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The Wednesday Politics Thread Ain’t for Hire

I’d been ignorant ’til today of the usage of filibuster as a military term:

filibuster (from the Spanish filibustero), also known as a freebooter, is someone who engages in an unauthorized military expedition into a foreign country or territory to foster or support a political revolution or secession.


Thanks thesaurus! Turned out to be only tangentially relevant though since the Wagner Group — the private military contractor in the news lately — is in reality rather tightly coupled to the Kremlin authorizing its atrocities at slight remove.

Russia’s Wagner Group is active in Ukraine, US confirms

Members of Russia’s Wagner Group — an infamous mercenary army — are fighting alongside Russian forces in Ukraine, primarily in the Donbas region, the Pentagon confirmed on Tuesday.

A senior US defence official confirmed their presence after Ukrainian intelligence on Sunday said Wagner Group assassins had entered Ukraine on a mission to kill President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and members of his leadership team.

“We do assess the Wagner group is active in Ukraine, we think that activity is largely in the Donbas area,” the US official told Pentagon reporters.

The Wagner group is reputedly connected to the Kremlin as well as to President Vladimir Putin — though Moscow denies any involvement with it.

The National News [archive]

The Wagner Group’s shadow mission in Ukraine

On paper, the company does not exist: there is no company registration for the Wagner Group, no tax returns, no recruitment office. Officially, private military companies remain illegal in Russia.

But those who have followed the group’s activities since its founding in 2014 – when it was used to support pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine – say that after successful incursions in Syria and several countries in Africa, it is now playing an important role in Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Pjotr Sauer has reported on the Wagner Group for the Guardian and he recently interviewed Marat Gabidullin, a former mercenary who joined the group in 2015. He tells Nosheen Iqbal that Wagner is an unofficial foreign policy tool of the Kremlin.

The Guardian [archive] (~30m podcast)

Ukraine War Heightens French, European Concerns Over Russia’s Africa Presence

For France, Russia’s growing foothold in Mali comes amid its own deteriorating ties with Bamako’s military rulers and spiking anti-French sentiment that has spread to other parts of the Sahel.

In late January, Malian authorities expelled France’s ambassador, compounding tensions including over French demands for a swift democratic transition in Mali. Weeks later, Paris confirmed plans to pull its 2,400 Barkhane counterinsurgency troops from the country, along with a smaller European Union force.

Amid the acrimony, Wagner personnel arrived in Mali in late December, reports say. They launched a pro-Russia campaign on social media — part of their trademark strategy of online disinformation, some say — and their estimated 1,000-man presence in the country is intended to replace French troops.

Wagner has denied it has a presence in Mali, where the junta says only Russia military trainers are on the ground.

Anti-French and pro-Russian sentiments are also high farther south, in Central African Republic (CAR), another former French colony once dependent on Paris’ military support. Today, that’s been partially replaced by Russian forces and Wagner, which reportedly arrived in 2018. Last year, France suspended military cooperation and aid to Bangui over its alleged failure to stop anti-French disinformation campaigns.

Voice of America [archive]

The Wagner Group’s Playbook in Africa: Mali

What is the Wagner Group doing in Mali? Since it rose to prominence after its involvement in the Syrian Civil War alongside the Assad regime, Wagner Group, a Russian-owned Private Military Contractor (PMC), has expanded its footprint into Africa. Wagner has immersed itself in Libya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Central African Republic (CAR), and Sudan, leading training exercises, fighting anti-government forces, and brutally quelling protests. Wagner Group often overlaps with Russian state foreign policy aims, but its position as an independent contractor lends it unpredictability, while giving Russia plausible deniability. The group offers the Russian state a valuable tool: the ability to test new environments for military cooperation without appearing heavy-handed or overtly involved.

Wagner has established a pattern of political, military, and economic involvement in Sudan and CAR since 2015. Wagner Group and its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, have followed this strategy successfully in Mali, contributing to France’s recent decision to withdraw its military forces from the country.

Foreign Policy Research Institute [archive]

Russian Wagner group is engaged in illegal gold mining in Sudan: Troika

The Russian private group Wagner is engaged in illegal gold mining in Sudan and anti-democratic propaganda, said the Troika diplomats based in Khartoum on Monday.

In a joint statement released to mark the first month of the Russian attack on Ukraine, British Ambassador Giles Leifer, Norwegian Ambassador Therese Loken Gheziel and U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Lucy Tamlyn openly attacked the Russian contractor that cooperates closely with the Rapid Support Service in Sudan (RSF).

“In Sudan, the Wagner Group (…) spreads disinformation on social media and engages in illicit activities connected to gold mining,” read the statement.

Sudan Tribune [archive]

Sudan denies reports of the presence of Russian Wagner group in the country

Sudan’s government has denied reports about the presence of Russian paramilitary Wagner Group in Sudan.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry termed accusations by the ambassadors of the US, Britain and Norway on Wagner’s activities in Sudan as “a blatant interference in Sudan’s domestic affairs.”

Africa News [archive]

Efforts Being Made to Recruit Wagner Mercenaries for Ukraine, AFRICOM Commander Says

The Russian Wagner Group mercenary organization has tried to enlist some of its units in Africa to fight for Russia in Ukraine, the top commander of U.S. military forces in Africa told VOA.

“We’re seeing some efforts to recruit Wagner units for Ukraine,” Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command, said in an exclusive interview with VOA this week.

Townsend added those units would likely transfer primarily from Libya, where hundreds of Russian mercenaries are supporting eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar.

In January, Townsend told VOA Russia’s military had helped deliver Russian troops to Mali.

There are now about 1,000 Russian mercenaries in Mali who have run a few operations, he said, but the group has seen less support in recent weeks from the Russian military, probably because of the invasion of Ukraine. Wagner mercenaries are also in the Central African Republic and, to a lesser extent, Sudan, he said.

Voice of America [archive]

Europe’s phase-out of Russian energy over the Ukraine crisis could mean opportunity for African countries

N.J. Ayuk tried for years to tout African oil and gas projects to European governments and companies.

“I used to beg for them to take my calls,” said Ayuk, the executive chairman of the African Energy Chamber. But with oil price volatility shaking global markets amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and fears of fuel shortages, European nations are looking more closely at Africa’s abundant natural gas as a potential new source of energy, he said.

“Right now, I think they have me on speed dial,” Ayuk said.

Ayuk and other African energy officials head this week to the European Commission in Brussels, followed by Berlin, for talks on Africa’s role in Europe’s energy transition. The African Energy Chamber is the continent’s largest energy advocacy group representing private companies.

Washington Post [archive]

The world remains a mess but at least we have each other to spiral through the hard times. Why I bet that if we wrangle enough clams, hoggle enough poggles (or don’t?), always respect the McSquirrel Rule, and are generally really really nice to one another, we could finally solve this whole politics thing.