Wagner Group Resumes Recruitment for African Operations, Amid Human Rights Concerns in Mali

Following a period of dormancy in the wake of the Ukraine invasion, Russian mercenary group Wagner has recommenced its recruitment efforts for African operations, with a particular emphasis on Mali. This resurgence targets men aged 22-50 for assault units and drone operation positions.

The Rise of the Africa Corps:

Following the deaths of Wagner Group founders Prigozhin and Utkin, a new paramilitary entity, named the Africa Corps, emerged as their successor in Africa. This heralds a significant restructuring of Russia’s presence in the region, orchestrated under the aegis of the Russian military and the GRU, the foreign military intelligence agency of the Russian Federation. The Africa Corps, thus under direct state supervision, replaces Wagner’s autonomy with a more controlled and state-aligned framework.

As mentioned above, in the aftermath of Prigozhin’s demise, the leadership dynamics within the group are under scrutiny, especially now that its members are progressively being integrated into the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia).

The Africa Corps is now led by Anton Yelizarov, a former Russian army member decorated by Vladimir Putin, who joined Wagner in 2016 after being discharged due to real estate fraud. His involvement in military operations across Syria, Libya, Central Africa, and Ukraine has solidified his standing within the organization. Yelizarov has joined the Africa Corps, alongside other Wagner veterans (including former group commanders) and new recruits.

To maintain consistency, this article will continue to refer to the organization as the “Wagner Group”.

Recruitment efforts:

Under the new leadership of Yelizarov, recruitment efforts have significantly increased, evidenced by the publication of approximately 18 recruitment messages on their official Telegram channel in the past month. Recruits are sought after for operations in Mali, West Africa, with some earmarked for drone unit deployment. Both Russian and Belarusian nationals are being targeted, with emphasis on individuals aged 22 to 50. Eligible candidates can expect a six-month contract, a starting salary of 240,000 rubles (approximately $2600), and life insurance.

Recruitment challenges include obtaining necessary documents like passports to circumvent travel restrictions, a process for which recruiters claim to offer assistance. The recent recruitment drive is the most extensive conducted publicly by the Wagner Group.

Verstka, a Russian-speaking investigative newspaper, claims that some recruiters have criminal records. Their attempts to verify the identities of recruiters were met with silence or vague responses, indicating a reluctance to engage with media inquiries.

Specific recruiters have also been identified by Verstka, including “Baptiste”, “Fraser”, “Serge”, “Bugur”, “Pavan”, “Yekat”, “Schindler”, and “Paketic”. Each of these recruiters is associated with a specific squad, with the latter two allegedly recruiting for the 9th and 5th assault squads, respectively, while “Pavan” and “Yekat” are recruiters for drone management and the 13th assault squad.

Operational Details:

Wagner Group mercenaries have been reportedly deployed from Ukraine to Africa since mid-February. Allegedly, thousands have been transferred under various pretenses, including training local forces and involvement in private military campaigns. Bases established near Benghazi, Libya, serve as logistical hubs for operations across the continent, facilitating movement to other African countries.

Concern about Wagner’s implication in Mali:

The situation in Mali continues to deteriorate, with Human Rights Watch (HRW) accusing both the Malian army and the Wagner paramilitary group of perpetrating egregious atrocities against civilians.

HRW reports that since December, dozens of civilians were killed or summarily executed during counter-insurgency operations in the central and northern regions of Mali. The report also cites documented cases of human rights abuses, such as drone strikes on a wedding ceremony and a funeral service, resulting in a total of 14 deaths, including 4 children.

On January 26, while searching for Islamist militants in Ouro Fero village, Malian soldiers detained 25 individuals, including 4 children. The bodies of the detainees were discovered later that day, showing signs of being shot in the head, with their hands bound and eyes blindfolded. Eyewitness accounts have implicated Wagner fighters in committing these atrocities.

In addition to committing violence against civilians, the group allegedly plundered the belongings of local residents.

Further developments:

The transition from relative independence to direct supervision by Moscow following Prigozhin’s revolt and death, coupled with renewed recruitment efforts for the Africa Corps, underscores Russia’s effort to maintain its military influence in Africa.

Those recruitment efforts, combined with short-term contracts, high salaries, and the possibility to serve far away from the trenches of the Donbas front are likely to ensure that the ranks of the new Africa Corps will continue to expand in the near future.

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