Dr. Salem Alketbi
Dr. Salem AlketbiCourtesy

Dr. Salem AlKetbi is a UAE political analyst

PMC Wagner continues unabated, expanding its reach and influence. This is the unequivocal conclusion drawn by any discerning observer or expert, based on both public knowledge and clandestine information that has emerged since the events of the June 24th uprising.

All available evidence and indicators overwhelmingly indicate that the armed group, now unequivocally confirmed to be fully financed by the Russian state coffers, remains intact. For Russian leaders, officials, and even Belarus’ President, the predicament surrounding Wagner lies not in its operational framework, but in the boundaries of control and supervision that can be exerted over it. For Lukashenko succinctly stated there’s a lesson to be had: “We need to be more attentive to such military collectives if we have spawned them.”

The clash with Wagner reached its zenith when their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, escalated his reproach of high-ranking Russian military officials, particularly the Minister of Defense and Chief of Staff, accusing them of ineptitude and unprofessionalism.

The involvement of Wagner in the Ukrainian war has indisputably shed light on the deficiencies within the Russian military, placing its top brass in a precarious position vis-à-vis the Kremlin. As a consequence, arms supplies to the group were eventually halted, inciting the ire of its leader and ending with Russian airstrikes on one of their encampments in Ukraine.

A prevailing inclination among certain parties, including Belarus, leans towards preserving Wagner and maintaining its core structure, while simultaneously advocating for its autonomy. This standpoint contradicts the perspective of the Russian Ministry of Defense, which has recently pivoted towards integrating any private militias into the official framework of the Russian military command. Such contrasting viewpoints contributed to the evident frustration felt by Wagner’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

What lies ahead for President Putin’s commitment to incorporating Wagner into the ranks of the Russian Armed Forces? The reality is that no concrete measures have been announced thus far to fulfill this promise, leaving Wagner’s external operations unchanged, at least for the time being.

Nonetheless, the ultimate fate of this unofficial group rests in Putin’s hands, as it is a crucial instrument for advancing his own strategic ambitions of reinstating Russian influence on a global scale. The deliberate choice of his trusted chef, Yevgeny Prigozhin, to lead Wagner is no accident; it reflects a profound level of confidence in the capabilities of a man who has already transformed Wagner into one of the most potent instruments of Russian influence, extending from Syria to Africa and beyond. As events unfold, it will ultimately be Putin who determines the course of action for this enigmatic entity.

The Wagner military group has transcended its original role as a mere proxy force for Russia and has now become a pivotal tool of Russian influence operating across various regions. Wagner elements reportedly operate in approximately thirty countries, including ten nations on the African continent.

These operatives undertake diverse responsibilities and assignments, from activities such as providing personal security for leaders in select countries, combating terrorism and extremism in several African states, to engaging in ongoing armed conflicts, as highlighted in Western reports.

In an effort to assuage concerns, Russia has swiftly moved to reassure its African partners of the continued operations of Wagner following the recent rebellion. Moreover, there has been a notable shift in the group’s leadership, transitioning from its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin to official Russian commanders, as reported by various media outlets.

Wagner’s involvement in Africa becomes increasingly apparent, highlighting its importance for the Kremlin. This pertains to multiple aspects, including the consolidation of strategic Russian influence amidst Western encroachment, the broader global power struggle for dominance and influence, as well as serving as a vital source of financial gains.

According to media reports, Wagner entities generate substantial annual revenue, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, derived from various ventures across Africa. These include activities such as Sudanese gold exports, diamond mining operations in the Central African Republic, and safeguarding Syrian oil reserves. These endeavors not only bolster Russian influence on the continent but also provide crucial funds for sustaining operations, including those in Ukraine.

A key aspect of Wagner’s transition under the Russian state’s auspices involves assuming responsibility for the group’s actions. President Putin officially acknowledged that the Russian state had been providing funding to the group for a period of twelve months, concluding in May of the previous year. This acknowledgment solidifies the direct involvement of the Russian government in Wagner’s operations and underscores its commitment to exerting control over the group’s activities.

The recent acknowledgment of the Russian state’s funding of Wagner opens the door to potential legal ramifications for the group’s actions across different countries and regions of operation. However, it appears that the Kremlin has become increasingly indifferent to such concerns, particularly due to the heightened hostility from Western nations. The International Criminal Court’s decision to target President Putin himself and issue an arrest warrant against him in March has further exacerbated the rift between Russia and the West. In light of these developments, the Kremlin seems to have abandoned caution in its approach, not only in dealing with the Wagner situation but also in other matters.

Whatever relationship format Moscow wants with Wagner, the group is expected to persist, as dismantling it is deemed impractical and not in line with Russia’s current strategic interests. Wagner has achieved notable external advancements and has granted Russia considerable leverage in various matters, affording the country greater maneuverability.

Wagner has evolved into a crucial pillar of Russian foreign policy, particularly in Africa and the Middle East. Recognizing the need for its presence, the Kremlin relies on the group to counterbalance the perceived uncertainties surrounding the performance of Russian security agencies and the military. The notable achievements made by Wagner since its establishment in 2014 cannot be easily dismissed, justifying its continued existence and role within the Russian state.

The group has emerged as a key player in the Ukraine conflict, operating across multiple countries and engaging in various economic ventures, including resource extraction and trade. It has proven instrumental in securing essential resources such as gold, silicon, uranium, and more, serving as an effective vanguard in ensuring Russia’s acquisition of these vital commodities.

In addition, Wagner is involved in cryptocurrency trading, orchestrates media manipulation campaigns, and employs hybrid warfare tactics that align with Russian foreign policy objectives.

Given the intensifying conflicts with Western nations, the Russian state finds it challenging to relinquish its hold on the influential tool that is Wagner. This underscores the steadfast continuation of Wagner’s role and its external operations in some capacity.

However, as circumstances evolve, it is likely that the group’s affiliation with the Russian state will become more conspicuous, while its alignment with Russian strategic interests may deepen and broaden in the foreseeable future.