The Russian mercenary team Wagner Group is sending surface-to-air missiles to one side in the war in Sudan, fueling the conflict and destabilizing the region, the Treasury Department said this week as it announced sanctions against a Wagner commander.
Wagner’s role in Sudan is part of a growing presence in Africa aimed at undermining US and French influence and cashing in on African countries’ mineral wealth, with the proceeds helping finance Russia’s war in Ukraine, they said. The experts.
Wagner has had a presence in Sudan since 2017, providing security services and overseeing gold mining concessions. The Treasury Department said Thursday that «the Wagner Group has been supplying the Sudan Rapid Support Forces with surface-to-air missiles to fight the Sudanese military, contributing to a protracted armed conflict that is only creating more chaos in the region.» .
The Rapid Support Forces have been fighting the Sudanese army for control of the country since April, and the violence has left hundreds dead and more than a million people displaced.
The Biden administration warned about Wagner’s presence in Sudan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month that the mercenary group «simply brings more death and destruction» where it operates.
The Russian embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
The Treasury Department on Thursday imposed sanctions on Wagner’s Mali boss Ivan Aleksandrovich Maslov, saying the group may be seeking Mali’s help to secure military equipment for Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Maslov has worked «in close coordination» with Malian officials and arranges meetings between regional governments and Wagner’s boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, according to the Treasury Department.
«The Wagner Group may be attempting to conceal its efforts to acquire military equipment for use in Ukraine, including by working through Mali and other countries where it has a presence,» the Treasury Department said in a statement.
Wagner employees “may have been attempting to work through Mali to acquire warfare equipment such as mines, UAVs, radar, and counter-battery systems for use in Ukraine,” the department said.
Washington’s accusation comes after a leaked US intelligence document suggested Mali’s interim president Assimi Goita, an army officer who seized power in a coup, allegedly offered to obtain weapons from Turkey on behalf of the Group. Wagner.
The document, part of a trove of top-secret Defense Department material that surfaced on the social media platform Discord, indicates that Wagner’s associates met with Turkish contacts in early February to purchase weapons and equipment for Wagner’s operations in Mali and Ukraine.
“Furthermore, Mali’s Transitional President Goita had confirmed that Mali would be able to acquire arms from Turkey on Vagner’s behalf,” according to the document, which was obtained by NBC News and other news outlets.
US authorities accused Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira, 21, of leaking the secret documents.
Wagner in Africa
Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for political affairs, told lawmakers in January that Wagner’s access to gold mines in Mali and the Central African Republic «directly finances» operations in Ukraine. Wagner’s units are playing a crucial role on the battlefield in Ukraine, relying heavily on prisoners for infantry battles.
Wagner’s broader goal has been to bolster Moscow’s influence in Africa, experts said.
Wagner has been building his logistical capacity in both Libya and Sudan, leveraging his ties to local allies led by rebel commanders, said Nathalia Dukhan, a senior researcher at Sentry, a nonprofit that focuses on multinational predatory networks.
In Libya, Wagner has allied with Khalifa Haftar, who has declared war on the Tripoli government, and in Sudan, he has forged ties with Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemeti.
In Sudan, Wagner has tried to use Hemeti’s RSF as proxies for its operations in the Central African Republic and Chad, Dukhan said.
Although his tactics may vary, Wagner seeks to project Russian influence in Africa, he said. «Ultimately, he opts for approaches that serve his geostrategic goals, his expansionist agenda and further his business interests,» Dukhan said.
According to a leaked intelligence document that first appeared on the Discord platform, a Wagner associate, Vitaliy Perfilyev, suggested in February launching an anti-American media campaign in the Central African Republic after media reports that Washington was working to persuade the government to break his ties with the mercenary team.
The United States and human rights groups have accused Wagner of committing atrocities in the Central African Republic, including summary executions and torture.
US authorities previously named Wagner a «transnational criminal organization» and sanctioned its top leaders.