Civilians lying in the streets, charred corpses, rapes, mass graves and countless deaths. Two similar massacres have been committed in recent weeks more than 4,600 km away, in Africa and Europe, and on either of them there is one hanging of the same name: Wagner.
Between 27 and 31 March, in Mora, central Mali, during a punitive campaign under the guise of hunting down jihadists, at least 300 people were killed by the Malian armed forces – who had already committed numerous abuses when they collaborated again with the French army – and most likely belong to To the Russian private military company Wagner, deployed in the country since last year.
At the same time, Europe was horrified when it discovered the death left by the Russian army in Bucha, and elsewhere around Kyiv, in Ukraine. At least 320 people were killed and tortured, according to the town’s mayor. According to Der Spiegel magazine, German intelligence services intercepted radio communications proving the involvement of Russian soldiers.
According to this information, the Wagner Group has acquired “Critical role in the atrocities committed”. The British Ministry of Defense said on March 28 that 1,000 fighters from this group of mercenaries would be deployed in Ukraine. And at the end of February, the Times revealed that 400 of them were sent to Kyiv to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Mora and Busha have been added to the already long list of brutality perpetrated by this mercenary army – whose presence is illegal in Russia – which has been unceremoniously carrying out the Kremlin’s low-key actions in Libya, in the Central African Republic or in Syria, since now eight years .
The Wagner Group was born precisely in Ukraine, in 2014, at the time of the conflict in the Donbass. Wagner is accused of assassinating separatist leaders there who have kept themselves far from Russian services. It was founded by Dmitry Utkin, a former Russian special forces officer, a snob with Nazi tattoos and a fervent admirer of the Third Reich, and personally decorated by Vladimir Putin in 2016. But the oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, “Putin’s cook ”, who will actually be the director of the organization.
Rape, Nazi graffiti and beheading
With at least 10,000 men in its ranks according to the BBC, this phantom army was sent to all the theaters of operations occupied by Russia in recent years. Mercenaries have played a remarkably important role in Syria, where the Russian military intervened in 2015 to rescue dictator Bashar al-Assad. It was there, in the midst of a struggle that killed nearly half a million people, that Wagner revealed his true colors.
In 2017, a video appeared on Russian social networks. We see several fighters hitting a Syrian civilian with a sledgehammer. In other excerpts unearthed in 2019, we see the same men dismembering him with a shovel, cutting off his head, and tying his body by his feet to set him on fire. The fighters themselves film the scene, exchanging jokes in Russian about the football match they are about to play with their victim’s head. One of them, who appears with an open face, was recognized by the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta: a Wagner recruit.
The organization has spread on many other fronts, notably in Libya since April 2019, where it attacked the National Unity Government in Tripoli along with the forces of Field Marshal Haftar, who was also backed by France. The year 2020, the defeat of the mercenaries, the soldiers of the Government of National Accord, when the mercenaries passed, found mines and “booby traps”, booby traps, sometimes placed. on stuffed animals Children play.
Nazi, anti-Islam, racist and “white power” graffiti were also found on the walls of a burnt-out mosque in Ain Zara. GNA men captured during the fighting speak of summary executions by Russian-speaking men. “No one wants to feed another mouth”A former mercenary confirmed to the BBC, in 2021.
Wagner’s violence extended to the rest of the African continent. Last year, a United Nations report made a damning discovery about the tactics of Russian mercenaries in the Central African Republic, as Russia came in 2019 to fill the void left by the French army. The report talked about the execution of civilians, looting and an attack on a mosque. denounce “Arbitrary Arrests, Torture, Enforced Disappearances, and Summary Executions” It adds “Members of the Wagner Group allegedly committed rape and sexual violence against women, men and girls in many parts of the country.”.
Protest operations that do not stop the group’s fighters, especially since the United Nations Group of Experts for the Central African Republic has been suspended since August 2021, as the renewal of its members … was banned by Russia. Last January, during a joint operation of Wagner mercenaries and government forces against rebel groups, dozens of civilians were reported killed in Bria, 600 km east of the capital Bangui.
Since 2017, the presence of mercenaries in Africa has only grown. It has been seen in Sudan and Mozambique and could soon appear in Burkina Faso. Several of them have reportedly been summoned in recent weeks to participate in the invasion of Ukraine, as evidence of crimes committed by Russian forces piles up at a frantic pace.
For eight years, their impunity was almost complete. In 2019, three independent Russian journalists who were investigating Wagner’s activities were killed in an ambush bearing the imprint of mercenaries. In March 2021, the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Russian Memorial Organization for Human Rights filed a complaint in Russia for the killing and beheading of Syrians who had been tortured. The memorial was dissolved by the Kremlin in January. Unsurprisingly, his lawsuit against Wagner was adjourned the following month.
And in Libya, an arrest warrant was issued in August 2021 against Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi, for his links with Wagner and the Kremlin. He is already wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. This did not prevent him from running in the Libyan elections a few months later, even if it was eventually canceled.
Several individuals associated with Wagner, starting with Evgeny Prigogine himself, have been targeted by US, British and European sanctions. However, it seems that mercenaries are still able to spread out at the gates of Europe and commit massacres there. Nothing seems to be able to stop Wagner. or almost. In 2018, US planes killed nearly 100 fighters from the group while attacking an area controlled by Kurdish forces in Syria. The Kremlin, refusing to acknowledge the very existence of these mercenaries, fell into its trap and refrained from any reprisals.