other senior Wagner members, throwing the group’s future into uncertainty.
Dr Sorcha MacLeod, a member of the UN’s working group on mercenaries and lecturer at the University of Copenhagen, said ex-Wagner troops had fragmented across the Russian state.
“[Wagner] may not exist in exactly the form it did previously, but a version – or even versions – of it continue to exist,” she told the BBC. “There’s been this sort of dispersal amongst the Russian state so there is no one overall controller.”
“The Wagner Group was incredibly important geopolitically and economically to Russia, so it was never going to disappear as some people suggested,” she added.
For years, Prigozhin’s forces had been a valuable and deniable tool for Russian operations across Africa and Syria. But it was in Ukraine – as Moscow’s conventional forces struggled to dent Kyiv’s defences – that Prigozhin and Wagner came into the open.
Throughout late 2022 and early 2023, Wagner was key to Russia’s few battlefield victories. Its forces – largely made up of ex-prisoners – managed to take the eastern city of Soledar, before it became entrenched in months of intense fighting in the meat-grinder of Bakhmut.
At its peak Wagner had around 50,000 mercenaries in Ukraine, according to the US National Security Council.
Now, experts say Wagner’s operations in Ukraine have been subsumed by other Russian state and paramilitary units. One ex-Wagner commander recently told BBC Russian that the mercenaries had been ordered to “join the ministry of defence” or to go away.
Wagner: Tracking the mercenary group’s day of rebellion in Russia
UK intelligence officials have suggested that some of the group’s infantry units have been subsumed by the Rosgvardia, or National Guard. The unit, established in 2016, has been described as Mr Putin’s “private army” and is controlled by his former bodyguard Viktor Zolotov.
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said elements of the Wagner Group started coming under the National Guard’s control in October 2023. Referred to as “volunteer formations”, the ex-Wagner troops were to be deployed to Ukraine on six-month contracts and to Africa on nine-month contracts, it said.
Anton Yelizarov – a long term Wagner operator who is said to have commanded the mercenaries’ bloody operations in Bakhmut – appeared to confirm the integration days later. In a video posted to a Wagner-linked Telegram channel, he said he was present at the construction of a camp where Wagner troops would “work for the good of Russia” and join with National Guard units in a new formation.
UK officials said the “incorporation of former Wagner assault detachments into Rosgvardia’s Volunteer Corps highly likely indicated that Wagner has been successfully subordinated into Rosgvardia, increasing the Russian state control over the Wagner Group”.
Other ex-Wagner forces have signed up to fight with Vladimir Putin’s strongman in Chechnya – Ramzan Kadyrov – and his Akhmat forces, a recent BBC Russian investigation found.
A tangible example of the group’s decline came when its logo was reportedly stripped from the tower block it had occupied in Russia’s second city of St Petersburg.
Reuters
Only in the Central African Republic (CAR) is Wagner still operating in any shadow of its former shape, allegedly controlled by Prigozhin’s son Pavel
In the days after the mutiny, Prigozhin was said to have cut a deal with Mr Putin to focus his group’s operations in Africa, propping up regimes and securing resources for Russia. Following his death, deputy Defence Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov reportedly toured African capitals, assuring officials that the services provided by the group would not dissipate.
Earlier this month the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) think tank observed that in the wake of Prigozhin’s death “the Russian state’s attention in [Africa] not only did not weaken, but strengthened”.
In February, the BBC obtained documents revealing that Moscow was offering a “regime survival package” in exchange for access to strategically important natural resources – an approach previously favoured by the Wagner Group.
The plan was being offered by a so-called Russian “expeditionary group” – nicknamed the Africa Corps – and commanded by former GRU Gen Andrey Averyanov. He previously oversaw secretive operations specialising in targeting killings and destabilising foreign governments.
Experts told the BBC that the Africa Corps has effectively replaced Wagner in West Africa. On Telegram, the unit boasted of offering recruits salaries of up to 110,000 roubles per year and service “under the leadership of competent commanders with extensive combat experience”.
In January, it announced its first deployment of 100 troops to Burkina Faso. Another 100 reportedly arrived in Niger in April.
Ruslan Trad, a security analyst with the Atlantic Council, told the BBC that, in effect, Wagner “became the Africa Corps and now serves the full purposes of military intelligence” and the ministry of defence.
“In Africa, these soldiers are doing much the same thing – guarding trade routes, securing resources that Moscow uses to circumvent sanctions, and more – serving local juntas and directing the flow of migrants,” he observed. El PISM señaló que el Cuerpo de África está destinado a ser utilizado “más abiertamente” que Wagner en el continente con la intención de reemplazar la influencia occidental, y particularmente francesa, en África.

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La BBC Russian informó que solo en la República Centroafricana (RCA) Wagner sigue operando en alguna sombra de su forma anterior, supuestamente controlada por el hijo de Prigozhin, Pavel.

“Moscú le ha dado luz verde al heredero para que continúe haciendo lo que su padre hacía en África, con la condición de que no contradiga los intereses de Rusia”, dijo una fuente que solía trabajar con Yevgeny Prigozhin a la BBC Russian.

Hay un memorial improvisado a Wagner en Moscú, pero el aniversario del levantamiento del grupo ha pasado en gran medida sin incidentes.

La semana pasada, Le Monde informó que alrededor de 1.500 tropas de Wagner habían ayudado a las fuerzas de seguridad locales en ataques a áreas controladas por rebeldes.

Sin embargo, el PISM observó que la importancia general de la RCA en el pensamiento estratégico de Moscú “está disminuyendo”.

El Dr. MacLeod sugirió que el objetivo original de Wagner en la RCA había sido demostrar “prueba de concepto” de que los grupos de mercenarios pueden ser “utilizados como un actor exitoso de contraterrorismo”, un objetivo que Moscú puede considerar ahora como logrado.

Pero agregó que Wagner estaba “completamente enredado” dentro de la RCA, lo que dificulta reemplazarlo con el nuevo y en desarrollo Cuerpo de África.

A pesar de la amenaza planteada por el motín de Prigozhin, el aniversario del domingo pasó en gran medida sin incidentes en Rusia.

Dan Storyev del grupo de monitoreo OVD-Info le dijo a la BBC que el legado de Prigozhin en su mayoría reside en aquellos alineados con el Kremlin.

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“En general, el motín de Wagner no ha tenido mucho, si es que ha tenido algún apoyo real de base para que haya, por ejemplo, manifestaciones masivas marcando el aniversario, quizás porque no tenía un mensaje genuino contra la guerra”, señaló.

“Hay personas que organizan protestas en Rusia, pero están enfocadas en el activismo contra la guerra y no tienen nada que ver con [Prigozhin]”.