Despite Rift With Putin, the Wagner Group’s Global Reach is Growing – by Vera Bergengruen (Time Magazine – August 2, 2023)

Amonth after Yevgeny Prigozhin’s dramatic short-lived rebellion against Russian President Vladimir Putin, the mercenary leader was back to business as usual. After a military coup in Niger, Prigozhin pitched his paramilitary Wagner Group as the solution to the West African nation’s security crisis. “A thousand Wagner fighters are able to restore order and destroy terrorists,” Prigozhin said on Telegram July 27, “preventing them from harming the civilian population.”

The message was a clear sign that Wagner is likely to remain a global force in spite of its rift with the Russian state and its leader’s alleged exile to Belarus. A new report exclusively shared with TIME by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a conflict-monitoring group that tracks political violence worldwide, sheds new light on just how deeply Wagner is embedded across Central and West Africa, where it is training local militias and propping up fragile governments allied with Russia in exchange for lucrative mineral rights.

The new analysis of Wagner’s recent activities, which focuses on its presence in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali as well as Ukraine, illustrates how the group has often targeted civilians as part of its partnership with government forces, including those perceived to have connections to armed insurgencies. It also shows that Wagner mercenaries have frequently targeted civilians, including miners, as part of their own efforts to maintain access to gold, diamond, and other natural resource sites.

According to ACLED data, all major conflict zones the group operates in have suffered a recent rise in violence. In Mali alone, ACLED recorded 298 instances of political violence involving Wagner between Dec. 2021 and June 2023, including civilian targeting, mass killings, abductions, cattle theft, extortion, and looting.

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