As Ukraine confronts Russia in its ongoing conflict, the echoes of this struggle have reached far beyond Eastern Europe. Recent reports suggest that Ukrainian special services may have played a role in a series of attacks against forces affiliated with Russia’s Wagner Group and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Sudan, thousands of miles from the main theater of war.
But, since the outbreak of war in Sudan earlier this year, there have also been reported suspicions of Ukrainian mercenaries fighting on the side of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in their battle against the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). This April, CNN reported that Wagner had supplied RSF paramilitaries with missiles.
Notably, the action didn’t occur within Ukraine’s borders, but rather against forces associated with Wagner Private Military Company (PMC) and the RSF. Wagner has been active in Africa for several years, partnering with post-coup governments, as Russia seeks to expand its influence on the continent.
New video evidence adds weight to the claims that Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Directorate is operating in Sudan against Wagner forces.
The videos depict a special unit sniper of the Ukrainian Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR) conducting precision strikes on Wagner Private Military Company (PMC) forces in Sudan. This expands the theater of the Ukraine-Russia conflict into Africa, with Ukraine’s intelligence agency vowing to hunt down Wagner forces anywhere in the world.
The attacks near Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, indicate that the ramifications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have extended well beyond the immediate frontlines.
Ukraine’s involvement in attacking Wagner forces in Africa signifies a limited yet noteworthy expansion of the Ukrainian conflict.
The GUR’s previous experience in Sudan, where it conducted a rescue operation to evacuate civilians from Khartoum amid the civil conflict, points to its presence in the region. The strategic importance of Sudan, where Wagner collaborates with the RSF in a bid to influence the government, has made it a target for Ukrainian intelligence activities.
Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence service HUR MOU would neither confirm nor deny his agency’s involvement in those attacks, but he said that such actions should not come as a surprise. “Ukraine will destroy Russian war criminals wherever in the world they may be.”
While Ukraine’s footprint in Sudan may be relatively small, the ability to strike Wagner targets indicates the agency’s far-reaching capabilities, potentially extending to operations on other foreign battlefields.
The reported operations have raised questions about the extent of GUR’s reach and capabilities. While the precise details of the attacks have not been disclosed, it is clear that Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency has extended its activities to international battlefields.
The Wagner Group’s presence in Sudan dates back to 2017 when then-President Omar Bashir sought military assistance from Russia in exchange for granting Russia a naval military base in Port Sudan. The formation of the Meroe Gold company, tasked with supervising gold extraction from Sudan’s mines, was part of the late Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s empire.
Wagner’s involvement in supplying surface-to-air missiles to Sudan’s RSF, as disclosed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), suggests the PMC’s engagement in aiding Sudan’s paramilitary forces.
Last year, Hemedti visited Moscow, saying he hoped to bolster ties between Sudan and Russia. Recent revelations from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) disclosed that the Wagner Group, a private military contractor, has been involved in supplying surface-to-air missiles to Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) to combat the Sudanese army.
Although the report did not specify the type of surface-to-air missile system Wagner Group supplies to the RSF, however, it may likely be man portable (MANPAD), or short range air defence.
This remote involvement in the African conflict aligns with Ukraine’s broader efforts to enhance its ties with African nations and reduce Moscow’s grip on the continent. Africa’s crucial imports, such as wheat, fertilizers, and steel, largely rely on Russia and Ukraine. Any disruption in these imports can have adverse effects on African countries.
Ukraine is intensifying its engagement with African nations as part of its strategy to counter Russian influence. While many African countries maintain a stance of neutrality, a gradual erosion of Russian influence is underway, with countries like Liberia, Kenya, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Equatorial Guinea seeking closer ties with Ukraine.
Last two months, The head of Ukrainian diplomacy Dmytro Kouleba announced to AFP a “long-term” fight to “revive” Kiev’s relations with Africa and reduce the “grip” of Moscow on this continent based, according to him , on “coercion, corruption and fear”.
“Many years have been lost, but we are going to push forward a Ukrainian-African renaissance, to revive these relations ,” Kouleba said in an interview with AFP on Wednesday. “This continent needs systematic and long-term work ,” added the minister, who has already made three tours in Africa since last fall.
“We are starting from scratch in Africa. This continent needs systematic and long-term work. It’s not something that happens overnight,” Kuleba said.
The ongoing struggle between Russia and Ukraine is increasingly affecting Africa. The situation underscores the multifaceted nature of modern conflicts and the global reach of intelligence and military agencies.
Russia’s military actions in Ukraine have impacted Africa, leading to increased food and fuel prices, disrupted trade, fiscal constraints, and reduced development finance flows on the continent, according to United Nations Assistant Secretary-General Ahunna Eziakonwa.
While the overall level of trade between Africa and Russia and Ukraine is relatively small, some African nations rely heavily on these countries for critical imports like wheat, fertilizers, and steel. Disruptions in these imports could have adverse effects on African countries.
Kiev has embarked on a long-term diplomatic effort to strengthen its ties with African nations, to foster ties and collaboration with African nations to counteract Moscow’s sway, particularly in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine aims to revive and deepen its relations with Africa to reduce Russian influence on the continent.
The dynamics unfolding in Africa emphasize the evolving geopolitical landscape and the competition for influence on the continent. As both Russia and Ukraine seek partners and support from African nations, the consequences of their rivalry extend well beyond their immediate regions.
Africa is becoming a new battleground, both politically and diplomatically, as the countries vie for support and influence across the continent, highlighting the continent’s growing importance in the global geopolitical landscape and the complexities that arise from the overlapping interests of different nations and their intelligence agencies.
It remains to be seen how these evolving dynamics in Africa’s relations with Russia and Ukraine will shape the continent’s political landscape in the coming years. Both nations are making strategic efforts to secure allies and strengthen their influence in Africa, setting the stage for a new geopolitical battleground.
Russia, with many African independence leaders saying supplies of weapons and military training were key in helping the fight against white-minority rule and colonialism.
In South Africa, during the struggle against apartheid, the US government designated the Africa National Congress – today’s ruling party – a terrorist group. Its leaders, including Nelson Mandela, were also classed as terrorists.
But Ukraine has also been making efforts to woo African countries, in recent years having emerged as an alternative source to the West for weapons for countries on the continent fighting armed groups.
Last year, the African Union snubbed two attempts by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to address its heads of state.