Factbox: Wagner's global operations; gold, oil and war
PHOTO CAPTION: Fighters of Wagner private mercenary group pull out of the headquarters of the Southern Military District to return to base, in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, June 24, 2023. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko/File Photo
(Reuters) -The abortive mutiny by Russia's Wagner group last week calls into question the fate of the group's wide network of military and commercial operations across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
This factbox shows what Wagner is doing and where.
Wagner deployed in Ukraine soon after the invasion began early last year and by the summer it was enlisting thousands of prisoners to fight for it on front lines.
By December, as it took a central role in the battle for Bakhmut, U.S. intelligence estimated it had 40,000 prisoner recruits fighting in Ukraine, thoughWagner itself has not commented on the figure.
The group's leaders took credit for Russian success in Bakhmut while criticising the regular military and the leadership of the Defence Ministry.
Wagner boss Prigozhin arrived in Belarus on Tuesday under a deal negotiated by President Alexander Lukashenko. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the group's fighters would be offered the choice of relocating there.
Satellite images of a military base near Asipovichi, southeast of Minsk, where Russian media had reported the group would establish itself, appeared to show new construction, suggesting the swift development of a Wagner facility.
Russia officially began military operations in Syria in 2015 in support of President Bashar al-Assad, deploying its air force from Hmeimim airbase and using contractors including Wagner for some ground operations and in security roles.
Several hundred Wagner fighters were killed by U.S. forces during a confrontation in Syria in 2018.
The group took over security of al-Shaer oil field and Western officials say it owns Evro Polis, a company that takes 25% of profits from several oil fields.
Wagner has recruited former Syrian rebel fighters in areas retaken by Assad, including for use as mercenaries in Libya from 2019.
Hmeimim airbase has meanwhile become a critical node in Wagner's global logistical operations as a transit point for flights between Russia, the Middle East and into Africa via airbases in Libya.
Wagner entered Libya in 2019 to help eastern commander Khalifa Haftar's assault on Tripoli to drive out the internationally recognised government.
The United States Department of Defense said in 2020 that Wagner's support for Haftar appeared to have been paid for by the United Arab Emirates, which backed the warlord along with Russia and Egypt. The UAE did not respond to a request for comment then, nor again on Monday when asked about any links with Wagner.
U.N. sanctions monitors reported in 2020 that Wagner had deployed up to 1,200 people in Libya and the U.S. military Africa Command said Russian military aircraft were supplying Wagner fighters there.
Wagner operated air defence systems and fighter jets from Jufra airbase south of Tripoli, with some warplanes arriving from Hmeimim where their original Russian markings were painted over.
As well as bringing in Syrian fighters as mercenaries, Wagner worked alongside foreign fighters from Sudan, Chad and elsewhere.
Although Haftar's offensive ended in failure with a ceasefire in 2020, Wagner remained in Libya with a presence at Jufra and other airbases in the south and east that researchers say it uses as a springboard to other sites in Africa.
It has also deployed at times around major oil fields and researchers say it has commercial interests in Libya that include energy output and local smuggling networks.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
The mineral-rich Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries in the world. Russian mercenaries including from Wagner intervened in 2018 on the side of the government to quell a civil war that has raged since 2012.
The Russian ambassador to the Central African Republic said in a February interview with Russian state-owned news agency RIA that 1,890 "Russian instructors" were present in the country.
Analysts have said Wagner received logging rights and control of a gold mine in CAR. This week the United States put sanctions on a CAR company as one of several including one from the UAE that it said was involved in financing Wagner through illicit gold dealings.
Both Russia and Mali have said Russian fighters there are not mercenaries but trainers helping local troops fight a decade-long insurgency against Islamist militants.
Mali's leaders seized power in a 2021 coup and brought in Wagner after asking a French military mission to leave.
The government is contracting directly with Wagner, paying around $10.8 million a month for its services, Reuters reported in 2021.
Wagner fighters have been accused of involvement in an incident last year in Moura, in central Mali, where local troops and suspected Russian fighters allegedly killed hundreds of civilians.
Western nations and diplomats say Wagner has been involved in gold mining, spreading disinformation and schemes to suppress pro-democracy protests in Sudan as Russia has tried to sway events before and after the 2019 overthrow of Omar al-Bashir.
While Moscow has ties to both the military factions that have been locked in conflict in Sudan since April 15, Wagner is thought to have sustained a relationship with the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) rather than the army.
Wagner has denied it is operating in Sudan, saying its staff had not been there for more than two years and said it had no role in the fighting.
However, in May the U.S. accused Wagner of supplying the RSF with surface-to-air missiles, "contributing to a prolonged armed conflict that only results in further chaos in the region".
(Reporting by Reuters newsrooms in Europe, Middle East and Africa; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Alison Williams)