Blinken warns African nations that Wagner Group endangers them

Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused the Russian mercenary Wagner Group of bringing violence and instability to Africa as he completed a trip intended to reassert US engagement with the continent as Russia and China have heightened their presence.

“Where Wagner’s been present, bad things inevitably follow,” Blinken told a briefing in the Niger capital Niamey on Thursday.

“We’ve seen countries find themselves weaker, poorer, more insecure, less independent as a result of their association with Wagner,” he said. “And we’ve also seen Wagner engage in the exploitation of natural resources, bringing corruption with it, bringing violence with it — overall worsening security, not improving it.”

His comments — intended to deter regional governments from hiring the Russian mercenaries to act as security forces — came at the tail-end of a two-country visit this week.

It’s only the latest by a senior US official to the continent so far this year following a December US-Africa leaders summit in Washington. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield and First Lady Jill Biden all recently made trips, with Vice President Kamala Harris set to visit later this month.

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The US has repeatedly sanctioned the Wagner Group and its head Yevgeny Prigozhin — who is seen as close to Russian President Vladimir Putin — for sending mercenaries to bolster Russian forces fighting in Ukraine. But the US has also condemned the security group for fueling instability across Africa.

The US has designated Wagner a “significant transnational criminal organisation” and accused it of destabilising African nations, extracting natural resources and committing human rights violations including mass executions in places such as Mali and the Central African Republic.

Speaking alongside Blinken, Niger’s foreign minister, Massoudou Hassoumi — whose country has battled violent extremists flowing into the country from neighbouring Mali, Nigeria and Burkina Faso — also condemned the Wagner Group. He said West Africa “cannot accept” the group and its activities, the likes of which the region hasn’t seen South African mercenaries took part in conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia in the 1990s.

“What is the record? Well, we can see that Wagner is only present in failed states or in failing states,” he said. “The record is disastrous. I don’t think there’s any progress whatsoever in the success of these countries where Wagner is present.”

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