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A year ago, what was left of the Wagner Group was marching on Moscow

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A year ago, Yevgeny Prigozhin organized a “march of justice” and marched towards Moscow. Two months later he was dead, having died in a plane crash. What happened to the Wagner Group he managed? According to experts cited by the BBC, in less than twelve months the Russian regime effectively “disbanded” this mercenary organization, replacing it with a new formation.

A year has passed since the events described as the march on Moscow, the Wagnerite rebellion or the armed rebellion in Russia. On June 23, 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin – the late leader of the Wagner Group – arrived from Ukraine and occupied Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia, after months of rising tensions with military commanders in Moscow. His forces then launched a short charge against the capital, encountering virtually no resistance. The “march of justice” – as Prigozhin himself called these events – ended the next day. As a result of negotiations with Vladimir Putin, mediated by Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, Prigozhin stopped the attack and agreed to go to Belarus to – as he claimed – “avoid bloodshed”.

READ MORE ABOUT THE WAGNER GROUP REBELLION IN 2023: 36 hours of “justice march

Just two months laterj the plane with Prigozhin on board crashed in the Tver Oblast. He and several important members of the Wagner Group died, which put the future of this formation in question. Most of the mercenaries – according to Ukrainian estimates at that time, there were over 6,000 people – went to Belarus. They were to train Belarusians at local training grounds.

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And what is the situation of the Wagnerites now?

Wagnerians in Rostov-on-Don. Photo from June 25, 2023PAP/EPA/STRINGER

“Dispersion” of the Wagner Group

The BBC, citing analysts' opinions, writes that within a year the Russian regime effectively “disbanded and replaced” the Wagner Group.

Dr. Sorcha MacLeod, a member of the UN working group on mercenaries and a lecturer at the University of Copenhagen, says Wagner Group troops were scattered across Russia.

He adds that the Wagner Group may not exist in exactly the same form as before, but new versions of it – and even versions – still exist. “There has been some kind of dispersion in the Russian state, so there is no single general controller of this group,” she adds, quoted by the BBC. He also points out that the Wagnerites played an extremely important geopolitically and economically important role, so it is not as if “it was supposed to disappear,” as some have suggested.

The Wagnerians are training with the Belarusian army near the border with Poland. Photo from July 2023Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Belarus

The BBC writes that for years, Prigozhin's forces and his mercenaries have been a “valuable tool” for the Putin regime to carry out Russian operations in Africa and Syria. But it was in Ukraine – when Moscow's conventional forces were trying to break through Kiev's defenses – that Prigozhin and the Wagner Group especially showed their importance. At the turn of 2022 and 2023, Wagnerians played a key role in Russia's few victories on the battlefield. Its forces – consisting mainly of former prisoners – managed to capture the city of Soledar in eastern Ukraine.

According to the US National Security Council, at the peak there were approximately 50,000 Wagner Group mercenaries in Ukraine.

Putin's “private army” in the background

Now experts say the Wagner Group's operations in Ukraine have been taken over by other Russian state and paramilitary units. One former Wagner commander recently told BBC Russian that the mercenaries were ordered to “join the Ministry of Defense” or leave.

British intelligence officials suggested that some Wagner units had been taken over by Rosgvardia, the Russian National Guard. The unit, created in 2016, is described as Putin's “private army”, controlled by his former bodyguard Viktor Zolotov.

The Wagnerians visit the grave of Yevgeny Prigozhin at the cemetery in St. Petersburg Reuters Archive

The British Ministry of Defense reported that some of the Wagner Group's units began to come under the control of Rosgvardiya in October 2023. Prigozhin's former soldiers, known as “volunteer formations”, were to be sent to Ukraine on six-month contracts and to Africa on nine-month contracts. British officials say the inclusion of former Wagner Group shock troops in the Rosgvardiya Volunteer Corps most likely indicates that Wagnerians have been successfully subordinated to it, increasing the Russian state's control over the paramilitary organization.

As a recent BBC investigation revealed, other Wagner Group forces have joined the fight alongside Russian ally in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. As the BBC writes, “a tangible example of the group's decline was the apparently removal of its logo from the skyscraper it occupied in Russia's second largest city, Saint Petersburg.”

Yevgeny PrigozhinPress service of Prigozhin/PAP

The “expeditionary group” that replaced the Wagnerians in West Africa

According to some sources, after the rebellion in June 2023, Prigozhin concluded an agreement with Putin, according to which he was to concentrate his group's activities in Africa, supporting the regimes there and securing Russian interests.

According to the BBC, at the beginning of this year a so-called Russian “expeditionary group” – called the African Corps – was to be established, commanded by former GRU general Andrei Averyanov. He previously oversaw covert operations that carried out assassinations and destabilized foreign governments. Experts interviewed by the BBC say the African Corps has effectively replaced the Wagner Group in West Africa.

On social media, the unit boasted of offering recruits salaries of up to 110,000 rubles a year and serving alongside “competent commanders with extensive combat experience.”

In January, it announced the first deployment of 100 troops to Burkina Faso. Another hundred people were reported to have arrived in Niger in April.

Ruslan Trad, a security analyst at the Atlantic Council, told the BBC that, in effect, the Wagnerians “became the African Corps” and now fully serve the purposes of Russian military intelligence and the country's defense ministry. “In Africa, these soldiers do almost the same thing – they guard trade routes, secure resources that Moscow uses to circumvent sanctions, but not only that – they serve local juntas and direct the flow of migrants,” the analyst points out.

BBC Russian reported that only in the Central African Republic is the Wagner Group still operating in the shadow of its former self, allegedly controlled by Prigozhin's son, Pavel. “Moscow has given the heir permission to continue doing what his father did in Africa, provided that it does not conflict with Russia's interests,” a source previously working with Yevgeny Prigozhin told BBC Russian.

Main photo source: PAP/EPA/STRINGER

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