Non-State Actors

Wagner: Russian Mercenaries Enter Mozambique

June 8, 2020

Insider Expert


In June 2019, documents from the Dossier Center provided further indications that Prigozhin is involved in an operation designed to amplify Russia’s influence in Africa. Prigozhin is known for ultimately heading the disinformation source known as the “troll factory”, private military group Wagner, and political strategy group sporadically referred to as the “back office”.


In October 2019 Facebook shut down three networks of Russian accounts traced back to the troll factory alleging the networks had meddled in the domestic politics of Central African Republic (CAR), Congo Brazzaville, Sudan, Mozambique, Madagascar, Cameroon, and Ivory Coast. In the case of Madagascar, the Dossier Center documents show that the Prigozhin-backed efforts on the island, which reportedly was a combined effort by the troll factory, Wagner group, and the back office, credit themselves for securing the election of Madagascan President Andry Rajoelina.


Wagner group’s success has also received praise externally with a source formerly close to Russian military intelligence (GRU) stating to a major African news source that the company’s rise in Africa makes it one of the most successful GRU operations of all time. The group’s presence has previously been established in Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR), and Libya, along with abovementioned Madagascar as well as a rumoured presence in Rwanda. In the last year, the group has reportedly deployed to Mali and to the Ivory Coast as well. Most reports, however, have concerned their efforts in Libya where Turkish President Erdogan repeatedly has called on Russia to withdraw their “mercenaries.”


Less reported is the group’s ingress to Mozambique. The group’s deployment to Mozambique is interesting because like with their operations in Syria and CAR, in particular, one can see the correlation between the exploration and production of natural resources in a specific area where violence and instability are prevalent. Whereas a private military company could assist in providing stability, and a state actor could provide investments, Wagner group can, by virtue of its peculiar status as a state and non-state actor, complement funds for the exploitation of natural resources as some package deal.



A Mozambican Problem


Vast gas reserves off the coast of Mozambique’s northernmost region Cabo Delgado were discovered in 2010. The discovery was set to bolster the country’s economy, lift the burden of extreme poverty shared by many Mozambicans, and quickly became a central aspect of government policy. The natural gas exploration led to three ongoing major liquified natural gas (LNG) projects; the Mozambique LNG Project (est. worth USD 20 billion), Coral FLNG Project (est. worth USD 4.7 billion), and Rovuma LNG Project (est. USD 30 billion). These sizeable projects have naturally attracted several of the world’s energy giants such as Total, ENI, and the Russian state majority-owned Rosneft, which are cooperating with the Mozambican state-owned ENH.


Much of the required funding for these projects is through credit arrangements, however, the remaining funding must be provided by the shareholders. For the mentioned energy giants, that can be done. For ENH, that has been a problem. The country is under technical default on their debts while numerous ENH subsidiaries are in technical bankruptcy relying on public fund injections to stay afloat; essentially, ENH does not have capital or access to capital to front the funds required as a shareholder of large LNG projects. Meanwhile, since 2017, the Cabo Delgado region has suffered from a violent insurgency which has demanded lives and driven instability in the region where these giant LNG projects are ongoing, prompting financial institutions to increase interest rates on financing due to the heightened investment risk. As such, the Mozambicans had one problem exacerbating the other.



A Russian Solution


In August 2019, President Felipe Nyusi went to Moscow. In September 2019, Wagner touched down in Mozambique in numbers reported between 200 and 300 along with sophisticated equipment ready to take on the insurgency in Cabo Delgado at the request of the Mozambican government. By mid-November 2019, reports of several ambushes emerged resulting in the death of Wagner soldiers reported in numbers between 5 and 15. Apparently, the group which has boasted success in Ukraine and Syria came unprepared and ill-equipped to take on an insurgency in the bushes of Cabo Delgado.


That is actually not shocking given the significant difference in climate and terrain compared to its previous successes. The interesting question here is why did the Mozambican government turn down private military companies with local area knowledge and proven bush fighting capabilities such as Black Hawk PMC or OAM? Or go for the experience, and hire Frontier Service Group which is led by the former head of Blackwater, Erik Prince, or the former head of EO and current head of STTEP Eeben Barlow?


Because at the August 2019 meeting, Rosneft signed several energy exploration agreements with ENH while it has been reported that Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom has since suggested itself be a lender to ENH. The promise of Russian investment and financial assistance landed Wagner that contract, meanwhile, Wagner also opened the door for sealing a deal which will increase Russia’s involvement and stake in Mozambique’s natural resources. It is not surprising that Wagner’s Africa operations are considered one of the most successful GRU operations, because investment in natural resources while providing the training, men, and equipment to stabilize the areas of the business activities is fundamentally a business model that is suited for the African political and economic climate.





Image: Fars News / Jamestown (link)

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