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Syrian and Russian flags fly at a checkpoint of a de-escalation zone near Homs, Syria. Syrian and Russian flags fly at a checkpoint of a so-called de-escalation zone near Homs, Syria, Sept. 13, 2017 (AP file photo by Nataliya Vasilyeva).

How the Wagner Group Helps Putin Expand—and Inflate—Russia’s Influence

Friday, Nov. 8, 2019

The restive coastal province of Cabo Delgado in northeastern Mozambique doesn’t often make international headlines. Before the surprise discovery in 2011 of what is believed to be one of the world’s largest offshore natural gas reserves, Cabo Delgado was a sleepy little getaway mostly known for its quiet beach towns. That changed late last week when militants from a newly formed branch of the Islamic State reportedly killed seven Russian soldiers believed to be fighting on behalf of the Wagner Group, the shadowy, Kremlin-backed private military contractor.

In some ways, the fact that an energy-rich part of East Africa riven by deep social, economic and political inequalities has become fertile ground for a homegrown ISIS affiliate is not all that surprising. Nor is it surprising that only a few months after Mozambique’s president, Felipe Nyusi, inked a multimillion dollar energy and security deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Wagner Group contractors were apparently dispatched to Cabo Delgado to ostensibly stamp out the Islamic State and other Islamist extremists, who have been waging an increasingly virulent anti-government insurgency. ...

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