Ties between Russia’s shadowy Wagner group and the Sudanese military have been thrust into the spotlight today after a rogue general began waging war on the ruling junta, killing at least 97 civilians in just three days.
Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as ‘Hemedti’ and leader of the powerful Rapid Support Forces (RSF), is currently battling for control of the capital Khartoum and other key sites against the country’s de-facto leader, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
Hemedti is known to have strong ties to Wagner, which has been operating in Sudan since at least 2017 and is accused of providing the RSF with weapons and training. In return, Wagner has allegedly been allowed to plunder Sudanese mines for gold worth billions.
While Wagner’s exact role in the current fighting is unclear, the violence broke out just hours after a Russian national who works as head of security for a suspected Wagner front-company was arrested and accused of gold smuggling.
Smoke billows above residential buildings in Khartoum on April 16, 2023, as fighting in Sudan raged for a second day in battles between rival generals
Mercenary from the Wagner Group is pictured in Ukraine
Head of Wagner Group Yevgeny Prigozhin (L) assists Vladimir Putin
The last time the Sudanese government began investigating Russian gold smugglers, back in 2021, Western officials believe Wagner backed a coup that toppled the country’s civilian leaders in favour of the junta – who then allowed the smuggling to continue.
It raises the possibility that Wagner could have again stepped in and backed Hemedti in his effort to topple Burhan, provided investigations against the alleged smugglers and the firm they work for are dropped.
Or it could be that Wagner’s dealings with Hemedti – which are thought to have ramped up as Moscow tries to extract more gold from Sudan to counter Western sanctions – has upset a delicate balance of power within the junta.
Wagner is thought to have been invited into Sudan starting in 2017, shortly after then-leader Omar al-Bashir – a dictator who ruled the country with an iron fist for three decades – visited Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
The ultra-violent mercenary group, run by Putin oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, set up a now-sanctioned front company – Meroe Gold – to run its operations in the country, which was in turn owned by M Invest, a firm controlled by Prigozhin.
Meroe signed shady deals with a Sudanese firm thought to be run by military intelligence which gave it access to lucrative gold mining operations as well as weapons and protection for its men, leaked documents obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project revealed.
In return, Wagner was allegedly charged with providing political and military support to the armed forces which controlled the country in an uneasy alliance with civilian elites who replaced Bashir when he was forced from power in 2019.
Smoke rises as clashes continue in the Sudanese capital on April 16, 2023
A Sudanese air force plane is seen conducting an airstrike over Khartoum
Fierce clashes broke out across the capital Khartoum and the sister city of Omdurman
When the civilian administration began investigating Wagner’s dealings in the country in 2021, the group was accused of supporting another coup which forced them from power and handed total control of Sudan to the armed forces.
Immediately after the junta was installed, the anti-corruption committee investigating Wagner was disbanded and its mining operations allowed to continue unimpeded.
Wagner’s activity in Sudan is thought to have ramped up last year in response to the invasion of Ukraine, which saw $300billion of its foreign currency reserves frozen overseas and its economy hammered by Western sanctions.
CNN investigators found Russia could be smuggling gold out of the country via military bases in Syria and the Central Africa Republic worth more than $2billion per year as it attempts to shore up its reserves.
In the 18 months to July last year there were at least 16 flights out of Sudan carrying smuggled gold but the true figure is likely far higher, CNN said.
In February this year, it was reported that the US had begun pressuring Sudan, Libya, and the Central African Republic to cut ties with Wagner – leaning on allies such Egypt to turn up the heat.
The same month, Bloomberg reported that dozens of Russians working for a gold mining firm thought to be a Wagner front-company had been placed under investigation for smuggling.
On Thursday last week, just 24 hours before the new round of fighting broke out, one of those being investigated – a Russian national – was charged.
The man was not named but was reported to be ‘head of security’ for the Wagner-linked firm, raising the prospect he is a senior figure within the group.
By Saturday, fighter jets were screaming through the skies above Khartoum and firing missiles into the city as General Hemedti – Wagner’s go-to man – began a war against General Burhan, who runs the junta.
Artillery shells rained down on the junta’s main base in the capital, and civilian aircraft were blown up on the runway of its main airport.
Fighting continued on Monday, as aid groups said at least 97 civilians have been killed so far with hundreds more wounded.
But they cautioned the true toll is likely to be far higher, as many people cannot travel to hospital for help because it is unsafe.
Mortar and artillery fire was reported in Khartoum on Monday morning.
What is the Wagner Group?
Private Military Company (PMC) Wagner is a mercenary group headed up by Russian oligarch and close Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin.
The group has for years acted as Putin’s personal band of enforcers, though it maintains connections with Russia’s foreign military intelligence agency, the GRU.
Founded in 2014 by a sinister former lieutenant colonel of Russia’s ‘Spetsnaz’ special forces, Dmitry Utkin, Wagner got straight to work following the annexation of Crimea, arming and organising separatist groups in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
Wagner group insignia is pictured
In the eight years between Crimea’s annexation and all-out war in Ukraine, Wagner mercs have been deployed abroad to covertly further Russian interests.
They were implicated in the Russian intervention in Syria where they helped to prop up the Assad regime, and went on to operate in countries throughout Africa including Mali, Central African Republic, Mozambique and Sudan.
Their goals differ in each region, but assignments almost invariably involve bolstering the military forces of the Kremlin’s preferred regimes by delivering weapons and training, and providing additional security services.
In return, Russia gains access to natural resources, investment opportunities and geopolitical influence.
Yevgeny Prigozhin (left) is the chief financier of the Wagner group and is a close ally of Russian President Putin (right)
An integral part of most Wagner assignments is gaining control over the local population and elements hostile to the regime – something in which the mercenaries have proved particularly ruthless.
The mercenaries have garnered a reputation for violence and brutality, achieving their goals by any means necessary.
The Wagner group is now deployed in a fighting capacity alongside regular Russian army soldiers in Ukraine, and has been credited with achieving much of Moscow’s success on the frontlines.
In autumn 2022, Prigozhin embarked on a mass recruitment drive in Russian prisons, signing up hardened criminals to swell his ranks and deploy them en-masse in Ukraine on suicidal missions to gain ground by using ‘human wave’ tactics.
As of March 2023, the Wagner group is receiving less support from the Russian military, as Prigozhin has a poor relationship with Russian armed forces commander Valery Gerasimov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
But his fighters are still heavily involved in combat operations across the frontlines in Ukraine.
Source : https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11981451/Is-Wagner-bloodshed-Sudan.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ito=1490&ns_campaign=1490&rand=1270