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By: Danylo Malchevskyi

Editor: Julia Pimenta

SP_Feb4: News

February 2024

As the geopolitical landscape evolves, the strategic significance of Africa in international politics is becoming more apparent. With its vast natural resources and critical maritime routes, the continent has drawn the attention of major world powers, all seeking to assert their dominance. Among the global powers vying for influence, the United States (US) has been particularly proactive, launching a series of security interventions to counter the influence of its geopolitical rivals (Batyuk & Morozov, 2022). Notably, Russia has positioned itself as a significant challenger, leveraging economic, diplomatic, and military tools to expand its footprint across the continent (Batyuk & Morozov, 2022). Despite not being as dominant in economic engagements as countries like China and France, Russia’s military footprint and the activities of private military companies (PMCs) have raised considerable concerns (UNCTAD, 2022). In light of these dynamics, an essential question arises: How does the US counter the activities of Russian PMCs in Africa, and what are the strategic objectives guiding these responses?

Reflecting on the mentioned concerns, General Townsend’s testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services underscores the destabilizing effect of Russian activities on the continent (Babb, 2022). He singled out Russian PMCs, particularly the Wagner Group, as key players in destabilizing Africa, Europe, and Latin America (Babb, 2022). While operating under Russian military intelligence, Wagner has a complex history that intertwines with Russian military interventions abroad. Its origins trace back to the early stages of the Russian–Ukrainian war, particularly during the annexation of Crimea in 2014 (Marten, 2019). During this period, the group operated alongside the Russian military special operations forces, notably by deploying the green men: soldiers in unmarked green military uniforms (Marten, 2019). Following the annexation of the peninsula, the group shifted its focus to eastern Ukraine, allowing Russia to exert influence and control over the region without formally acknowledging its military engagement (Marten, 2019).

Since then, Russia has been acting through its paramilitary groups in Africa, notably in Sudan and the neighboring Central African Republic, Libya, and Mali (De León Cobo, 2022). Over the past nine years, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali has suffered severe losses, with at least 180 peacekeepers killed in action due to armed conflicts, including engagements with Russian private military companies (De Simone, 2023). Russia’s presence in Africa also extends to Niger, where extensive disinformation campaigns resulted in a military coup (Hairsine, 2023). The Africa Center for Strategic Studies (2023) has pointed out that pro-Russian Telegram channels had marked Niger as a target following the coup in Burkina Faso, indicating a premeditated interest in destabilizing the country. The new junta requested assistance from the Wagner Group after the coup, marking a continuation of Russia’s expanding influence in the region (Africa Center for Strategic Studies, 2023).

In response to the unfolding situation in Niger and the broader trend of Russian-backed military activities in Africa, the US has increased its military build-up, flying drones and other aircraft out of their African air bases less than a month after a coup halted activities (Al Jazeera, 2023). Approximately 1,100 US soldiers deployed in Niger have been confined to their military bases (Copp, 2023). In this way, the US military has made Niger a primary regional outpost for its patrols with armed drones and other operations against fighters and rebel movements that have seized territory in the region. Additionally, US Ambassador Thomas Greenfield told at a United Nations Security Council meeting that the US is focused on increasing its efforts in terrorism prevention across Africa and will continue providing its African partners with “critical security assistance” (Lederer, 2023). The assistance is part of a broader strategy that includes selling military equipment to African governments, facilitated through the Foreign Military Sales program operated by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (Lederer, 2023).

The strategic objectives of such countermeasures are straightforward: The US is deeply invested in forming and maintaining partnerships with African nations to combat terrorism and violent extremism. These efforts are aimed at dismantling terrorist networks and mitigating the destabilizing effect of Russian PMCs, which pose a threat to the stability of the region. US interventions in Nigeria, Niger, and Somalia have already shown positive effects in combating the threat of piracy and terrorism, which pose a significant threat to international supply routes (‌Devermont & Steadman, 2020). The support for the African Union Mission in Somalia and direct action against al-Shabaab military groups have seen a marked decrease in piracy incidents off the Somalia coast, once considered one of the most dangerous waters for international shipping (Nelson & Fitch, 2012). This success not only reflects on the effectiveness of counter-piracy, but also underscores the potential for similar strategies to be effectively applied in countering the destabilizing influence of Russian PMCs in the region. 

Overall, it is apparent that Africa’s geopolitical significance is growing due to its vast resources and strategic location. In this light, the US and Russia emerge as key players, each pursuing their strategic interests. The Wagner Group’s actions underline Russia’s ambition to strengthen its presence, posing challenges to regional stability. That is one of the reasons why the US intervenes in Africa, countering its destabilizing influence, as observed in Niger (Afinotan & Ojakorotu, 2009). But, the continent’s strategic importance is not just confined to its resources, geographic positioning, and counterterrorism—it also includes Africa’s potential to shape the future. The challenge here lies in balancing strategic interests with the essential goal of advancing sustainable development, ensuring that the continent’s progress enhances global stability.


Afinotan, L., & Ojakorotu, V. (2009). The Niger Delta crisis: Issues, Challenges and Prospects. African Journal of Political Science and International Relations, 3(5), 191–198.

Africa Center for Strategic Studies. (2023, July 27). Attempted Coup in Niger: Backgrounder.

Babb, C. (2022, January 20). VOA Exclusive: US AFRICOM Commander Says Russian Mercenaries in Mali. VOA.

Batyuk, V. I., & Morozov, Yu.V. (2022). The China–US–Russia ‘Triangle’ and Africa. Herald of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 92(15), 1383–1389.

Copp, T. (2023, September 14). US military resumes drone flights and manned counterterrorism missions out of Niger bases. AP News.

De León Cobo, B. (2022, April 1). Sahel: Russian influence in the Sahel: Wagner and the support of military juntas. Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

De Simone, D. (2023, December 31). Mali: UN peacekeeping mission ends after decade. BBC News.

Devermont, J., & Steadman, L. E. (2020, May 19). Defending the U.S. Military Presence in Africa for Reasons beyond Counterterrorism. Center for Strategic & International Studies.

Hairsine, K. (2023, October 8). Niger coup: What is Russia’s role? Deutsche Welle.

Lederer, E. M. (2023, August 25). US warns military takeovers in Africa’s Sahel hamper fight against terrorism in the volatile region. AP News.

Marten, K. (2019). Russia’s use of semi-state security forces: the case of the Wagner Group. Post-Soviet Affairs, 35(3), 181–204.

Nelson, R., & Fitch, B. (2012, June 20). Combating Piracy: Challenges and Opportunities for Regional and Private-Sector Involvement. Center for Strategic & International Studies.

UNCTAD. (2022, June 9). Investment flows to Africa reached a record $83 billion in 2021.

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