Infamous Russian mercenaries the Wagner Group put a $15 million bounty on the head of Italy’s defence minister, Guido Crosetto. After Crosetto publicly accused Wagner of contributing to the Mediterranean migrant crisis, the bounty suggests he may have hit a nerve.
News of the hit was communicated to Crosetto by the Italian intelligence services, Il Foglio reported on Wednesday, March 15th. The intelligence officials believe the hit may be carried out by Wagner itself, which allegedly has two cells in Europe, one in the Balkans and one in the Baltic. However, Crosetto has not increased his security.
Guido Crosetto had claimed the previous Monday, March 13th, that Wagner’s activities in Africa were responsible for the increasing number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean. According to him, Wagner has been actively using its leverage in many countries such as Mali to weaponise migration flows:
It seems to me that by now it is safe to say that the exponential increase in the migratory phenomenon from the African coasts is also, to a not inconsiderable extent, part of a clear strategy of hybrid warfare that the Wagner division, mercenaries in the pay of Russia, is implementing, using its considerable weight in some African countries.
Crosetto was echoed by Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani who pointed out that “many migrants come from areas controlled by the Wagner group.”
This provoked a backlash from Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group’s leader, who has close ties with the Kremlin. Lashing out at Crosetto’s claims in a telegram post, he said that Wagner did not deal with migrants and proceeded to call Crosetto a “Mudak,” a deeply insulting term in Russian, according to Italian news outlet ANSA.
The Italian parliamentary intelligence committee, COPASIR, had previously warned of the growing influence of Wagner in Africa, and raised concerns about the company driving mass migration. COPASIR member, Giuseppe Urso, said that the committee had alerted the government to the risks posed by Wagner’s African activities two years ago.
While the Wagner Company is known for spearheading the Russian offensive in Bakhmut, it has been expanding its influence across countries such as Mali and Sudan, sparking fears they could affect migration. Putting a hit on Crosetto for pointing it out only appears to be a vindication.