Violence-Oriented Right-Wing Extremist Actors in Russia: Wagner Group – Part 2

May 7, 2024
Matus Trubac  —  Research Intern

During the past decade and a half, extremist non-state actors in Russia have become a central element of the violent transnational right-wing extremist milieu. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and particularly its re-invasion of the country in 2022 have afforded these actors more opportunities to operate and increase their influence. This blog is the fifteenth in a series in which CEP highlights some of the key actors, and analyzes their extremist ideology, modus operandi, and transnational role. 

This is the second of a two-part entry that analyzes the Wagner Group. Part one, which focuses on its activities until Yevgeny Prigozhin’s death, can be found here. This second part details Wagner’s activities since August 23, 2023, with a particular focus on Africa.

Following Prigozhin’s death, Wagner underwent restructuring and, according to various sources, the group was subsumed under the direct control of Russia’s government. It is possible that Yevgeny’s 25-year-old son Pavel Prigozhin temporarily assumed leadership over the group after his father’s death. Pavel was in negotiations with the Kremlin over handing Wagner to the Russian National Guard, or Rosgvardia, after standing to inherit his father’s network of businesses. Russia’s military intelligence service, the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU), and Rosgvardia supposedly engaged in a bidding war over former Wagner soldiers, with at least three ex-Wagner assault units previously active in Ukraine being incorporated into Rosgvardia as the Volunteer Corps formation. Pavel seems not to have retained any subsequent position of control. Putin ordered Andrei Troshev, an army veteran, a retired colonel, and a former agent in Russia’s interior ministry, to take charge of these volunteer units.

After negotiations concluded, Andrey Averyanov, a GRU general, allegedly assumed command over the group’s foreign operations. Averyanov has reportedly been in charge of the GRU’s Unit 29155, which specializes in foreign assassinations and destabilization. Members of the unit were responsible for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, as well as the attempted 2016 coup in Montenegro. Wagner soldiers outside of Ukraine became part of the Expeditionary Corps, and it seems that the primary target for deployment is the African continent, where it is known as the Africa Corps. The name may have been inspired by World War II German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps, especially given Wagner soldiers’ past connections to right-wing extremism. 

After Prigozhin’s death, Averyanov and Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov embarked on a series of trips to Africa in a bid to negotiate the deployment of Russian mercenaries on the continent. Yevkurov visited Mali and Burkina Faso in September 2023 to reassure local leaders that Wagner soldiers would be able to continue providing their services despite Prigozhin’s death. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has also conducted a series of visits in Africa, including to Mali, Mauritania, and Sudan.

African states are a lucrative region for Russia’s mercenaries for myriad factors. The frequency of low-intensity conflicts makes deployments in Africa less deadly than the conventional war in Ukraine. African states are rich in natural resources that private military corporations (PMC), such as the Africa Corps, may gain privileged access to via contracts with local governments. Instability in volatile regions permits mercenaries to operate with a high degree of impunity. While fighting Islamist insurgents in the Central Sahel, Wagner has been accused of massacring civilians and perpetrating crimes against humanity. Additionally, through agreements with governments, Russia is able to build more military bases in Africa, a goal it has been pursuing even before Wagner set foot on the continent. Lastly, establishing a paramilitary presence allows Russia to simultaneously oust its Western competitors while bolstering its geopolitical footprint in the region. These factors are present in numerous African states, and the rest of this blog entry is devoted to Wagner’s specific dealings, past and present, with their African partners.

The Central Sahel

CEP has published an extensive report on the activities of Wagner in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. The Africa Corps has provided heavy-handed counterterrorism responses that compromise infrastructural and long-term development initiatives in these countries. As a result, violent extremists have seen an uptick in recruitment opportunities and significantly increased their number of attacks. Nonetheless, Russian mercenaries are still valuable to governments that took power in successive coups in the region. These governments seek to maintain the status quo and their hold on power, which the deployment of foreign mercenaries can support. However, the current activities of the Africa Corps jeopardize the long-term stability of the region and are poised to drive more civilians toward extremist insurgencies.

In addition to Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, which the recent CEP report analyzes, the Africa Corps has also shown significant interest in Chad. According to leaked U.S. intelligence documents, Wagner forces based in the Central African Republic (CAR) were cooperating with Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) to recruit and train Chadian rebels in the neighboring CAR. Furthermore, in January 2024, Putin met Chadian military junta leader Mahamat Idriss Déby in the Kremlin to develop bilateral relations. The Africa Corps’ activity in the region seems to be a key part of Moscow’s strategy to build an Entente Roscolonial—an alliance of states under Russia’s influence that attempts to displace France as the dominant external actor—especially after the end of Operation Barkhane, France’s counterinsurgency operation in the Sahel.

Central African Republic

Wagner has been active in CAR since early 2018. In March 2018, the group’s instructors traveled to the country to train President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s military personnel. By May 2018, Wagner had a presence of up to 1,400 fighters in the country, although because of the war in Ukraine, this number decreased to around 1,100 by mid-2022.

While less geopolitically relevant to Russia than Mali, , and Burkina Faso, CAR has witnessed perhaps the most brutal crimes committed by the Africa Corps. Allegations of mass atrocities committed by Wagner and its allies in CAR have been corroborated by multiple international organizations and media outlets. In March 2021, the UN’s Human Rights Commission stated that it received reports of “mass summary executions, arbitrary detentions, torture during interrogations, forced disappearances, forced displacement of the civilian population, indiscriminate targeting of civilian facilities, violations of the right to health, and increasing attacks on humanitarian actors.” A June 2021 report to the UN Security Council detailed how Wagner military advisors, alongside government allies, engaged in “the use of excessive force, indiscriminate killings, occupation of schools and looting on a large scale, including of humanitarian organizations.” In December 2021, Wagner mercenaries allegedly killed and disemboweled several women, including pregnant ones, in the villages of Bèzèrè and Létélé. In addition to directly perpetrating such terror, Wagner advisors train soldiers of the Touadéra regime in “aggressive techniques, torture, violence,” including “how to cut hands, fingers, and legs; remove nails; use knives to cut flesh; strangle; throw fuel and burn people alive; organize targeted kidnappings; and more.” 

It is also likely that Wagner troops based in the CAR participate in ethnic cleansing. According to several sources in the CAR army, Wagner and national troops operate under orders to “cleanse” entire ethnic communities, especially the Gbaya and the Fulani, as well as Muslims in general. The Wagner operations in the CAR are a potential blueprint that its troops are likely to follow in the Central Sahel, if given the chance. 


Sudan was the first African country where Wagner forces actively deployed. Its mercenaries have been active there since at least 2017, when the Sudanese government signed concession agreements with the group, granting it access to natural resources. However, between 2021 and 2022, Wagner forged closer ties with the RSF as this Sudanese paramilitary entity controlled valuable gold mines in the country. As of February 2024, former Wagner troops allegedly continue to support the RSF in Sudan. In February 2024, the Kyiv Post released a video in which Ukrainian special forces interrogate soldiers who claim to be members of Wagner. One Wagner fighter in the video claims to have traveled to Sudan from the CAR. In November 2023, the Kyiv Post released two videos purportedly showing Ukrainian special forces engaging in urban combat in the city of Omdurman with Wagner fighters. While Ukrainian sources confirmed the deployment of their special forces in Sudan, independent investigations have not yet confirmed the soldiers’ affiliations. In April 2023, it was revealed that Wagner has been supporting the RSF with surface-to-air missiles and other weapon supplies from CAR. According to a senior Sudanese source, around 90 percent of RSF weapons come from Wagner.

Multiple news organizations, including CNN, have reported on the ethnic cleansing, rape, and other war crimes perpetrated by Wagner-supported RSF militias. Wagner’s modus operandi and indifference toward terror tactics do not seem to fundamentally differ from one African state to another.


Wagner forces have also been active in neighboring Libya since at least 2018. During Libya’s second civil war after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, it established outposts and military bases in Tobruk and Benghazi in support of Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army. In September 2023, Averyanov met with Haftar and the two parties reaffirmed their security agreement. In return for security, the Wagner forces are allowed to “keep using the strategically located country for the transit of arms, drug smuggling and to run three Libyan air bases,” in addition to mining gold that is then transported to Russia—a deal made even more lucrative because of the existing sanctions on Russia. As of October 2023, Africa Corps members were present in nine oil and gas fields and terminals, and four military bases.

Unsurprisingly, in Libya, Wagner-supported forces are also facing allegations of extreme violence against civilians. Haftar’s militias, supported by the Africa Corps, were implicated in the capture and brutal torture of refugees transiting the Mediterranean. Furthermore, the Tariq Ben Zeyad Brigade, led by Haftar’s son Saddam Haftar, has been accused by Amnesty International of a “catalog of horrors,” including torture, rape, and killings.


As part of the 21st century’s new scramble for Africa, Russian PMCs offer a regime survival package in return for access to natural resources. Once established, Wagner is able to exert both soft and hard power in pursuit of state capture and to expand Russia’s geopolitical influence. By committing atrocities, the Africa Corps’ campaigns of terror are detrimental to the long-term stability of African states and very likely further radicalize their resentful local populations. 

However, deploying Russian mercenaries in Africa does not ipso facto translate into successful state capture. Wagner forces were forced to cease military operations in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province after tensions developed between mercenaries and Mozambican forces. Even in Burkina Faso, Capt. Ibrahim Traoré, the current leader of the military junta that seized power in September 2022, had long eschewed Wagner’s support. Therefore, opportunities remain for Western nations to counter the growing influence of Russian mercenaries in the region through productive engagements with regional governments.

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.


On May 8, 2019, Taliban insurgents detonated an explosive-laden vehicle and then broke into American NGO Counterpart International’s offices in Kabul. At least seven people were killed and 24 were injured.

View Archive