Russian mercenaries are Putin’s “forced tool” in Africa

Dakar, Senegal (AP) —When abuse was reported in Mali in recent weeks — a fake tomb designed to undermine the credibility of the French army. The massacre of about 300 people, mostly civilians — all evidence showed the shadow mercenaries of the Wagner group in Russia.

Even before these feared professional soldiers joined the attack on Ukraine, Russia had deployed them in at least half a dozen African countries’ radar-controlled military operations. Their purpose is to promote President Vladimir Putin’s global ambitions and undermine democracy.

The Wagner Group loses its position as a private military contractor, and the Kremlin denies its relationship, and sometimes even its existence.

However, Wagner’s commitment to Russia’s interests became apparent in Ukraine. In Ukraine, the fighter saw the group wearing a chilling white skull emblem. It is one of the Russian troops currently attacking eastern Ukraine.

In sub-Saharan Africa, Wagner has laid a substantial foothold for Russia in the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mali. According to experts, Wagner’s role in these countries goes far beyond the cover story of simply providing security services.

“They run essentially the Central African Republic,” General Stephen Townsend, commander of the U.S. Army in Africa, a growing force in Mali, said in a Senate hearing last month.

The United States has identified Wagner’s funder as Eugénie Archipelago, an oligarch who is close to and sometimes called the President of Russia. “Putin’s Chef” For his flashy restaurant favored by Russian leaders. He has been charged by the US government for trying to influence the 2016 US presidential election, and the Wagner Group is subject to US and European Union sanctions.

According to analysts, Russia’s game plan for Africa affects Libya north and Mozambique south, but in some respects it’s simple. It seeks an alliance with a government or military government that is shunned by the West or faces internal challenges to rebellion and their rule.

African leaders are recognized by the Kremlin and from Wagner’s military muscles. They pay it by giving Russia the best access to their oil, gas, gold, diamonds and precious minerals.

Russia It also gains a position on strategically important continents.

But there is another purpose for Russia’s “hybrid war” in Africa, said Joseph Seegle, head of research at the Center for Strategic Studies in Africa.

Mr Seagle said Russia is also fighting for ideology, using Wagner as a “forced tool” to undermine the idea of ​​Western democracy and direct countries to Moscow. “Seagle said.

“If democracy is favored as the ultimate ambitious model of governance, it is a constraint for Russia,” Seagle said.

Rather, Wagner not only promotes Russia’s interests with soldiers and guns, but also through propaganda and disinformation. Prigozhin has done it for Putin before.

In the Central African Republic, Wagner fighters orbit the capital Bangui in unmarked military vehicles to protect the country’s gold and diamond mines. They have helped thwart armed rebels and maintain the power of President Faustin-Archen Tuadera, but their reach is further advanced. According to European Union documents condemning a group of mercenaries for serious human rights abuses, Russian citizen Valerie Zaharov is both a national security adviser to Tuadera and a “significant figure” in Wagner’s command system.

A statue built in Bangui last year depicts a Russian soldier standing side by side to protect a woman and her children. Russia has been cast as a march of national savior and pro-Russia to support the war in Ukraine and criticize its former security partner France.

“The Central African maxim says that when someone helps you, you have to go back and forth. That’s why we mobilized as one to support Russia,” said Touadera’s party relationship. Said Didacien Kossimatchi. “Russia has exempted us from the unacceptable rule of the West.”

Kossimatchi said Russia is “acting for self-defense” in Ukraine.

Such support from African countries is a strategic success for Russia. When the United Nations voted on a resolution condemning Ukraine’s aggression, 17 (almost half) of the 35 countries that abstained from voting were Africans. Some other African countries did not register the vote.

“Africa is rapidly becoming important to Putin’s efforts to weaken the influence of the United States and its international alliance,” said Tony Blair Global Change Institute, a non-profit organization founded by the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom3. The monthly report said.

Russia’s strategy in Africa is realized at minimal economic and political cost. Analysts estimate that Wagner is active in the country with hundreds to 2,000 mercenaries. Many are former Russian military intelligence agencies, Seagle said, but because it is a private force, the Kremlin can deny responsibility for Wagner’s actions.

The actual price will be borne by the general public.

Paulin Bucks, deputy director of the International Crisis Group think tank’s Africa program, said people in the Central African Republic are less secure. “In fact, there is more violence and intimidation,” she said.

France, the United States, and human rights groups have accused Wagner mercenaries of extrajudicial killings of civilians in the Central African Republic. A UN expert committee said private military groups and “especially Wagner groups” had violently harassed people and committed rape and sexual violence. The latest accusations of serious abuse by the group.

In 2021, the Central African Republic admitted serious human rights abuses by Russians, forcing Russian ambassador Vladimir Titrenko to leave his post.

The Wagner Group responded with a fascinating attack — producing films designed to please the public, sponsoring beauty pageants, and distributing materials that promote Russia’s involvement in Africa. Russian is currently taught at university.

Russia has taken the blueprint of the Central African Republic to Mali and elsewhere in Africa. In Mali, there was a “eradication of democracy,” said Arne Adeoet, an analyst on Russia and Africa at the London-based Chatham House think tank.

Following the 2020 and last year’s coups, France has withdrawn its troops from its former colonies, which have been supporting the fight against Islamic extremists since 2013. station. Tensions with the West are rising. So is violence.

Last month, the foreign soldiers who witnessed Mali’s army and suspects were Russians. Killed an estimated 300 men In the rural town of Mora. Some of the murdered people were suspected of being radicals, but most were civilians, Human Rights Watch called it “the deliberate slaughter of people in custody.” ..

This week, when the French took over control of the Gossi military base, Wagner’s suspected agent hurriedly buried several nearby bodies And Russia’s social media campaign blamed France on the tomb. However, after the withdrawal, French troops used aerial surveillance to indicate the creation of sand tombs.

Both atrocities have the characteristics of Wagner mercenaries and Russian foreign policy brands under Putin, some analysts say.

“They aren’t worried about trivial things like democracy and human rights,” said Adeoye of Chatham House.


Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa. Contributed by AP writer Jean Fernand Koena in Bangui, Central African Republic.