Wagner 2.0 coming to Africa this summer. The new military force will consist of former Wagner operatives and private security contractors affiliated with Russian companies working in Africa.
Russia is preparing to launch a new military force in Africa, dubbed the ‘African Legion’, which will replace the controversial Wagner group of mercenaries, according to a report by the Russian newspaper Vedomosti.
The report, published on Friday, cited two sources close to the Russian Ministry of Defense, who said that the African Legion will be activated in the summer of 2024, and will operate in five African countries: Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali, the Central African Republic and Niger.
The sources said that the African Legion will be directly subordinate to the Ministry of Defense, and will be overseen by Deputy Defense Minister Yunusbek Yevkurov, a former president of the Russian republic of Ingushetia.
The new military force will consist of former Wagner operatives and private security contractors affiliated with Russian companies working in Africa. African Legion was formed in August 2023, after the death of Wagner’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, and that recruitment in Africa and Russia started in December 2023.
Although, Russia’s foreign minister announced in June last year that Wagner will continue operations in Mali and the Central African Republic despite its leader’s aborted insurrection.
Russia created the African Legion to replace the Wagner group, which faced legal and political challenges for its activities in Africa. Russia also had clear economic and strategic motives for its involvement in Africa, such as securing mineral resources, expanding its influence, undermining western interests, and promoting authoritarianism. The African Legion was supposed to be a more official and legitimate military force, directly subordinate to the Russian Ministry of Defense and cooperating with the African Union and regional organizations. However, the African Legion also faced criticism and opposition from the international community and some African countries, who saw it as a threat to peace and security in the continent.
Apparently, the main reason for the creation of the African Legion was to avoid the legal and political complications that Wagner faced in its operations in Africa, especially in Libya, where it was accused of violating the UN arms embargo and supporting the forces of renegade general Khalifa Haftar against the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).
The African Legion will focus on providing security and training services to the African governments that host it, as well as protecting Russian interests and investments in the continent. The report stressed that the presence of the African Legion in the Sahel region was crucial for Russia’s strategic goals in Africa, as it would allow it to counter the influence of France, the former colonial power, and the United States, which has a military base in Niger.
African Legion will not be involved in direct combat operations, but will act as a deterrent and a stabilizing force in the conflict-ridden countries. The report also said that the African Legion will cooperate with the African Union and the regional organizations, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the G5 Sahel, to support peace and security initiatives in Africa.
The report did not mention the size or the budget of the African Legion, but said that it will be funded by the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Russian companies that benefit from its services.
The African Legion will be the first official Russian military presence in Africa since the end of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union supported several liberation movements and socialist regimes in the continent. The new African Legion will reflect Russia’s renewed interest and ambition in Africa, which has been evident in its increased diplomatic, economic and cultural ties with the African countries in recent years.
The report said that the African Legion will also be a challenge and a test for the Russian military, which has not had much experience or expertise in operating in the African terrain and climate. The report said that the African Legion will have to deal with the complex and diverse security threats in Africa, such as terrorism, insurgency, ethnic violence, human trafficking, drug smuggling and piracy.
African Legion will be a significant and controversial addition to the security landscape in Africa, and that it will have to prove its legitimacy and effectiveness to the African governments and people, as well as to the international community. The report said that the African Legion will also have to compete and coordinate with the other foreign military actors in Africa, such as France, the United States, China, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, which have their own interests and agendas in the continent.