Emile Ameen

The Russian Legion and African Chessboard

Was Tsar Putin inspired by the idea of the “Afrika Korps”, whose creation Fuhrer Hitler ordered in January 1941, and handed over its command to the “Desert Fox”, Field Marshal Rommel?

Within the circles of geopolitical conflict around the world, there is talk of the military corps that Russia is working on in full swing to find its way to the heart of Africa, which reflects Moscow’s intentions to expand deep into the Dark Continent, in an apparent conflict with American and European interests.

The visits by Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yunus Bek-Yevkurov to Libya and a number of African countries during the second half of last year did not go unnoticed. There were several rumors about agreements being prepared, from Libya - an old ally of the Soviet Union - and its successor, Russia, to a number of African countries.

The time for speculation did not last long. Russian newspaper Vedomosti revealed the news about Moscow developing a military force consisting of about 50,000 soldiers, and under the direct supervision of the Deputy Minister of Defense. The army includes regular soldiers and militants from the former Wagner group, in addition to private security formations affiliated with Russian companies operating in Africa, all under the name of “the Russian Legion.”

The first question that crosses the mind of the reader is “What is the objective of the Russian bear?”

The “Tehranian” justification offered by Russia is similar to the ones presented by the Americans and Europeans, even if the tools may vary. The Chinese don’t turn to justifications, but rather resort to direct – sometimes blunt - pragmatism by declaring that they were seeking resources for which they would pay for.

The Russians say this corps is aimed at countering Western influence, strengthening Moscow’s position in Africa, and conducting large-scale operations on the continent to support countries seeking to finally free themselves of neo-colonial dependence and purge Western presence.

These words, which have a moral and humanitarian connotation, do not deny that Africa is once again facing a modified or developed image of the former Wagner military group, or even the nature of the operations entrusted to it. From Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and the Central African Republic, and if more successes are in store, it remains possible to expand its role beyond just five African countries.

One of the most interesting questions that confronts the researcher regarding this corps is related to the role that these forces play in terms of peace and security, or chaos and conflicts in Africa, and whether there will be a distant goal of installing new rulers who will take into account Russia’s interests and act as a force that repels Western influence. This would mean an end to European imperialism. In other words, is the objective today logistical and operational, and tomorrow political and ideological, that looks beyond the gains of temporary battles?

The Russian-African network of relations appears to be a blank slate in the eyes of many Africans. In the historical background, we find memories of financial and military support, and Russian universities that opened their doors wide since the 1950s and 1960s. Russia has never been a colonial, invading force in Africa, which falls in its favor. On the other hand, the Africans are tired of European influence in general, France’s in particular, which was evident in Paris losing its African areas of influence in recent years. Therefore, the “African Corps” can be a new foundation for Africans searching for new allies, through which they can achieve material gains, with military protection.

However, the Russian military may have designs for Africa, especially in terms of tightening control over sources of wealth and systems. This represents an imminent danger to Western interests, and threatens what remains of the influence of Washington, Brussels and others in “the brown land that I loved,” as described by former Secretary-General of the United Nations, the late Dr. Boutros Ghali.

Is it a game of musical chairs, or a clash of opposites on the African chessboard?

The certain truth is that Moscow is intending to expand the hot spots of conflict around the world, but through the idea of unequal confrontations, because it no longer has to move its armies and fleets to confront NATO, but can incite peoples and create political and military alliances. Its partnership with China, even if it is temporary, can be a dagger in the side of Western capitalist supremacy.

The talk of the Russian Legion has made waves and reinforces the questions about the possibilities of a third global confrontation. Russia, through its corps, is seeking to open wide political and military hotbeds for Washington to contend with. It is starting from Ukraine to Iran, whose agents are forcing the world's superpower to soon withdraw empty-handed from Syria and Iraq - in a setback after two decades of military intervention - and carrying out unprecedented attacks in the Red Sea.

It is most likely that Tsar Putin has read the term “Imperial Overstretch,” coined by the most famous American historian, Paul Kennedy, and learned how to deal with America, which now has to pay the cost of its overstretch.

French magazine Jeune Afrique recently wrote about US Secretary of State Blinken’s visit to four African countries, saying that the official, who was “crushed in the Middle East”, wants to restore Africa’s roads in sub-Saharan Africa, fearing the ambitions of Russia and China there.”

Rommel, the commander of the German Legion, lost to Montgomery, the commander of the Allied forces, in the Battle of El Alamein, which was a turning point in World War II... Will the Russian Legion meet the same fate, or will it achieve victories that change the shape of the international system, today from Africa, and tomorrow from South America?