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Who Will Control Wagner’s Empire of War and Gold? – WSJ

  • This complex network of companies belonging to the paramilitary group will make any Kremlin takeover a challenge
Yevgeny Prigozhin (left) Vladimir Putin (NYTimes)
Yevgeny Prigozhin (left) Vladimir Putin (WSJ)

Frank Matt, James V. Grimaldi, Rob Barry, Max Rust and Kara Dapena, WSJ

NEW YOR/WASHINGTON
EnergiesNet.com 08 24 2023

The Kremlin is attempting one of the most complex corporate takeovers in history, seeking to seize control of the Wagner paramilitary group’s sprawling global empire.

Founded by businessman-turned-warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner is made up of dozens of companies that fight Russia’s war in Ukraine and provide security to government leaders in Syria and across Africa, where they also operate gold and diamond mines and act as an informal diplomatic arm of the Russian government.

An intricate corporate structure of shell companies conceals Wagner’s operations outside of Russia and blurs its ties to the Kremlin, making it difficult to hold the Russian state accountable, according to European and U.S. Treasury sanctions, corporate registries, documents and emails from banks and a law firm posted on the internet, customs records collected by the private vendor ImportGenius and nonprofit investigative organizations and think tanks in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

After years of denying connections, President Vladimir Putin admitted to financing the group and said the state had paid it 86 billion rubles over the past year, equivalent to about $950 million.

Now, after Wagner’s aborted mutiny last month and Prigozhin’s disappearance, Putin is trying to rein in the group. Its vastness—not to mention the question of its boss’s whereabouts—will make that difficult.

Now, after Wagner’s aborted mutiny last month and Prigozhin’s disappearance, Putin is trying to rein in the group. Its vastness—not to mention the question of its boss’s whereabouts—will make that difficult.

Putin also moved to control the group’s men in Syria, where the Russian military has a large presence. Wagner fighters are employed by Evro Polis, a Prigozhin-linked company hired by the Syrian government to protect oil and gas fields.

Grey Zone Telegram Channel

Wagner fighters employed by Sewa also provide personal protection for the president of CAR. Russia’s allies in Africa have said they want to continue their relationships with Wagner after the mutiny.

In Africa, Wagner traded security and political interference for natural resources. That allowed the Kremlin to spread its influence with minimal investment.

UN MINUSCA

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-19-1024x567.png



Through Midas, Wagner operates the N'dassima mine, which it developed into the only industrialized gold mine in the country, with a projected potential profit of billions of dollars in the next decade. The U.S. imposed sanctions on Midas in June.
Maxar Technologies
Through Midas, Wagner operates the N’dassima mine, which it developed into the only industrialized gold mine in the country, with a projected potential profit of billions of dollars in the next decade. The U.S. imposed sanctions on Midas in June.

Maxar Technologies /AFPTV via Getty Images

The status of the Wagner network in Africa is in flux following Wagner’s mutiny, with little clarity yet about who is in control. Hundreds of Wagner fighters departed the Central African Republic soon after the mutiny—but now dozens of fresh troops have arrived to help CAR’s president secure a referendum that could extend his term. In a video recorded after the mutiny at Wagner’s new base in Belarus, Prigozhin said that Africa would be a focus for the group.

Explore more about the companies conducting and supporting the Wagner Group’s operations, how they are interconnected and which ones have been targeted by Western sanctions.

The Journal identified more than 70 companies linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin.

About half control a Russia-based empire of government contracting and real estate, along with luxury assets such as boats and planes.

The Journal contacted Prigozhin, the Kremlin and all companies identified as linked to the Wagner Group. None responded to requests for comment.

Sources: U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control; U.S. State Department; the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime; OpenSanctions.org (supported by German Federal Ministry for Education and Research); ImportGenius; the United Nations; the European Union; the Sentry; Distributed Denial of Secrets; All Eyes on Wagner; The Dossier Center; EIC Network, Future Frontlines at New America; Center for Advanced Defense Studies

Lisa Schwartz contributed to this article.

Write to Frank Matt at francis.matt@wsj.com, James V. Grimaldi at james.grimaldi@wsj.com, Rob Barry at Rob.Barry@wsj.com, Max Rust at max.rust@wsj.com and Kara Dapena at kara.dapena@wsj.com

Original article

wsj.com 08 24 2023

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