Prigozhin was killed, but his work lives on. This is evident from the flights of associated aircraft to Africa

A year ago, in January 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin suddenly began his public vendetta against the Ministry of Defense. Over several months of escalation, this led to direct armed confrontation, and ultimately to the murder of Prigozhin himself. The fate of his legacy—the Wagner group created under the wing of the GRU and Prigozhin’s business in Africa—remained unclear. The Insider analyzed the flights of aircraft associated with the Wagner group and found that at least some of their African routes (such as key destinations in the Central African Republic, Libya and Mali) remain active. Moreover, by a strange coincidence, after the start of the war in Gaza, these planes began to actively fly to Syria. This confirms long-standing suspicions about Russian support for Hezbollah militants.

Wagner’s minibuses are in place
The last time Prigozhin visited Africa was on August 18, 2023; five days before the murder, he visited the Central African Republic (in Wagnerian slang – “Tsaritsyno”). For all his love for luxury, he did not fly on a business jet, but on a cargo plane with cheap colorful mattresses on reclining seats. But everything was fine with the plane’s secrecy – for example, it used two registration numbers at once – TL-KPA and TL-KMZ – and often disappeared from radar.

This is not the only aircraft that carried the Wagner PMC team and its cargo in Africa and the Middle East. There are also “cargo minibuses” of Wagner PMC: “Ilyushins” and An, as well as helicopters. Since 2021, planes have been constantly moving between airfields in Syria, Libya (the Wagnerites call the country “Lipetsk”), the Central African Republic and Mali (in Wagnerist slang, “Malinovka”) , but it is almost impossible to track them – they do not transmit their routes to publicly accessible stations. The Insider was able to find satellite and ground imagery confirming that the planes were in Bangui and at military airfields in Libya. There is another loophole: on the way to Syria, planes regularly enter Cypriot airspace, thanks to which The Insider was able to track the flights.

It turned out that during the year , aircraft with tail numbers TL-KMZ and TL-KMO made at least 84 flights between airfields in Syria and Libya. This route remains the main logistics route for Wagner PMCs in Africa and the Middle East. After Prigozhin’s death, flights continued, sometimes almost every day: the last such flight was made by an aircraft with tail number TL-KMO on October 27, 2023.

Apparently, one of these aircraft is no longer there: in December 2023, an American kamikaze drone attacked the Al-Jufra airbase in Libya and, judging by satellite images, destroyed a cargo Il. It is not yet possible to say for sure that it was one of the Tsaritsyn Wagner planes, but mercenaries used this airbase quite often as a transit point between central Africa and Syria. Agenzia Nova’s source in the US State Department claims that it was the Wagner plane that was blown up.

A year earlier, another plane of Prigozhin was destroyed – a plane with the number TL-KBR, which flew along the same routes. On January 27, 2023, it was completely destroyed by a drone strike. The UN Group of Experts on Libya in its investigation found that he had previously participated in the supply of weapons to the forces of Khalifa Haftar and the rotation of Russian mercenaries in violation of the embargo . They also tried to launch an airstrike on the newly arrived minibus , but the plane was not damaged and soon flew to Bangui.

Formally, all these aircraft belong to the armed forces of the Central African Republic, but invoices for the flight were issued to Lapara Aviation, which left the country back in 2021. UN diplomatic sources indicate that the delivery of these aircraft to the country was organized by Valery Zakharov, who was the security adviser to the President of the CAR and led the Wagner group in the republic.

UN experts spotted another Il-76 aircraft at Bangui airport, which was also considered to have been delivered in circumvention of the arms embargo. Until 2023, it belonged to the Russian company Abakan Air and flew to Sudan, South Sudan, and Togo. He could deliver drones to Togo from Turkey . In 2023, the aircraft changed its tail number twice – first to the Central African TL-LIZ, and then to XT-EBO in Burkina Faso. In the first half of December 2023 alone, it made ten flights to Mali (to Gao and Timbuktu) from Burkina Faso.

The presence of Wagner militants in Burkina Faso has never been documented, but rumors about it have been circulating since 2022. The government that came to power as a result of a military coup denied accusations of cooperation with PMCs in exchange for contracts for resource extraction. According to Jeune Afrique, military cooperation between Russia and Burkina Faso intensified at the end of 2023, after the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin. The new structure of the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Afrika Korps, has already sent the first hundred military “consultants” to Burkina Faso.

Activation after Gaza
Formally, after Prigozhin’s summer rebellion, the Wagnerites were banned from using the aircraft of the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Khmeimim airbase in Syria. However, at least until September 11, 2023, the TL-KMO aircraft continued to fly to Syria – through the Al-Tiyas airfield , in agreement with the Syrian Ministry of Defense.

As The Insider’s analysis shows, the rotation or delivery of cargo from the Central African Republic and Libya on private planes associated with Wagner PMC occurred at least until the end of October 2023. It became more active after the outbreak of hostilities in the Gaza Strip. It cannot be ruled out that the planes were transferring equipment from Central Africa or Libya to Syria to help Hezbollah militants. The Wall Street Journal, citing sources in American intelligence, pointed to this possibility. If the resources of the Wagner PMC were indeed attracted to help the Shiite military organization, then the flights of Wagner planes to Syria in October 2023 are probably connected with this.

Delivery of cargo from the Central African Republic and Libya on private planes associated with the Wagner Fairgrounds took place at least until the end of October 2023

Chronology of the conquest of Africa
Initially, the logistics of “Russian consultants” in Africa was carried out primarily with the help of Ministry of Defense aircraft, which began to appear in the Central African Republic, Libya and Sudan in 2018. They actively continued their flights through Latakia to military air bases in Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan, and then Mali until at least early 2022.

In Libya, these planes, in violation of the embargo, delivered weapons. Reuters wrote at the beginning of 2017 that the Russian military would come to the aid of Haftar in Libya and associated this with a certain private company. Prigozhin was seen at Haftar’s negotiations with representatives of the Ministry of Defense in Moscow at the end of 2018. According to calculations by a group of UN experts, Russian military aircraft – including those directly related to the Ministry of Defense – made 505 flights from Syria in 2020 alone, then their activity decreased slightly (in January 2021 – March 2022, Russian military aircraft flew from Syria to Libya another 262 times).

The Wagnerites appeared in the CAR at the beginning of 2018 – for this, Russia lobbied the UN for a partial lifting of the arms embargo on the country. The Russian Foreign Ministry did not indicate what kind of “civilian instructors” were sent to the CAR, and Prigozhin denied both their connection with the PMC and the very existence of a private military company, since mercenary activity is illegal under Russian law. Around the same time, Russian mercenaries appeared in Sudan – this became known from a SBU leak, later verified by Radio Liberty and Bellingcat.

The logistics of the Wagnerites was organized with the help of aircraft from the Russian Ministry of Defense. The M Invest company, associated with Prigozhin, in particular, hired for this purpose aircraft of the 223rd and 224th flight detachments, which can also operate commercial flights. Thus, the aircraft of the 224th flight detachment was used to land Wagner troops in Mozambique in the fall of 2019. There, however, their mission did not last long – the rebels caught and beheaded several fighters.

After 2021, the main logistics began to be carried out by aircraft, which in 2021 were brought and registered in the CAR with the assistance of Prigozhin’s employees. And in 2023, … the planes of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, also, apparently, chartered commercially, began to help in the transportation of goods and fighters.

Ministry of Emergency Situations in the service of PMCs
A subsidiary of the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations, ASK EMERCOM of Russia , in addition to government flights, also operates commercial flights. It was its planes that transported humanitarian supplies to the Gaza Strip, to Turkey after the devastating earthquake in 2023, to Libya after the flood in September 2023, to Lebanon after the explosion in Beirut in 2020.

The logistics of Wagner PMC in Africa were also provided by the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations
In 2023, the airline’s planes began to frequently fly to Syria – and not only to deliver humanitarian supplies. From February to the end of November alone, The Insider counted 37 flights of ASK EMERCOM of Russia from Russian and African airports to Syrian ones. These flights began after the powerful earthquake in Syria and Turkey in February 2023, but the Ministry of Emergency Situations mission in Turkey officially ended on February 12, and daily flights continued until the end of February and then resumed in March and were repeated almost every day until the beginning of May.

For example, right before Prigozhin’s campaign against Moscow, on June 21–22, plane RA-76845 urgently flew to Bamako via Latakia and back. Moreover, he also made stops on the way from Moscow in Krasnodar. The largest base of Wagner PMC is located 30 km from Krasnodar airport. Ukrainian hackers hacked the email of the pilot of this plane and claim that the flights to Bamako were commercial, but it is unknown who ordered them.

It is interesting that in a similar route in March, the flight to Latakia is marked as a “government order”, and from Latakia to Bamako – as a commercial flight. It was probably on the EMERCOM plane RA-76845 that Yevgeny Prigozhin flew from Bamako to Moscow via Syria before his death on August 21.

The planes of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, as well as the “Wagner minibuses” registered in the Central African Republic, were not subject to any sanctions at all.

APPENDIX: Which private companies service Russian arms supplies in Africa
Flights of military aircraft, especially to countries subject to arms embargoes, raise questions and are difficult to conceal. But fortunately for those who need such services, civilian airlines are also willing to take risks. For example, UN experts raised suspicions of supplying weapons and mercenaries to support Haftar in Libya to at least 11 companies registered in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and the UAE.

One such company is Sapsan Airline, registered in Kyrgyzstan. She has been suspected of supplying illegal goods to Libya since at least 2021. But its planes flew not only to Libya. The Insider found that Sapsan Airline aircraft regularly fly between the Central African Republic, Mali, Uganda and the UAE, and also appear in Syria, Rwanda and Libya.

Suspicions that one of the company’s planes is being used for logistics by Wagner PMC increased after one of them crashed while landing in Gao (Mali) in September 2023 . The video of the plane crash was widely distributed on social networks – including in Telegram channels and chats associated with Wagner PMC – on the same day. However, neither the authorities, nor journalists, nor representatives of the mercenary company gave an answer to the question – what kind of cargo Il-76 was this, which had neither livery nor distinctive signs, fell apart right on the landing strip and burned to the ground.

Le Monde newspaper sources in the French armed forces claim that there were most likely Wagner PMC fighters on board the plane. Officially, neither the Malian authorities nor the Wagner PMC command reported the crash or indicated who or what was on board the plane. In the chats of relatives of the mercenaries, information appeared that the Wagnerites were on board the plane.

The Russian company Abakan Air has never been included in the list of arms embargo violators. However, some of its flights are suspiciously similar to those of the offending companies and meet many of the UN experts’ criteria for such flights.

For example, an Il-76 with tail number RA-76370 appeared in Bangui just at the moment when local publications reported about the rotation of the Wagnerites after Yevgeny Prigozhin’s unsuccessful campaign against Moscow. According to Sky News sources, on July 5, about 400 Wagner PMC fighters left the CAR on two planes. The publication Jeune Afrique puts the number even higher – from 500 to 600 people. Just at this time, an Abakan Air plane arrived in Bangui from Makhachkala, which then returned to Russia along the Entebbe-Dubai-Tyumen route.

In October, the same plane suddenly flew from Moscow to the Bobruisk military airfield in Belarus, and the next day flew to Mali along an unusual route: Mineralnye Vody – Djerba (Tunisia) – Bamako. The Wagner PMC camp was located only 58 km from the Bobruisk air base. Another airline aircraft, RA-76463, repeated a similar route at the end of November. Both of them were subsequently spotted in Port Sudan .

An explanation for the non-standard route was given by the blogger “Prince Cherkassky”, who works in the Russian archaeological mission in Syria and writes, in particular, about the presence of military and mercenaries in this country:

“In conditions when all the logistics of “those who must not be named” through Syria have stopped (well, that is, actually banned), they are forced to rebuild routes. It is significant that in this case, logistics are built not through Mozdok (Moscow Region airfield) and Libya (the situation here is approximately the same as in Syria), but through the Ministry of Water and Tunisia. Mali is now the hottest spot for them, and supplies are especially important here.”
Abakan Air’s fleet frequently visits Africa – for example, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo and Sudan. This fact can be partly explained by the airline’s cooperation with the World Food Program (WFP). In 2016–2019, the company transported WFP humanitarian cargo to African countries. However, The Insider was unable to find out whether this cooperation continues.

In the database of contracts concluded by WFP in 2022–2023, there is no mention of Abakan Air as a contractor. Neither the central nor the regional offices of WFP responded to The Insider’s requests about whether Abakan Air flights to African countries are part of the humanitarian program. Moreover, at a minimum, the mentioned flights coincide with both the rotation dates and the location of the PMC mercenaries. Simultaneously with Abakan Air aircraft, in the summer the above-mentioned TL-KMO and TL-KMZ flew from Bangui to Syria and from Syria to Libya, which, apparently, also took part in the rotation.

Over the past three years, Abakan Air has been selling aircraft to companies that UN experts on Libya have found to be violating the arms embargo. Thus, EX-76007, which crashed in Gao in September, previously belonged to Sapsan Airline, which bought it from a Russian company. Before the sale to an unknown company in the Central African Republic, the TL-KMZ that Prigozhin personally carried also belonged to Abakan Air. However, this company never came to the attention of the UN commissions on the military embargo.

Abakan Air sold planes to companies that UN experts on Libya had convicted of violating the arms embargo
Sapsan Airline also leases EX-76005 and EX-76008, which could be used by Wagner PMC mercenaries. Both of these aircraft previously belonged to the Ukrainian ZetAvia. Some of its planes changed hands after the UN Security Council repeatedly accused it – and other Ukrainian airlines – of violating the arms embargo in Libya.

ZetAvia was caught delivering cargo to the forces of Khalifa Haftar, on whose side the militants of the Wagner PMC fought. After that, some of its planes changed their registration to Kyrgyzstan, however, as The Insider’s analysis shows, they continued to fly to the same destinations in Africa, probably providing an “air bridge” for various military formations on the continent, including Wagner PMC. Journalists from the Ukrainian publication Matrix of Freedom managed to prove the connection between ZetAvia and other companies that were found violating the arms embargo.

It was the planes of ZetAvia, Sapsan Airline, as well as the associated New Way Cargo Airlines and Fly Sky Airlines (Ukrainian and Kyrgyzstani branches) that participated in the logistics chain through Entebbe to the west and north of Africa, founded in the summer of 2023.

According to the analytical publication Africa Intelligence, aircraft made at least 70 flights from the UAE through Entebbe. Half of the planes flew on to Am Djeres (northeast Chad), the rest to other airports in Chad, Mali, and the Central African Republic. The UAE authorities indicated that the cargo that was delivered through Entebbe, including by these aircraft, was humanitarian.

However, according to the Wall Street Journal, control officials in Uganda discovered that in reality, weapons were being delivered by planes arriving from the Emirates. After this incident, airport staff in Entebbe were prohibited from inspecting cargo arriving from the UAE and further delivered to Chad, Sudan, Mali and the Central African Republic.

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