Africa Corps, the new label of the Russian presence in the Sahel

Wagner's name disappears but the reference to Nazi Germany remains

Africa Corps, the new label of the Russian presence in the Sahel

Wagner's name disappears but the reference to Nazi Germany remains. The Russian presence in the Sahel has chosen a new label: Africa Corps. While the paramilitary group owed its name to the admiration shown by its founder, Dmitri Outkin, to the German composer who influenced the aesthetics of the Third Reich, this new name is directly inspired by the Afrika Korps, the German battalions which fought in northern Africa during the Second World War.

Beyond common references, the Russian state's overhaul of Yevgeny Prigojine's security company, which has fallen into disgrace in Moscow since the abortive rebellion of its leader - who died on August 23 -, continues. From the Central African Republic (CAR) to Libya via Sudan and Mali, Wagner had built an empire since 2018. A model which allowed Russia major strategic breakthroughs to the detriment of the West, primarily the French, but whose autonomy had become too strong in the eyes of Moscow.

The name Africa Corps first appeared on November 20 on Telegram in a post by military blogger Deux Majors, close to the Russian Defense Ministry. The message quotes Igor Korotchenko, former colonel and editor-in-chief of the Russian magazine Natsionalnaya oborona (“national defense”), also a frequent guest on the show “60 minutes” on the public channel Rossiya 1, announcing that an Africa Corps is “in training”. The appearance of this new structure, specifies Mr. Korotchenko, follows the visit of Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yunous-bek Evkurov to Benghazi (Libya), where he met Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the “strong man » of Cyrenaica (eastern province).

Mr. Evkourov, charged by Vladimir Putin with taking charge of Wagner in liaison with military intelligence (GRU), had made two visits to Benghazi, the first from August 22 to 24 – concomitantly with the fatal air crash in Prigozhin – and September 17 . He returned there a third time on December 2 as part of an African tour, which also took him to Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Mr. Evkourov’s itinerary unambiguously underlines the contours of a new sphere of influence which is reconfiguring African geopolitics.

“Cleansing the Western Presence”

If Haftar's Cyrenaica and Mali had been well-established partners of Wagner for several years, the Kremlin's breakthrough in Burkina Faso and Niger, two Sahelian states having experienced coups in 2022 and 2023, like Mali before them, is more recent. The formation of this new Russophile pole in Africa is fraught with strategic consequences, in a context where Moscow is regaining confidence in the Ukrainian theater and where the gap between the West and the "global South" is increasing thanks to the war in Gaza.