African leaders allied with Russia had grown used to coping with Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the swaggering, profane mercenary chief who traveled the continent by non-public jet, providing to prop up shaky regimes with weapons and propaganda in return for gold and diamonds.
However the Russian delegation that toured three African nations final week was led by a really completely different determine, the starchy deputy protection minister, Yunus-bek Yevkurov. Wearing a khaki uniform and a “telnyashka” — the horizontally striped undergarment of Russian armed forces — he signaled conformity and restraint, giving assurances wrapped in well mannered language.
“We are going to do our greatest that can assist you,” he stated at a information convention.
The distinction with the flamboyant Mr. Prigozhin couldn’t have been sharper, and it aligned with the message the Kremlin was delivering: After Mr. Prigozhin’s loss of life in a airplane crash final month, Russia’s operations in Africa had been coming beneath new administration.
It was a glimpse of a shadowy battle now enjoying out on three continents: the battle for the profitable paramilitary and propaganda empire that enriched Mr. Prigozhin and served Russia’s navy and diplomatic ambitions — till the Wagner chief staged a failed mutiny in opposition to the Kremlin in June.
Interviews with greater than a dozen present and former officers in Washington, Europe, Africa and Russia — in addition to 4 Russians who labored for Mr. Prigozhin — painting a tug of battle over his belongings amongst main gamers in Russia’s energy construction, together with two completely different intelligence businesses. Lots of these interviewed spoke on situation of anonymity, to debate delicate diplomatic and intelligence points.
The battle is difficult, these folks stated, by the lingering allegiance to Mr. Prigozhin in his non-public military, the place some are bridling at being subsumed inside Russia’s protection ministry and as an alternative backing a switch of energy to Mr. Prigozhin’s son.
“Wagner is not only in regards to the cash — it’s a type of faith,” stated Maksim Shugalei, a political advisor for Mr. Prigozhin, including that he was proud to be a part of the mercenary drive. “It’s unlikely that this construction will completely disappear. For me, that is unattainable.”
Valerie Hopkins, Elian Peltier, Paul Sonne, Ekaterina Bodyagina, Alina Lobzina, Oleg Matsnev and Raja Abdulrahim contributed reporting.