Recent reports claimed that Ukrainian special services were “likely” behind strikes on Russian-backed forces in Sudan. While still unconfirmed, this isn’t the first time Ukraine has thought about flexing its muscles beyond Europe to target Russia.
Ukraine’s military intelligence agency previously devised plans to attack Russian forces in Syria with clandestine Kurdish assistance, according to a leaked top-secret U.S. intelligence document. The objective behind targeting Russian units in Syria was to potentially compel Russia to redirect its military assets from Ukraine to bolster its defenses in Syria.
The Wagner Group, the same Russian mercenary organization implicated in atrocities in Ukraine and across Africa, has played a key role in extending Moscow’s reach in Africa. It has helped Moscow pillage Africa’s resources while helping “prop up some very unsavory regimes in exchange for free rein to plunder the valuable resources of mineral rich countries including Mali, Sudan and Libya.”
According to the New York Times, “Wagner mercenaries and Malian soldiers have been accused of a massacre in the village of Moura, killing hundreds of people — including many unarmed captives and people who had no apparent ties to the insurgency— during a five-day siege last March.”
If Ukraine has the resources and ability to strike Russia in Africa, it could help Ukraine achieve three strategic objectives.
First, as with the plans in Syria, if Ukraine is actively able to strike Russian soldiers and bases in Africa, then Russia will likely be forced to focus more resources on Africa and less on Ukraine. It could also affect Russia’s financial resources, as Russia has been plundering African gold to boost the war effort in Ukraine.
Russia collaborated with Sudan’s military leadership to divert billions in gold, depriving Sudan of substantial state revenue. It backed the 2021 military coup that ousted the transitional civilian government, undermining the pro-democracy movement that had previously removed President Omar al-Bashir. A former U.S. official stated that Russia has exploited Sudan’s resources and supported the coup to retain access.
Second, if Ukraine is successful in defeating Wagner-supported forces in Africa, it could help Ukraine and the West keep pro-Western governments and democracies in power. One of Wagner’s focuses in Africa has been to assist in coups and protect dictators. This is important because Ukraine has struggled heavily with trying to sway African countries from neutrality or even from taking Russia’s side in the Russo-Ukrainian war.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba promised to “free Africa from Russia’s grip,” but so far the response to Ukraine’s diplomatic efforts has been lukewarm. In March 2022, the United Nations passed a resolution denouncing Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. Of the 54 African nations represented in the UN, 28, or slightly over 51 percent, supported the resolution. This is in stark contrast to the overwhelming 81 percent approval from non-African countries. And in April 2022, the UN moved to suspend Russia’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council. Of the 54 African nations, only 10 endorsed this suspension, nine objected, while 35 either abstained or were not present for the vote.
Third, if Ukraine is targeting and destroying Russian fighting capabilities in Africa, it will chip away at Russia’s international prestige and influence. By targeting Russia in Africa – where they think they can operate with impunity – it shows that Russia is not the superpower it thinks it is.
During a coup in Niger in July 2023, many of the coup supporters openly expressed their distaste for France, Niger’s former colonial ruler. Thousands marched through Niger’s capital, where they expressed their hatred of France, and many of these demonstrators waved Russian flags, signifying Russia’s emerging influence in the region. The New York Times reported that in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, where there have been military coups recently, the Russian flag, “has emerged as a trendy accessory, much like a Che Guevara illustration a generation ago in the West.”
Russia has been strategically expanding its influence in Africa as a counter to Western powers, while Ukraine has actively pursued essential diplomatic relations with African countries. For over a decade, Moscow has positioned itself as Africa’s primary arms provider, accounting for nearly half of the continent’s military imports.
By blockading Ukrainian ports since the full-scale invasion in February 2022, Russia has been restricting Ukrainian grain from global markets, with Moscow attempting to capitalize on elevated grain prices, profit from the Ukrainian grain seized in the occupied areas and weaken Ukraine’s economic economy. This disruption in grain exports from Ukraine and Russia’s port blockades has exacerbated supply shortages, resulting in skyrocketing food prices in Africa.
However, Ukraine has not had much success in countering Russian disinformation in Africa nor convincing African states to stand against Russia. The problem only compounds as Wagner keeps helping install pro-Russian regimes. Five former French colonies in Africa have had their governments toppled since 2021.
The new leaders of Mali and Burkina Faso, are “overly pro-Russian” and in Mali and the Central African Republic, Wagner mercenaries have taken the place of French troops.
If Western countries can provide the financial backing, perhaps it’s time for Ukraine to go on the offensive against Russia in Africa. Ukraine could lend its drone expertise and help coordinate drone attacks against Russian forces, as they already appear to have done in Sudan. It could also deploy special forces to conduct strategic attacks against Russian forces.
Ukraine’s capability to target and neutralize Wagner forces outside its borders could boost morale within the country and potentially diminish Russia’s operational strength in Ukraine.
Ukrainian special forces and intelligence services possess the expertise to execute advanced operations in regions beyond their homeland. Successfully undertaking such missions necessitates a comprehensive network, robust infrastructure, and local backing. With proper support from the West, Ukraine can have a devastating impact on Russian forces in Africa.
The struggle against Russian imperialism transcends Europe. Ukraine has the potential to contribute significantly to Russia’s defeat in Africa.
Source : The Hill