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.
But the Russian delegation that toured three African international locations final week was led by a really totally different determine, the starchy deputy protection minister, Yunus-bek Yevkurov. Dressed in 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 will do our best to help you,” he stated at a news 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 dying in a aircraft crash final month, Russia’s operations in Africa have been coming beneath new administration.
It was a glimpse of a shadowy battle now taking part in out on three continents: the combat for the profitable paramilitary and propaganda empire that enriched Mr. Prigozhin and served Russia’s army 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 conflict over his property amongst main gamers in Russia’s energy construction, together with two totally different intelligence companies. Many of these interviewed spoke on situation of anonymity, to debate delicate diplomatic and intelligence points.
The combat 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 a substitute backing a switch of energy to Mr. Prigozhin’s son.
“Wagner is not just about the money — it’s a kind of religion,” stated Maksim Shugalei, a political marketing consultant for Mr. Prigozhin, including that he was proud to be a part of the mercenary power. “It’s unlikely that this structure will totally disappear. For me, this is impossible.”
Valerie Hopkins, Elian Peltier, Paul Sonne, Ekaterina Bodyagina, Alina Lobzina, Oleg Matsnev and Raja Abdulrahim contributed reporting.