Dennis Rice and Sean Rayment report on growing security concerns over Putin and his plans for the Wagner Group in Africa.
ALARM bells are ringing at Western intelligences services after news emerged of plans to install Russia’s top spymaster as head of the Wagner Group’s operations in Africa.
The Wall Street Journal has spoken to security sources who said Major General Andrei Averyanov is Putin’s personal choice to run the private mercenary group’s ventures in the Central African Republic (CAR), Libya, Mali, and Sudan.
General Andrei Averyanov at July’s African summit Pic Credit: Twitter
Why it matters: Putin will use the Wagner Group to further widen the cracks between Africa and Western nations over political differences and colonial legacies.
- In the short term Averyanov will be ensuring the continued flow of money from Wagner mining concessions to fund the Ukraine War and survive sanctions.
- He will look to replace Wagner mercenaries working with the regimes with 20,000 highly trained Russian troops.
What we know already:
- In the longer term Averyanov will look to build on the 39 military cooperation agreements Russia has signed in Africa since 2015.
- As a study by the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Community Center on Russia’s African coup strategy makes clear, Putin has a multi-pronged strategy involving clandestine online and offline campaigns to destabilise regimes and promote and glorify pro-Russian coup leaders.
- There is evidence showing Russian dirty tricks in virtually all of the nine coups which have taken place since 2020 in seven African countries – Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Chad, Niger, and more recently, Gabon.
- Microsoft described it as “hybrid warfare” wherein sympathetic media outlets are launched, social media influencers cultivated alongside so-called activists, fake civil society organisations created, and political discourse artificially manipulated.
- Other features of the Russian campaign in Africa are the agility with which its messengers can produce content in line with changing political winds; the intensity of the inflammatory and vitriolic anti-Western messages; and a “hydra-headed” approach, in which it is using several different mediums to promote its messaging; and co-opting historical grievances to put the likes of France in the worst, and Russia the best, light.
Who is Andrei Averyanov? Putin’s right-hand man and the brains behind a team of assassins who have waged death and destruction in Europe for a decade, now turning to Africa.
- Born in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, on January 23 1966, little is known about Averyanov’s life until he joined Russian Military Intelligence (GRU), after graduating in 1988 from the Tashkent Higher Combined Arms Command School, in what was then the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan.
- At GRU, Averyanov lead Unit 29155, an elite unit tasked with foreign assassinations, subversion and sabotage, aimed at destabilizing European countries. Its operations were so clandestine that its existence was hidden from GRU colleagues.
- Unit 29155 is suspected of putting a bomb on board the private jet which blew up Yevgeny Prigozhin and two of his right-hand men at Wagner as they flew north of Moscow last month.
- Averyanov ran the team who poisoned Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB officer), in London in 2006.
- His unit was also behind the nerve agent attacks against the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in 2018.
- Averyanov was also implicated in the 2014 act of sabotage on a Czech ammunition depot that killed two people.
- His 29155 unit was linked to a similar assassination attempt of a Bulgarian arms dealer in 2015, and reportedly responsible for a destabilisation campaign in Moldova.
- It was also implicated in a failed pro-Serbia coup plot in Montenegro in 2016 which included an attempt to assassinate the Prime Minister Milo Đukanović.
- Putin personally introduced Averyanov at the Russian African Summit in St Petersburg in July.