Wagner chief Prigozhin ‘is pictured at Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg’ weeks after leading armed rebellion
- Prigozhin pictured alongside a man believed to be from the CAR’s delegation
- The Wagner leader seemingly avoided punishment after last month’s coup
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin looks to have made a surprise appearance at the Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg today, just weeks after his group of mercenaries aborted rebellion against the Russian defence ministry.
Prigozhin, 62, was pictured alongside a man believed to be a member of the Central African Republic’s delegation to the summit, where a slew of African leaders are meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The mercenary chief was seen smiling and shaking hands with the diplomat at the foot of an ornate staircase in the image circulated on the Telegram messaging app.
Prigozhin was seemingly spared punishment following the uprising last month, which saw his mercenary troops seize a city in southern Russia and bear down on Moscow before aborting at the last minute, under a deal allegedly brokered by Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko.
He was recently pictured in Belarus, where many Wagner troops are now residing in field camps as they help to train Belarusian army units – raising fears that they could attack Ukraine from the north, or even Poland to the West.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin (pictured) looks to have made a surprise appearance at the Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg today, just weeks after his group of mercenaries aborted rebellion against the Russian defence ministry
Prigozhin’s presence at a Russian summit of African leaders and his meeting a CAR delegate would certainly make sense, given the Wagner group’s extensive operational scope in numerous African countries including the CAR, Libya, Mali, Sudan, Mozambique and Burkina Faso.
READ MORE: Could Wagner really invade Poland and trigger WW3?
They are also understood to operate in Niger, where a coup was carried out on Wednesday by the country’s presidential guard.
Its goals differ in each region, but Wagner operations almost invariably involve bolstering the military forces of the Kremlin’s preferred regimes in Africa by delivering weapons and training, and providing additional security services.
In return, Russia gains access to natural resources, investment opportunities and geopolitical influence.
His appearance in St Petersburg comes a week after his welcomed his fighters to Belarus following their failed mutiny against the Russian regime, a dark and grainy video apparently filmed at the Tsel military base appeared to show.
Risking angering the Kremlin further, Prigozhin labelled Putin’s war effort a ‘disgrace’ and told his Wagner Mercenary fighters they will not return to Ukraine and instead remain in Belarus for the time being.
Speaking at the event on Thursday, Putin offered offered free grain to six poor African countries as he launched the summit with leaders from the continent days after withdrawing from the Ukraine grain export deal.
The two-day summit in Putin’s native Saint Petersburg is being scrutinised as a test of his support in Africa, where he retains support despite international isolation sparked by his military intervention in Ukraine last year.
Russia last week refused to extend a deal under which Ukrainian grain exports passed through the Black Sea to reach global markets, including Africa, easing pressure on food prices.
In a keynote address at the summit, Putin promised to send grain to six African countries.
‘In the coming months we will be able to ensure free supplies of 25,000 to 50,000 tonnes of grain to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Central African Republic and Eritrea,’ Putin said.
Over a year, the grain deal allowed around 33 million tonnes of grain to leave Ukrainian ports, helping to stabilise global food prices and avert shortages.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed African leaders attending the summit to demand answers about the grain disruptions that have propelled poorer nations towards crisis.
‘They know exactly who’s to blame for this current situation,’ Blinken said of the leaders.
‘My expectation would be that Russia will hear this clearly from our African partners,’ he said Thursday during a visit to New Zealand.
Fighters from the Wagner private mercenary army are pictured in Belarus, July 2023
Satellite view of the Wagner private mercenary army’s camp in Belarus, July 2023
Seventeen African leaders including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa are expected at the Russia-Africa summit taking place on Thursday and Friday.
READ MORE: Putin ‘planning to use Wagner fighters to invade key strategic strip of land straddling border between Poland and Lithuania in move against NATO’s Baltic states’, crony reveals
The Kremlin has accused Western countries of trying to prevent African states from participating in the summit.
The summit is the second of its kind after an inaugural one held in 2019 in Sochi, southern Russia.
On Friday, Putin is set to discuss Ukraine during a working lunch with a group of African heads of state, according to the Kremlin.
The situation in Niger, where President Mohamed Bazoum has been detained by soldiers following a coup bid, is ‘actively’ discussed on the sidelines of the summit, the Kremlin spokesman said.
‘It will likely be discussed in some way during the central events of the summit that will take place tomorrow. And today too,’ Dmitry Peskov added.
The summit will be an opportunity to exchange views on key issues, according to Vsevolod Sviridov of the Centre for African Studies at HSE University.
Since the coronavirus pandemic and the launch of the military offensive in Ukraine, ‘the framework in which Russia and Africa interact has seriously changed’, Sviridov told AFP.
‘It is necessary to find common ground, to explain to each other positions on topical issues, for example, the grain deal,’ he added.
Putin has already held talks Wednesday with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, praising their joint energy projects.
Representatives of African states continued to arrive in the former imperial capital ahead of the summit, including delegations from Mozambique and Libya, Russian state news agency TASS said Thursday.
Since the start of the Ukraine offensive, Russia has sought to strengthen diplomatic and security ties with Africa.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (centre) and President of the Comoros Azali Assoumani (right) arriving for a plenary session of the Second Summit Economic and Humanitarian Forum ‘Russia-Africa’ in St.Petersburg, July 27
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has been on two tours of the continent so far this year, trying to win over leaders to Moscow’s side by emphasising Russia’s stand against Western ‘imperialism’.
Russia’s Wagner mercenary group has been a major player in the security sphere in Africa but its failed mutiny against Russia’s military leadership last month has cast doubt on the future of the group’s operations on the continent.
The summit in Saint Petersburg comes a month ahead of a summit of leaders of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) due to take place in Johannesburg.
South Africa has said that Putin, who is the subject of an international arrest warrant for his actions in Ukraine, will not be attending in person.
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