Written Evidence Submitted by Dr. Marc DeVore, Dr. Kristen Harkness, Professor Andrew Orr and Mr. Marcel Plichta (WGN0008)

This submission reflects the views of the contributor, who is responsible for the accuracy of all claims made in the submission. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Foreign Affairs Committee. As a written submission accepted by a parliamentary committee, it is protected in the usual way by parliamentary privilege. No legal or other action may be taken against any person on ay grounds arising from the fact that they have provided such material.



  1. This submission addresses the Foreign Affairs Committee’s request for information related to the Wagner Group and practical recommendations for the UK government. Our submission focuses on Wagner activity in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali, then lists a series of practical policies the UK could implement to degrade Wagner.
  2. This evidence has been submitted by Dr. Marc DeVore, Dr. Kristen Harkness, Professor Andrew Orr and Mr. Marcel Plichta. Dr. DeVore is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of St. Andrews and a former foreign policy advisor to the Central African Republic. Dr. Harkness is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations specialized in African politics. Professor Orr is an Associate Professor of History at Kansas State University specializing in France and its former colonies. Mr. Plichta is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of St Andrews and former analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense.


Executive Summary

         Since at least 2018, the private military company (PMC) known as The Wagner Group has been active in the Central African Republic, acting on behalf of the Russian government and the personal interests of the President of CAR to train, equip, and lead the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) and presidential guard.

         Wagner activities in CAR assist the Russian State by providing the organization money to recruit and train personnel to fight in Ukraine, by covertly expanding Russian influence in sub-Saharan Africa, and by providing raw resources to the Russian state to circumvent international sanctions.

         Wagner, which currently maintains between 1,200 and 2,300 personnel in CAR and 500-1000 personnel in Mali, has almost certainly committed war crimes and human rights violations according to investigations by U.N. Panels of Experts, NGOs, and local and international press.

         The UK Government should counter Wagner’s ongoing activities in Africa, and the group’s escalating engagement in Ukraine, by restricting Wagner personnel’s travel, encouraging partners to issue arrest warrants and other legal challenges to the group, and strengthening intelligence sharing on Russian PMCs with international partners and the UN Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries.



Background to Wagner Group Expansion in Africa

  1. The involvement of the Wagner group in the Central African Republic and Mali has been driven by collapsing security situations and the withdrawal of western military assistance in very poor contexts. Facing French and UN troop withdrawals, and unable to pay for western mercenaries, CAR and Mali have turned to the Wagner group to provide protection for their increasingly illegitimate and authoritarian regimes in return for mineral concessions.
  2. Over the last two years, countries across Africa have experienced a wave of coups, violent insurgencies, and rising authoritarianism. There may thus be increasing demand for mercenary arrangements like those provided by the Wagner group, especially in authoritarian regimes with low state budgets but large natural resource deposits.

Wagner Group operations in the Central African Republic

  1. Wagner forces first arrived in the Central African Republic in late 2017 and early 2018 as part of a deal to provide weapons and assistance to the Central African Armed Forces (FACA). At the time, Central African authorities claimed Russian and Wagner personnel were in-country to train the FACA, assist the Presidential Guard, and act as bodyguards for the President.[1] The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, labelled them “civilian instructors” without indicating that they were PMC personnel.[2]
  2. Wagner and Wagner-led forces have almost certainly committed human rights violations in the Central African Republic since their arrival. On 31 March 2021 the UN High Commissioner For Human Rights reported that Russian PMCs in CAR committed “grave human rights abuses and violations of international law.”[3] Wagner activities in CAR include mass executions, arbitrary detention, forced displacement, attacks on civilian and humanitarian actors, murder of journalists, looting/extortion, and sexual assault, according to UN, NGO, and Press Reporting.[4] Most recently, the UN opened an inquiry into allegations that Wagner killed between 10 and 15 civilians in the villages of Gordil and Ndah on 11 April.[5] On 2 May 2022, Human Rights Watch called on the ICC to open cases against Wagner Group members.[6]  As noted by the UK government to the UN Human Rights Council, Wagner forces are especially violent towards the Fulani ethnic group.[7] UN reports found that Wagner and Wagner-led forces were responsible for nearly half of confirmed human rights violations from July 2020 to June 2021.[8]
  3. Wagner seeks to exploit natural resources in CAR for the benefit of the organization, its financiers, and the Russian state. Following Russia’s arms delivery and the arrival of Wagner in early 2018, the Russian MFA stated that it would seek to negotiate mining concessions from the Central African Government.[9] In late 2020, The U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned two Wagner-linked Russian mining companies in CAR, accusing it of conducting “dangerous and destabilizing missions in foreign countries.[10] Wagner’s activities in CAR, as well as other resource-rich African countries, support the Kremlin’s efforts to evade the international sanctions and project influence into regions that previously had little bilateral engagement with Moscow.[11]
  4. The number of Wagner personnel in CAR has varied depending on the scope of their operations. Current estimates of Wagner personnel range from 1,200 – 2,300, according to think tank and press reporting.[12] Wagner personnel coordinate closely with Russian officials in the country, including the Russian national security adviser to the president.[13]

Wagner Group operations in Mali

  1. Wagner forces began arriving in Mali in late 2021 to replace French forces from Operation Barkhane. Much like the case of CAR, sources initially claimed Wagner would train local forces and provide personal protection for senior policymakers, even if they later lead military operations with local forces deep in the country.[14] According to CSIS imagery analysis, Wagner constructed a base at Bamako airport to facilitate the entrance of additional Wagner personnel.[15]
  2. Wagner forces have almost certainly conducted human rights abuses and have attempted to discredit French forces in Mali. Like their operations in CAR, Wagner forces frequently target members of the Fulani ethnic group (usually referred to as the Peulh in Mali). In Late March, Wagner and Malian armed forces executed approximately 300 civilians, mostly Fulani, in the town of Moura, according to Human Rights Watch.[16] The Malian government claimed the individuals were militants.[17] In late April France accused Wagner of framing French forces by burying bodies near a Malian military base shortly after French forces left the area.[18] France provided surveillance footage showing Wagner forces arrive at the base and burying corpses several kilometers away.[19]


  1. Wagner has approximately 500-1,000 mercenaries in Mali, according to press estimates.[20] Resource constraints and the war in Ukraine may limit Wagner’s growth in Mali over the short term. Unlike in the CAR, Wagner is reportedly struggling to gain control of sufficient natural resource extraction to fund their activities.[21] If true, Wagner leadership will likely seek more payments from the Malian government, and Wagner forces will likely engage in coercive practices such as looting, extortion, and kidnapping on an individual basis. Uncertain funding streams and the war in Ukraine might force Wagner to redirect mercenaries meant for Mali or withdraw some mercenaries already deployed to Mali.

Recommendations For Action by the UK Government:

  1. Restrict international movement of Wagner fighters and materiel
    1. Wagner’s logistics and travel links rely on numerous countries. While many countries may have seen benefits from allowing the movement of Wagner personnel, diplomatic and military pressure that increases the costs would complicate Wagner efforts to resupply their forces in Africa or move their Russian personnel and newly recruited foreign fighters to fight in Ukraine. One way to do this is to work with friendly governments to deny Russia overflight rights over as many countries as possible. Turkey has already done so, which complicates Russian logistics by consuming fuel and reducing payloads.[22] Although less effective than halting Russian government or Wagner chartered flights, commercial flights to Mali and the CAR pass through a handful of regional or international hubs, creating an opportunity to work with friendly governments to further restrict the individual movement of Wagner-affiliated personnel.


    1. Restricting travel and logistics will also limit the flow of gold, diamonds, and other precious commodities into Russia, as well as the proceeds from the sale those resources. Trafficking these resources is illegal and exploitive, and they bring resources into Russia in a time of acute financial turbulence. The prospect of high pay and loot also encourages more soldiers of fortune to join the organization. At a time when the international community is imposing financial costs on Moscow for its aggression, cutting it off from these resource flows is another low-cost option.
  1. Take legal action against Wagner and Wagner personnel

2.1.There are numerous credible accusations of abuses and crimes by Wagner personnel by the UN and international NGOs. While the US, EU, and NATO do not always have jurisdiction, and organizations such as the ICC would act somewhat slowly in these cases, encouraging governments with jurisdiction to issue arrest warrants and Interpol Red Notices would allow most governments to either arrest Wagner personnel in transit or restrict their mobility to states with no extradition treaties. It would also allow more asset seizures and collection of materiel useful for network development or leveraging targeted sanctions.

2.2.There are several governments likely willing to initiate legal action against Wagner. Ukraine itself could play a role by issuing arrest warrants or providing other legal justifications for international action. Kyiv can also leverage its substantial goodwill and strong public messaging to rally international support for legal action against Wagner. Wagner hosts facing instability and regime change, such as Sudan, may be willing to take legal action against Wagner in exchange for economic or political support. Most governments that host Wagner, such as CAR and Mali, will likely resist legal action for security reasons, but neighboring countries may be able to act. For instance, Wagner and Wagner-led forces in CAR allegedly crossed the northern border into Chad multiple times, prompting protestations from the Chadian government.[23] Intelligence sharing that identifies the perpetrators will allow countries like Chad to determine if it wishes to pursue legal action and international support.

2.3.Legal action against Wagner puts Russia in an awkward position. The Russian constitution bans mercenaries, which means Moscow can either extradite Wagner personnel or admit to breaking its own laws. If Moscow chooses the latter, which it almost certainly will, then it serves as a justification for the international community to continue taking legal action against the group during and after the conflict in Ukraine.  If Moscow chooses the former, then it will discourage potential Russian PMC recruits from joining organizations with no legal cover. In either case, a legal framework for countering Wagner will also be useful against other Russian PMCs, should Moscow start using an alternative PMC to spread influence abroad.

  1. Strengthen intelligence-sharing on Wagner

3.1.Wagner’s organizational structure and relationship to other Russian PMC and financial organizations is purposely opaque, but their actions are too overt for its membership and finances to remain a secret from the UK intelligence community. The UK, in conjunction with EU and NATO intelligence agencies, should conduct a sustained and collaborative network development effort to identify the shifting network of companies and personalities that make up Wagner personnel and financiers. They should also proactively disseminate information on Wagner personnel and organizational structure with other partners, including Ukraine. To the extent that sources and methods can be protected, information on abuses by Wagner, or the group’s connections to the Russian state, should be shared with the United Nations Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries, African Union, and local authorities.

3.2.Developing a comprehensive and updated list of Wagner associates, employees, and financial supporters has several benefits. The UK government can assist countries and organizations interested in acting against the group to harmonize existing sanctions and inform them of further opportunities for targeted sanctions against Wagner. With sufficient information, sanctions can be extended to companies buying minerals from Wagner-affiliated companies or individuals. Taking strong anti-mercenary measures such as sanctions will also discourage potential recruits for fear of legal and financial repercussions. In the long term, building a precedent for leveraging intelligence-sharing against Russian PMCs will also make it harder for the Kremlin to replicate Wagner’s success under a new label, or for other countries to emulate Russia’s PMC strategy.

  1. Condition additional aid to Wagner-friendly countries on transparency measures

4.1.Governments like those of the Central African Republic are heavily dependent on international financial support as well as UN peacekeeping missions. While France has reduced aid to CAR and Mali as a punitive measure, removing existing aid would increase reliance on Wagner/Russia, complicate humanitarian efforts, and harm bilateral relations. However, the UK ought to make it clear that they will not support further bilateral or UN assistance to governments that hire mercenaries to commit human rights abuses in concert with their militaries. The UK should demand more transparency in CAR’s dealings with Wagner and Wagner-associated mining companies as a condition for additional financial support. Even conditioning further assistance on the CAR’s government revealing its contracts and/or status of forces agreements with Wagner/Russia would either aid in prosecuting Wagner personnel or force Russia to admit that Wagner is an arm of the Russian state. The UK should also enable peacekeeping missions such as MINUSCA and regional organizations such as ECOWAS to conduct more inquiries into allegations of human rights abuses by Wagner and make any evidence already collected available to the public.















May 2022


[1] https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2018/05/russia-back-africa-and-making-some-very-odd-deals/148371/

[2] https://archive.mid.ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/3136399?p_p_id=101_INSTANCE_cKNonkJE02Bw&_101_INSTANCE_cKNonkJE02Bw_languageId=en_GB

[3] https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2021/03/car-experts-alarmed-governments-use-russian-trainers-close-contacts-un

[4] https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/08/21/in-central-africa-russia-won-the-war-but-its-losing-the-peace/; https://www.ft.com/content/020de965-429e-4fb9-9eed-f7e4370514b3; https://humanglemedia.com/russian-mercenaries-to-start-collecting-coffee-tax-in-central-african-republic/; https://dossier.center/car-en/

[5] https://www.jeuneafrique.com/1339681/politique/centrafrique-lonu-ouvre-une-enquete-sur-le-meurtre-de-civils/

[6] https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/05/03/central-african-republic-abuses-russia-linked-forces#

[7] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/un-human-rights-council-49-uk-statement-for-the-interactive-dialogue-on-the-human-rights-situation-in-the-central-african-republic

[8] https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/whatsinblue/2021/11/central-african-republic-minusca-mandate-renewal.php

[9] https://archive.mid.ru/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/3136399?p_p_id=101_INSTANCE_cKNonkJE02Bw&_101_INSTANCE_cKNonkJE02Bw_languageId=en_GB

[10] https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm1133

[11] https://time.com/6165246/putin-africa-evade-sanctions/

[12] https://issafrica.org/iss-today/wagners-dubious-operatics-in-car-and-beyond; https://edition.cnn.com/2021/06/15/africa/central-african-republic-russian-mercenaries-cmd-intl/index.html

[13] https://www.jeuneafrique.com/1334939/politique/centrafrique-russie-qui-est-vitali-perfilev-le-patron-de-wagner-a-bangui/

[14] https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/exclusive-deal-allowing-russian-mercenaries-into-mali-is-close-sources-2021-09-13/

[15] https://www.csis.org/analysis/tracking-arrival-russias-wagner-group-mali

[16] https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/05/mali-massacre-army-foreign-soldiers

[17] https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/mali-massacre-survivors-say-white-mercenaries-involved-killings-2022-04-14/

[18] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/22/france-says-russian-wagner-mercenaries-staged-french-atrocity-in-mali

[19] https://www.france24.com/en/africa/20220422-france-says-mercenaries-from-russia-s-wagner-group-staged-french-atrocity-in-mali

[20] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/22/france-says-russian-wagner-mercenaries-staged-french-atrocity-in-mali; https://www.lawfareblog.com/how-russias-war-ukraine-affects-its-meddling-africa

[21] https://www.fpri.org/article/2022/03/the-wagner-groups-playbook-in-africa-mali/

[22] https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/russia-turkey-warned-advance-syria-flights-ban-84367356

[23] https://www.arabnews.com/node/2026306/world