During the tense hours of anticipation, analysts closely monitored the developments surrounding Yevgeny Prigozhin’s rebellion against the Russian Ministry of Defense. There were discussions about the possibility of this uprising extending into Syrian territory, where the Wagner militia was still actively engaged. However, analysts downplayed this possibility until the Belarusian-brokered deal brought an end to the Wagner rebellion within Russian borders.
Nevertheless, Prigozhin’s political and financial future remains uncertain as he seeks exile in Belarus, which could have significant implications for the Syrian landscape. Prigozhin, a businessman who has utilized mercenary forces to pursue his investment and political ambitions, has made ambiguous and murky investments in the Syrian oil and gas sector.
One of the most enigmatic aspects of these investments is Prigozhin’s connection with Mercury and Velada, companies that were granted contracts for oil exploration in Syria, approved by the regime-controlled People’s Assembly in late 2019. According to the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, both of these companies are owned by Prigozhin. A report from early 2020 stated that Prigozhin’s companies had earned approximately $20 million per month in 2018 from the extraction of natural resources in Syria.
In Syria, Wagner gained notoriety for its involvement in reclaiming oil and gas fields from ISIS fighters between 2016 and 2018. Subsequently, it assumed the responsibility of securing these fields, particularly in the outskirts of Deir z-Zor, along with the phosphate fields in the Syrian Badia. Some of these tasks are still being carried out by the militia in certain locations.
Prigozhin’s most transparent investment was the contract signed by the Syrian State Oil Company with Evropolis in 2018. Under this agreement, Evropolis received 25% of the profits from oil refineries recaptured from ISIS. Interestingly, Evropolis was established just months prior to signing the contract, serving as a front for Wagner’s investment endeavors.
In the spring of 2021, Bashar al-Assad endorsed an agreement with an undisclosed Russian company named Capital, granting them exploration rights for oil and gas in the Mediterranean. Connections have been confirmed between Capital and Wagner’s Evropolis, as the general manager of the former is listed as the chief geologist of the latter. This solidifies the notion that Capital served as a fresh front for Prigozhin’s investments in the Syrian oil sector.
Since 2021, there is a dearth of documented information regarding the activities of these aforementioned companies in Syria. While Wagner continues to secure oil, gas, and phosphate sites in the eastern and central outskirts of the Syrian desert, obtaining data on the exploration or production endeavours of the militia-affiliated companies remains challenging. Consequently, Wagner’s financial operations in Syria appear to be limited to the safeguarding of natural resource fields.
This situation places Vladimir Putin in a delicate position regarding Prigozhin’s influence in countries where he has served as an extension of Russia’s informal power for years. The Russian president’s optimal course of action may involve reinstating Wagner in its previous roles from 2015 to 2022, essentially utilizing them as an unofficial fighting force in countries and locations where the Kremlin aims to avoid implicating its official military institution. This approach would keep Wagner operational in Syria as it stands today, alongside Prigozhin’s enigmatic investments in the region.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.