American and European allies are mobilizing to thwart the rapid expansion of the Russian paramilitary group known as Wagner, run by a Putin-affiliated oligarch, as it captures key cities for Moscow in Ukraine and spreads its influence to Africa and other corners of the world.
With tens of thousands of fighters, many of them now battlefield-trained, the Wagner Group’s emergence as a rogue military threat could become a serious global challenge in years to come, U.S. and European officials said.
Wagner’s stepped-up activities in Africa, where its trained fighters perform key security functions for regimes in Sudan, the Central African Republic and other countries, are detailed in a series of U.S. government cables and documents from the internal network of the group’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, which were obtained by POLITICO and verified by outside experts.
The increasing power of Prigozhin in the shrinking inner circle of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which is also detailed in the cables and documents, is prompting Western governments to take steps to stave off a threat they calculate could potentially inflict wide-ranging national security and foreign policy consequences in the years to come.
Diplomats from the U.S., Europe and Africa have met behind closed doors in capitals across the world, including Bangui, Kigali, Brussels, Washington, Kyiv, London and Lisbon, to discuss ways to limit Wagner’s footprint. The officials even drafted and circulated a strategic roadmap to rout the group out of the Central African Republic, where it has sent soldiers to take control of a once-artisanal gold mine and turned it into a sprawling complex, according to the cables. U.S. officials are also debating whether to designate Wagner as an international terrorist organization.
Meanwhile, since Russia began targeting Ukraine, Wagner has recruited thousands of new troops to join its ranks on the battlefield, allowing the group to clinch military victories in the Donbas region, including the city of Soledar. [Continue reading…]