By Natasha Bertrand, CNN
Djibouti (CNN) — The US has not seen a withdrawal of Wagner forces from Africa “in any substantial or meaningful numbers,” a senior US defense official said, as the Kremlin continues to weigh what to do with the Russian mercenary group following its leader’s death last month.
The number of Wagner forces throughout Africa, concentrated mostly in Central African Republic, Mali, and Libya, remains “pretty stable,” the official told a small group of reporters traveling with the Secretary of Defense to Africa.
There are also signs Wagner forces have been “trying to exploit” the July coup attempt in Niger to make inroads there, the official said, without elaborating.
Ultimately, though, “Wagner seems to go where the money is,” the official said. “Often, they are focusing on places where there are natural resources, where their leadership are willing to pay the security price – literally, the money – to have their presence.” Some countries who have made these kinds of deals with Wagner have told the US they regret it, the official said.
The US, meanwhile, has not yet seen a “decisive shift” in Wagner’s relationship with the Kremlin, or signs that Moscow has absorbed the group’s operations across the continent, the official said. That likely reflects the fact that the Kremlin is still deciding what to do with the mercenary forces now that the group’s longtime leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is dead, the official added.
“There have been signs of official Russian military delegations going out to many countries, testing the waters about whether the official Russian military would have an opportunity to operate,” the official said.
“But it doesn’t seem like there has been a decisive shift, and I think this reflects that back in Moscow there is still uncertainty about exactly what to do with Wagner– whether to continue to use it as an unofficial arm of the Russian government, whether to undermine it, somehow subsume it, or now that there’s been a change in ownership, whether to turn it over to someone else’s private control.”
It remains an open question what the future of the Wagner military group will be, following the death of its leader Prigozhin.
The warlord was on board a jet that crashed near Moscow in August, exactly two months after he launched a short-lived rebellion in Russia.
Most security experts doubt Wagner can survive without Prigozhin, posing major questions about what will happen to the group’s fighters, weapons and operations.
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