The Wagner Group, the Russian counterpart of the American mercenary army, Eric Prince's Blackwater, first placed its boots on African soil during the Libyan civil war. As the French Foreign Legion and its friends fell out of favour with various Sahel governments, it has expanded its activities and acquired a reputation for brutality.
According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Russian private military company summarily beat and executed civilians between February 2019 and November 2021 in the Central African Republic (CAR). For example, on July 21, 2021, “apparently Russian-speaking forces killed at least twelve unarmed men near the town of Bossangoa”
Ida Sawyer, director of HRW’s crisis and conflict division, finds this evidence of abuses “compelling” because it shows that “forces identified as Russian supporting the Central African government have committed serious abuses against civilians with total impunity”. The CAR government and its partners’ inaction “to denounce these abuses, to identify and to prosecute those responsible are likely to cause new crimes in Africa and beyond”, she warned.
Meanwhile, in Mali Wagner's mercenaries have been linked to massacres in which several hundred civilians have died. Internal Malian army documents seen by the Guardian reveal the presence of Wagner members on “mixed missions” with Malian armed forces during operations in which many civilians have been killed. Witnesses, local community leaders, diplomats and local analysts blamed many of the deaths on the Wagner Group.
As many as 456 civilians died in nine incidents involving Malian forces and Wagner between January and mid-April this year. In March the Wagner Group is alleged to have been involved in a massacre in Moura, a village controlled by Islamist extremists, where between 350 and 380 men were killed over a four-day period.
Ousmane Diallo, a researcher for Amnesty International in Mali, said testimony collected from survivors and witnesses confirmed that white soldiers landed in Moura on 27 March in helicopters and stayed for days. “We know that Wagner are deployed in central Mali, they’ve been assisting operations in lifting and bringing more soldiers to their positions in the region. I think it’s pretty clear that it was Wagner that was conducting this operation”.