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By John Helmer, Moscow

On March 5, in Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR), there was a fire-bombing of a French–owned brewery which destroyed 50,000 bottles of beer. On August 23, a private jet of the Wagner Group was bombed in the air north of Moscow, and the Wagner leaders, Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin, were killed, along with five of their associates and three flight crew.

The connection between the two incidents is that Prigozhin’s methods of doing business in Africa cost him his life in Russia. The African business, not the mutiny at Rostov on June 23-24, is the fatal link.

It was the last straw. This is not a case of a soldier who lived by the sword and died by the sword. It’s the gangster who thought he was the capo dei capi, boss of bosses; and was brought down to earth because he wasn’t. To ignore the warnings that he had reached his multi-billion dollar operating limit, that he should stop muscling in on the competition, retire and keep his money  — these are well-known rules of American business, not to say mafia rules. But Prigozhin followed Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Boris Berezovsky in thinking Russian business is different. They thought there was no limit to their power to get what they wanted.

There are two competing Russian press compilations of what exactly happened on August 23, and what the evidence reveals of  who arranged the killing and how the operation was carried out. These are Konstantin Malofeyev’s Tsargrad on the national patriotic side,  and Meduza, the anti-Putin opposition publication now based in Riga.  

The Anglo-American accounts in the mainstream press and the alt-media blogs, including Andrew Napolitano’s group of US military and CIA retirees, Douglas Macgregor, Tony Shaffer, Larry Johnson and Scott Ritter, do not come close to the Russian interpretation of the case.

The lengthy Tsargrad report can be read at this link. It is blocked to readers in some countries.

Source: https://tsargrad.tv/

“When he and the commanders were summoned to the Kremlin to meet with Putin [immediately after the June 23-24 mutiny], the president yelled at the whole lot of them for three hours. Straight up yelled. But then he didn’t touch them! Maybe Zhenya [Prigozhin] decided that Putin got it out of his system: ‘He didn’t kill us right away, so he won’t ever kill us’? He considered himself indestructible. He decided that he was immortal.” Source: https://meduza.io

In Tsargrad’s reconstruction of the flight of Prigozhin’s aircraft and of the doppelganger or decoy aircraft which flew ahead by 40 minutes, and then returned to Moscow 35 minutes after the crash, the cause was one or two bombs detonated on board Prigozhin’s flight. The destruction occurred so suddenly that the pilots had no warning and no time to signal air traffic control. The subsequent recovery and decoding of the aircraft black boxes,  and the civilian and military radar track records appear to have confirmed this also, although there have been no official releases of this information, and no unofficial leaks.

A report by FlightAware suggests that although the two flights appear to have followed the same flight path, tracking their precise locations is impossible “likely due to … interference (or) jamming in the area.” Reuters reports that position locations were calculated from signals sent to multiple receivers in the area.  

Source: https://www.reuters.com/

The Tsargrad report indicates that because Prigozhin’s aircraft had been in a maintenance facility for several days before the flight, the assassination devices may have been secreted in the airframe well before the flight. Alternatively, they may have been taken on board at the last minute. Their location is now known to the authorities from the pattern of explosive damage and chemical traces in the recovered parts of the aircraft. There has been no official disclosure or leaks on what the forensic analyses have begun to reveal.

The refusal of the Russian authorities to allow any disclosure of forensic evidence, or of the black box, radio, and radar records of the flight has stimulated the Russian press into reporting conspiracy theories claiming Prigozhin is still alive; a rump of the Wagner group is also prompting this story.  The Wagner media outlets are withholding what they know of Prigozhin’s meetings in Africa before he returned to Russia on August 22; and his telephone calls, messaging and internet communications, and meeting records over the following 24 hours in Moscow.   

Sightings of Prigozhin lookalikes have been reported in Tyumen,   and in Saudi Arabia and Mali.  There are Moscow reports that Prigozhin was trying to sell his aircraft, and that potential buyers inspected it earlier in the day of the fateful flight.  The  CCTV footage showing Prigozhin at Vnukovo airport, then boarding the plane, is being tightly held, and no one claiming to have watched it has leaked to the press or social media.  

In the Tsargrad report, the sources include former Russian civil aviation, military and intelligence veterans. They concur the assassination was the settling of “old scores”. They differ on whether these were domestic in origin, or Ukrainian, British or other foreign sources. They also agree that President Vladimir Putin did not order the killing and probably did not know in advance.

“Putin forgave him; there are other enemies who did not”, Lieutenant General Leonid Reshetnikov (right), a veteran of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), told Tsargrad: “No special service of our country will ever go into an operation that leaves a ‘hint’ of the involvement of its leadership. Of course, [if there was the operational order], another place would have been found — Africa is a big place and the circumstances more opportune there; for example, the crocodiles don’t have enough high-quality meat to eat. And so, there might be a terrorist attack with a subtext pointing away from those
most likely to have done it.”

A Moscow source believes that before the event Putin did not act and did not know. After the event he did not disapprove.

“Prigozhin was a mobster for hire who thought he was the Godfather. So his modus operandi included many things – killing, extortion, and bribes, yes — in the pursuit of personal and business advantage. But trying to make state policy and take over state or other oligarch assets,  no. But that’s what Prigozhin had been doing for months in his attacks on Defense Minister [Sergei] Shoigu, and the General Staff.  I think there were enough provocations from Prigozhin, even before the mutiny. But maybe there was a fresh trigger when he began to become a thorn in Africa. So, yes, this is a typical 1990s gangster settlement more than a political one. And more. With what he said and did, apparently on impulse and unpredictably, Prigozhin made himself into a walking time-bomb. And as it turns out, that’s what happened on the aircraft. It’s obvious that since the mutiny in June, the Defense Ministry has had two months to neutralize Wagner, resettle the men, recover their arms, scatter the troublemakers.”

“Putin would have ordered the Defense Ministry to sort out the whole business and leave no loose ends. But that’s not an order to liquidate Prigozhin.  He could have walked away if he had accepted the breakup of his military operations, the reassignment of his Defense Ministry contracts, the end of his African commando. In addition, he could have held on to his real estate and other civilian businesses if in running those too, he hadn’t threatened other oligarchs. In retrospect, from June on, no oligarch would have done business with this guy. He didn’t have the Kremlin’s sanction to continue in business. So his assets became takeover targets for raiders against him. That’s what was happening. There were a lot of old scores to settle, and rich pickings if he didn’t go quietly. And, more fool, he wouldn’t.”

Another Moscow source, recalling the most famous official assassination in English history, when the king was threatened personally and politically by the head of the church, says: “This isn’t King Henry saying aloud in front of his knights about Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘Will no one  rid me of this turbulent priest?’ so the knights go off and kill him.”  Putin didn’t say,  do it;  he didn’t say, don’t do it. What followed was a gangster settlement. That’s to say the outcome, but not to say the method or the motivation was approved, except in retrospect.”

“I knew Prigozhin for a very long time, since the early ’90s,” Putin said on August 24. “He was a man of complicated fate, and he made serious mistakes in his life. He achieved the results he needed, both for himself, and, when I asked him, for the common cause, as in these last months. He was a talented person, a talented businessman, he worked not only in our country, and achieved results, but also abroad, particularly in Africa. He was involved there with oil, gas, precious metals and stones. As far as I know, it was only yesterday that he got back from Africa. He met some officials here.”    

Source: https://www.youtube.com/
It is likely that when Putin referred to Prigozhin’s meetings with “officials here”, African officials were included. It is unclear what Russian officials Prigozhin met after his return to Moscow.

Putin was speaking more plainly than has been understood by Russians or foreigners. “Businessman”, talented or not, is not a term of respect among Russian voters – Putin knew that.  Prigozhin had made “serious mistakes” out of business calculation for himself; the Rostov mutiny and march to Tver included.  So long as he acted, as he had been requested, for the state,  his business tactics were tolerated in oil, gas, gold and diamonds.  But they were not acceptable if he operated against the “common cause”. Putin made a point of hinting “as far as I know” that this is what had happened when Prigozhin had met officials in Africa before the fatal flight on August 23.

This is not payback or revenge for the June events. This is a fresh violation in Africa by Prigozhin. What happened?

For the time being, those who know, including the officials in CAR and Mali who let Russian officials know what Prigozhin had told them, are silent.  In the CAR five months have elapsed since a squad of Wagner saboteurs struck the Castel brewery in Bangui in what the French government and media are describing as a Russian attack on their commercial interests in the country.  

Independent sources say that Prigozhin’s rival brewery is located about 20 kilometres from the Castel plant. They add that CAR is too small a market to support this second brewery, and that satellite images and other monitoring indicate that the Wagner site has been using the brewery as camouflage for another form of trade, possibly drugs. This also implies powerful local CAR partners. Whatever has been happening in Bangui, there appears to have been no negative consequences for Prigozhin and Wagner by the time the CAR President, Faustin-Archange Touadera, arrived in St. Petersburg for the Russia-Africa summit conference on July 26.  

There is no local record at all of Prigozhin’s visit to the CAR a fortnight later, or to Mali in the northwest.  Russian press reporting is silent on Prigozhin’s movements during his last Africa trip.

In his videoclips and photographs from the Africa trip, Prigozhin doesn’t say where he is, who he was meeting with, or what he was discussing. Sources, including those reported by Meduza and hinted at on Telegram platforms linked to Wagner, suggest that Prigozhin was trying to protect his African military operations from takeover by Russian state-linked groups, and to save the businesses associated with them.  The African leaders with whom he met have made clear that whatever private business deals they and Prigozhin have run in the past, they will rely on the Russian state in future to assure the flow of arms, troop training, and security arrangements on which they depend.  

Sources speculate that in the CAR and Mali Prigozhin repeated his verbal attacks on the Russian Defense Ministry, and attempted to bribe or threaten the Africans; and that they then reported to Russian officials what he was doing.  If this is what the African trip record reveals, it would have been understood in Moscow that Prigozhin was attempting a repeat of the Rostov mutiny – this time outside the country and against the state strategy for Africa. The “common cause”, as Putin called it.  

In parallel, Russian oligarch operations in west Africa, such as Oleg Deripaska’s bauxite and alumina business in Guinea, Alexei Mordashov’s Nord Gold mines in Burkina Faso,  LUKoil in Ivory Coast,    and Alrosa’s diamond mines in Angola,  the Russian state agencies and the oligarchs have been working  hand in hand. For example, Deripaska relies on personal and state support from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov;  for their “common cause” they don’t fight each other in Africa.

Source: https://johnhelmer.net/
By Russian operating standards in Africa over the past decade, Prigozhin was not less corrupt; slightly more criminal; significantly less successful except in the military security business; and much more indiscreet. Only in the Russian diamond, gold and platinum projects in Zimbabwe has the gap between publicly announced ambition and the financial bottom-line been greater; read more here.  

Left: July 27, 2023, St Petersburg: Yevgeny Prigozhin, right, with Freddy Mapouka, chief of protocol for the Central African Republic’s president, at a St Petersburg hotel owned by Prigozhin. The picture was posted by Dmitry Syty, a Russian cultural attaché in Bangui. Syty, who has been sanctioned by the US, UK and EU for being a Wagner frontman in CAR, posted the image on his Facebook account with the message: “Mr. Ambassador [Mapouka] shared with me the first photos of the Russia-Africa Summit. We see familiar faces [Prigozhin]”.   Right: Prigozhin’s public posting, apparently from Mali in August, a week before his fatal flight from Moscow.  On the soundtrack, Prigozhin says he is “making Russia even greater on all continents, and Africa even more free." In a second videoclip released by a Wagner Group Telegram account on August 31, Prigozhin says he is in Africa in “the second half of August”, and “for people who like to discuss wiping me out,  or my private life, how much I earn, or whatever else, everything’s okay. “ 

An attempt by the Financial Times of London to use Anglo-American market gossip and intelligence feed to exaggerate the value of Prigozhin’s African assets first appeared under the byline of a reporter called Miles Johnson last February. Johnson’s story headline of $250 million was a misrepresentation. 

Source: https://www.ft.com/

The report claimed that Prigozhin’s and the Wagner Group’s revenue-generating businesses in Africa and Syria were in “oil, gas, diamond and gold extraction.”   The maximum revenue figures cited by the reporter were an oil company’s revenues of $134 million in Syria in 2020, just $400,000 in 2021; $2.6 million from gold-mining in the Sudan in 2021; and $6 million from exports of Russian “ industrial equipment to Sudan and Central African Republic” in 2021. The newspaper had no data for CAR or Mali.

These sums do not add up to the headline; they fall far short of this lead in Johnson’s story: “The sanctioned Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin generated revenues of more than a quarter of a billion dollars from his global natural resources empire in the four years before Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, according to corporate records.”  

An earlier FT report made no estimate at all of Wagner’s African business cashflows or mineral assets.   The US Treasury’s sanctions announcements naming Prigozhin and Wagner fronts in the CAR,  failed to substantiate any estimate of their asset value or cashflow.  

Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), diagrammed by the Financial Times

The US Treasury theory is that “the Wagner Group funds its brutal operations in part by exploiting natural resources in countries like the Central African Republic and Mali. The United States will continue to target the Wagner Group’s revenue streams to degrade its expansion and violence in Africa, Ukraine, and anywhere else.”  

In fact, what has been happening is that Prigozhin funded his soldiers’ bills from his domestic Russian cashflows, and was helping himself to the African mining and other concessions, including drug smuggling which the US Treasury and the Financial Times have failed to report. French, British and Russian sources are more informative on the point.

By the due diligence standards of the mining markets and the prospectuses of western mining companies in the CAR, Mali, and the Sudan, the Wagner assets themselves have been marginal. On the other hand, businesses like the Africa ti L’or-brand beer in the CAR – “friendly country investment in the CAR is win/win cooperation”  — are more profitable if they are combined with contraband  in partnership with local political and military figures. In that line of business, Prigozhin was imitating the earlier CIA model in Southeast Asia and Central America, and the Anglo-Irish mercenary Mike Hoare in the Congo.

Even Vox, an anti-Russian outlet financed by US propaganda foundations, has dismissed the US sanctions against the Wagner businesses in Africa as “imitation activity”,  and the businesses themselves as low in cash value. “‘Considering the fact that this sector is well-corrupted and there are a number of local beneficiaries (local criminal groups, corrupted officials and politicians, etc.), the amount of money that the Wagner group could hypothetically gain from the sector does not exceed much the operational costs of the Russian mercenaries there,’ Luzin told Vox.”  


There are many maps purporting to show Wagner Group “boots on the ground” in African states over the past ten years. This US Congressional Research Service publication dates from August 2023.  French government media have published maps claiming much more extensive operations.

Under the headline, “Wagner’s lucrative African operations”, the FT reported last week “a longtime Prigozhin acquaintance” as acknowledging:  “‘We’re talking about tens of millions a year maximum,’ the person said of the expected profits.”   For the Anglo-American intelligence services tracking of Prigozhin’s family and its assets, click to read.

Following the military coup in Niger on July 26, US and British think tanks and propaganda platforms have been supplying the media with claims that the coup signals “a shift in alliances toward Russia. The appearance of Russian flags waved by some coup supporters suggests a repeat of the Mali and Burkina Faso scenarios.”  The hint is that Prigozhin and Wagner have been working behind the scenes in Niger.  

According to the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, “the August 23 death of Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin adds a new layer of uncertainty to Russia’s ability to take advantage of the crisis in Niger—which once again puts France in a difficult position.”  

“‘Niger is a line in the sand for stopping this trend,’ said Jendayi Frazer, a former top U.S. envoy for African affairs who is now at the Council on Foreign Relations. ‘And if it can’t be stopped in Niger, then I think that there’s real trouble for the rest of West Africa.’”  

Menas, the London consultancy on Africa, reports: “It is too early to say whether the new rulers will follow Mali and Burkina Faso in turning towards Russia. If they do it will bring the same horrors of human rights abuses to Niger as has occurred in the neighbouring countries…Should the West — notably the US, France, the EU and a number of individual countries such as Belgium and Germany — reduce or cut their considerable financial support for Niger, its economy would be left in tatters. Its massive financial dependency on the West might deter Niger’s new rulers from straying too far towards Russia. A final concern for the West, or at least Europe, is migration. Russia’s primary motive, should it gain a foothold in Niger, is to destabilise the West. It could eventually result in an additional 100,000 migrants a year cross the Sahel to the Mediterranean coast.”

Marc Eichinger dismisses the Anglo-American speculation as commercial rivalry and political propaganda. Eichinger is the leading independent French expert on Niger and a veteran of investigations of French corporate and state  corruption in Niger; follow his African investigations here,  and the French state role (2022).  

Left: the French state’s chief of African corruption and money laundering into French presidential election campaigns, Anne Lauvergeon, opening the Niger’s false uranium project at Imouraren;    Centre and right, Marc Eichinger’s books on the corrupt dealings of Lauvergeon’s Areva uranium mining group, and its successor, Orano.  On Orano’s fabrication of the €1.1 billion Imouraren uranium mineral deposit, read this.  

It is also clear that Wagner’s  business interests in Africa were far smaller than his political ambitions; they have been marginal in the countries where they are located, and they have been  ignored by the Russian oligarchs with much more significant interests in western and southern Africa. They were not employing Wagner or Prigozhin before the Rostov mutiny in June; whether they suspected Prigozhin of interloping on their territory is not known.  

The internal politics of each of these African states, the role of their military, economic and commercial structures,  the operations of the US, British, French, Belgians and Israelis, and the new role of the Chinese are so different, one from another, that generalisations in the western press of a Russian attempt to trigger a domino series of regime changes are propaganda.

Source: https://johnhelmer.net/
Follow Rosatom’s $50 billion reactor sale story here.

South Africa has been the Kremlin’s strategic priority in Africa since the Soviet era. Since the collapse of the apartheid regime in 1994, Russian attempts to break into the nuclear reactor, mining, and offshore gas businesses of South Africa, several Russian oligarchs have played key roles,   especially Roman Abramovich,    Vladimir Yevtushenkov,   and Vladimir Potanin.   They appeared to be successful during the presidency of Jacob Zuma, 2009-2018; they have ultimately failed at the business level, though not at the political  level of the current president, Cyril Ramaphosa.  

Prigozhin and Wagner, however,  have been of no consequence in South Africa except as a bogeyman for the anti-Russian South African media, which oppose the role South Africa is playing in BRICS with the Kremlin. These white community media support the commercial and strategic roles which the US, British and French aim to continue playing in Africa.  

NOTE: The opinion polling published by the independent Levada Centre of Moscow on July 7 suggests the majority of Russians will disregard the later news of Prigozhin’s death, whoever turns out to be responsible for it. The June mutiny and its immediate aftermath Russian voters have interpreted as “a conflict between a toad and a viper”, with no lasting damage for Putin, Shoigu, or the General Staff. “The rebellion had a very limited impact on the ratings of the authorities. This is confirmed by all available research. The ratings of Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, Sergei Lavrov and the government as a whole have not changed. Only that of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the target of Prigozhin’s criticism, suffered. Putin, from the point of view of the majority, did exactly what he was supposed to – he gave an address, showed his awareness of the situation, showed firmness, supported the military and condemned the rebels. The president did not win over his opponents, but it was enough for his supporters: ‘he did his part’.  Ordinary Russians had no issues with Vladimir Putin.”  If the official investigation of the aircraft bombing turns out to be uninformative and  inconclusive, this is likely to have no negative political impact on Russian voters. So uninformative and inconclusive it is likely to be.

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