by Maurizio Sacchi

After the Prigozhin mutiny, Russian military penetration in Africa, previously masked by the Wagner Group’s actions, has come under the direct control of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence, headed by Sergei Skripal. The order was given to General Andrei Averyanov, head of Unit 29155, which specialises in targeted assassinations and the destabilisation of foreign governments.

Russia is offering African governments a ‘regime survival package’ in exchange for access to strategic natural resources. In early September, Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, accompanied by General Averyanov, began touring former Wagner operations in Africa, starting in Libya, where he met with warlord Khalifa Haftar. The next stop was Burkina Faso, where he was received by coup leader Ibrahim Traoré. He then travelled to the Central African Republic and Mali, where he met with junta leaders. On a later trip, he also met General Salifou Modi, one of the military men who seized power in Niger last year.

The three West African states with military juntas closely linked to Wagner – Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso – have announced their withdrawal from the regional Ecowas bloc and the creation of their own ‘Alliance of Sahel States’. In short, Prigozhin’s death did not mean the end of the juntas’ relations with Russia, which now has a direct and official link with them. In Mali, where an Islamist insurgency combined with several coups has been underway, security assistance had previously been provided by the UN mission known as Minusma, along with the French army’s long counter-insurgency operation. But France, a former colonial power, was looked down on, so when the Wagner Group offered to replace security operations with Russian support, the offer was accepted and the country is now largely dependent on Wagner for its internal security. The Russians have provided an assault force, with helicopters of advanced capability and great firepower.

Several reports of human rights violations by Wagner forces on the African continent exist. One of the most well-documented incidents took place in the central Malian town of Moura, where, according to a United Nations report, at least 500 people were summarily executed by Malian troops and mercenaries. Like many African countries, Mali is rich in natural resources, from timber to gold, uranium to lithium. Some are simply valuable, while others have strategic importance.

According to the Blood Gold Report, which documents human rights abuses linked to the exploitation of natural resources, Russia has extracted $2.5 billion worth of gold from Africa in the past two years, which is likely to have helped finance its war in Ukraine. In Mali, Russian mercenaries are paid in cash – $10.8 million a month, according to US intelligence – by the military junta, which receives most of its tax revenue from a small number of international mining companies. Canada’s Barrick Gold – the country’s largest taxpayer – paid $206 million to the junta in the first half of 2023 alone. The Russians have taken control of the Intahaka gold mine in Mali, near the border with Burkina Faso. For many years, various armed groups in the region have contested the mine, the largest in northern Mali. The Country recently rewrote its mining code to give the junta more control over natural resources. As part of this process, an Australian lithium mine has already suspended trading in its shares, citing uncertainty over implementing the code.

On the cover photo, Sunset over the Sahel in Niger ©Harmattan Toujours/