World View: Russia Gains Foothold in Central African Republic, Displacing France

Violence has gripped the Central African Republic town of Bria since mid May, also spreading to several other places in the country's south east

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Russia gains foothold in Central African Republic, displacing France
  • The rise of Russia’s military contractor Wagner Private Military Company (Wagner PMC)

Russia gains foothold in Central African Republic, displacing France

Map of Central African Republic, showing zones of influence of armed groups (Conflict Intelligence Team)
Map of Central African Republic, showing zones of influence of armed groups (Conflict Intelligence Team)

On October 9, 2017, president Faustin-Archange Touadera of the Central African Republic (CAR) flew to Sochi, Russia, and met privately with Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. The readout from the meeting said:

The officials reaffirmed their countries’ resolve to build up practical cooperation in the political, trade, economic and cultural areas and pointed to the considerable potential for partnership in mineral resources exploration, in the energy area, as well as in the delivery of Russian industrial equipment and farming machinery to the Central African Republic.

Although the exact text of the agreement has remained secret, it has unfolded over time to mean that Russian mercenaries and military advisers have been protecting Touadera and his regime in Bangui, the capital city of CAR, taking over a portion of the responsibilities formerly assumed by French troops, and by MINUSCA, the UN peacekeeping mission (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic).

In addition, Russia has been supplying masses of weapons to Touadera’s army. Normally, CAR is under a UN arms embargo, and it is illegal for any UN member to send weapons into CAR, but Russia was able to obtain a waiver from the UN Security Council to do so.

Among the weapons delivered this year are 900 Makarov pistols, 5,200 Kalashnikov assault rifles, 140 sniper rifles, 840 Kalashnikov PK 7.62-millimeter machine guns, 270 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 20 man-portable anti-air defense systems, hand grenades, mortars, and millions of rounds of ammunition. Russian weaponry and parts are compatible with what Soviet-era arms remain in the CAR armories.

One estimate suggests there are now 1,400 armed Russians in the CAR, most of them employees of private military contractor Wagner PMC, operating under the name Sewa Security Services.

In return, Russia is being granted access to exploit CAR’s oil, precious ores, and rare earth minerals. Russia will develop infrastructure for strategic military bases, and commercial relations with telecoms and other industries. Jamestown and AFP and Turkey Telegraph (24-Apr) and Monde Afrique (9-May) (Trans)

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The rise of Russia’s military contractor Wagner Private Military Company (Wagner PMC)

Sergei Borisovich Kim, Chief of Operations in Wagner Private Military Company (Inform Napalm)
Sergei Borisovich Kim, Chief of Operations in Wagner Private Military Company (Inform Napalm)

In February, I wrote “9-Feb-18 World View — US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) clash with Syrian regime forces” in Deir az-Zour in eastern Syria. In that article, I wrote:

The war in Syria may have gotten even more chaotic on Thursday when US-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), backed by US warplanes, clashed with pro-regime Syrian army forces and allies. The pro-regime forces launched a massive, coordinated attack on the SDF, and were driven back with the aid of US warplanes.

The US had been observing the buildup of the pro-regime forces for several days, as they prepared for this assault on the SDF. During that period, the US forces contacted the Russians over an established “de-confliction” hotline that was set up to prevent such clashes. However, the pro-regime forces attacked anyway, and the SDF forces counter-attacked in self-defense.

As I described at the time, the Pentagon estimated that 100 regime fighters were killed. The Syrian regime said that the U.S.-backed forces had committed a “barbaric aggression” representing a “war crime.”

Since then, it has come out that the “pro-regime Syrian army forces and allies” were actually a Russian military contractor Wagner Private Military Company (Wagner PMC). The clash with the American-backed SDF forces was a complete disaster for Wagner, as hundreds of Wagner mercenaries were unable to return to their families in Russia.

However, this debacle was not the end of the contracting firm. This is the same Wagner PMC that we described above as operating today in Central African Republic under the name Sewa Security Services.

Wagner PMC is a private military company, but is sometimes called “Vladimir Putin’s personal army.” It is thought to be closely connected to Russian military and intelligence organizations, and it performs “dirty work” about which Putin wished to maintain deniability.

Wagner has a core of over 4,800 well-trained, well-paid combat troops. In addition to military operations in Ukraine, Syria, Sudan, Central African Republic and other countries, it has “business-related” activities, such as protecting oil and gas fields in Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan.

According to reports, Wagner PMC has risen to prominence because of financial support from Russian billionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin. Prigozhin has also been identified as the head of Russia’s “fake news” empire, including the famous St. Petersburg troll factory that turns out hundreds of Russian trolls who constantly attack people like me when we write about Russia. According to some reports, at the zenith of the U.S. election campaign, the troll factory’s accounts across different social media platforms would churn out as many as 50 million posts a month. Inform Napalm (20-Feb) and Jamestown (18-Apr) and Moscow Times (24-Mar-2017) and Conflict Intelligence Team (Moscow)

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KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Russia, Central African Republic, CAR, Faustin-Archange Touadera, Sergei Lavrov, MINUSCA, Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in CAR, Sewa Security Services, Wagner Private Military Force, Wagner PMC, Syria, Deir Ezzor, Deir al-Zour, Deir ez-Zor, Deir Azzour, Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF, Vladimir Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Sergei Borisovich Kim
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