The French Foreign Legion, created in 1831 to protect and expand the colonies, can only serve outside France
Everyone seems willing to believe the evidence of their gut instincts on the presumed death of Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin. The Pentagon has said “it’s likely Prigozhin was killed” in a likely explosion on board the plane that crashed northwest of Moscow on Wednesday, August 23.
Vladimir Putin, who may or may not have realised he was upstaging his buddy Donald Trump’s big week (surrender in Georgia after the fourth indictment), offered his own theory about Prigozhin’s death. He was a “talented person” who “made serious mistakes in life,” Mr Putin said, perhaps in ominous reference to the short-lived mutiny launched by Prigozhin in June.
Russia-watchers and those who know nothing about the country said Prigozhin’s demise was shocking but not surprising. He had been a “dead man walking” from the day he aborted the mutiny.
Not so Prigozhin’s sprawling mercenary enterprise. Wagner is alive and well. It is a significant player in global hot spots, not least the Ukraine war, Middle Eastern conflict zones such as Syria and Libya, and fragile sub-Saharan states such as Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR). Not only does it make good money, it renews the former Soviet Union’s bonds with the so-called global south. And it enables the Kremlin to gain access to valuable resource streams. In CAR, for instance, that includes gold mines.
So what comes next for the Wagner Group?
Everyone says a rebranding is on the cards, with the mercenary structure retained in some way to create a new proxy entity for the Kremlin.
As Foreign Policy recently noted, “Wagner is a very low-cost, high-payoff way for Putin to project power into crisis zones in the Sahel region of Africa and elsewhere to stick it to the West and prop up the military juntas that have aligned with Russia.”
It added that “the Wagner model will live on even if Wagner itself dies. Prigozhin showed Putin that mercenary outfits, with that veneer of plausible deniability, may be the least ineffective way for a Russia badly weakened by its botched war in Ukraine and international isolation to revive some of its Cold War glory days for vestiges of global clout and influence.”
If so, here’s the perfect name for a rebranded Wagner group: the Russian Foreign Legion.
The prototype, of course, would be the nearly 200-year-old French venture of the same name and pretty much the same job description. Created by France’s king in March 1831 to protect and expand the colonial realms, the Legion recruited from foreign disbanded armies (and more notoriously too, somewhat like Wagner).
The main rule governing its operations is that the Legion can only serve outside France, which makes the French model the perfect template for any rebranding headaches over Wagner.