Wagner stays, UN peacekeepers have to go…

The growing power of Russia’s Wagner Group in Africa is believed to be behind the sudden termination of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali. BizNews speaks to Dr. Robert Zuber, director of the UN-based Global Action to Prevent War and Conflict. He was at the UN Security Council meeting on Friday last week to ratify a plan for the drawdown. He feels the Wagner Group was “partially responsible” as they were able and are able to promise – if not deliver – security to Mali without the pressure that the UN is putting on Mali to return to democratic government, to hold elections, and to fully honour the peace agreement. US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has accused Wagner of using its operations in Mali both to obtain revenue for the group and its leader, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, as well as to procure weapons and equipment to further its involvement in the war in Ukraine. The US has now sanctioned Wagner’s Mali “facilitator” Andrey Nikolayevich Ivanov who has worked “closely” with Prigozhin’s entity Africa Politology and senior Malian government officials on weapons deals, mining concerns, and other activities. – Chris Steyn

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:28 – Dr Zuber on what happened at the UN security council meeting and whether Wadner group was discussed
  • 04:47 – On what it means for countries where Wagner is operating
  • 08:40 – On Russia not being the only power that does mercenaries
  • 10:54 – Africa at the mercy of proxy forces
  • 15:10 – On how Africa can free itself from proxy forces
  • 18:25 – On African led security responses
  • 19:54 – On how this damages foreign investment and the relationship with the private sector
  • 23:28 – Words of hope for the African continent
  • 27:04 – Conclusion

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Highlights from the interview

The growing power of Russia’s Wagner Group in Africa is believed to be behind the sudden termination of the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission in Mali.

BizNews speaks to Dr. Robert Zuber, the Director of the UN-based Global Action to Prevent War and Conflict. 

He was at the UN Security Council meeting on Friday last week to ratify a plan for the drawdown of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

“Mali was a particularly bloody peacekeeping operation, the highest levels of casualty of any of the UN operations. And…it felt wrong to withdraw in the way in which they’re having to withdraw with the speed that they’re having to withdraw. You know, given how much blood has been shed in that country, it’s really, and it’s a lovely country, it’s really very sad,’ he says.

Read more: Indifference and internet humour: How the Russian people reacted to Wagner mutiny

“And my own feeling, which I don’t have direct data to support necessarily, is that the Wagner Group was partially responsible in as much as they were able and are able, I suppose, to promise, perhaps not deliver, but promise security to Mali without the pressure that the UN is putting on Mali to return to democratic government, to hold elections, to honour the peace agreement in all its aspects. 

“And so it’s security that Wagner is able to provide, training and all the rest of it, without the pressure. And on top of that without the concern for human rights…So it’s an easy sell for a government that is…challenged to honour its obligations to peace, to elections, to good governance, to democratic process, et cetera…”

Dr Zuber describes the Wagner Group as “tactically, reasonably proficient” – but without “the baggage” of the Charter and UN values and norms.

“So, I think they (Wagner) promoted it, they promoted the shift in the sense that they basically could make a better deal for the existing government. They’re not gonna be pressured now by Wagner to move on any of this stuff because they now don’t need to do that.”

Dr Zuber points out that although recent focus has been on Wagner’s military operations in Ukraine, it has “tentacles in many places”. 

Read more: Lessons from Wagner rebellion: African states must rethink their dependence on mercenary security

Another African country where Wagner has been “particularly influential” is the Central African Republic (CAR) . “And again, they don’t subscribe to human rights norms. So their sense of security is very much focused on guns and weapons and military strategy and bullying…”

However, Dr Zuber points out that Wagner is not the only proxy force operating on the African Continent. “Russia is not the only big power that does mercenaries. They all do them…there’s a lack of transparency across the board that enables people who are unscrupulous to be unscrupulous…”

Meanwhile, says Dr Zuber, the UN itself “is trying to clean up its act”.

“So, are they (the UN) a benevolent force? Well, the UN also has trust issues to overcome, right? I mean, the UN has made huge mistakes…And are we meeting expectations as a system? Because when we talk about, like in Mali, when we talked about protecting civilians, I mean, damn, I mean, they tried really hard and they spilled a lot of blood trying to protect civilians, but we didn’t really protect civilians. We protected some…It creates issues, trust gaps…”

Dr Zuber also gives credit to those African countries that are “trying hard to solve their own problems on African terms”.

Read more: Putin’s power struggle: Russian president launches campaign to discredit Wagner leader Prigozhin

He adds: “… it’s not working quite yet, but they’ve embraced the notion of rapid response and peacekeeping forces. And if they could get the UN to pay for more of them, which they should do, and get the Security Council to authorise more payment for them, which they should do, they, I think, can make real strides.”

  • In his statement last week, United States (US) Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken accused Wagner of using its operations in Mali both to obtain revenue for the group and its leader, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, as well as to procure weapons and equipment to further its involvement in hostilities in Ukraine. The United States (US) has now sanctioned Wagner’s Mali “facilitator” Andrey Nikolayevich Ivanov who has workedclosely” with Prigozhin’s entity Africa Politology and senior Malian government officials on weapons deals, mining concerns, and other activities in that country.

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