Influence, commercial concessions, rights violations and counterinsurgency failures

Russia is increasing its competition with the United States in Africa. In its asymmetric race, Russia uses nominally privates, but actually state-related actors such as the private security firm Wagner Group and the notorious St. Petersburg “troll farm” Internet Research Agency (IRA). Both are major threats to democracy and the rule of law in Africa and beyond.

The Kremlin’s primary motivation in its Africa strategy is a desire to thwart the goals of US policy, almost regardless of its substance. Considering Africa”one of Russia’s foreign policy priorities‘ Russian President Vladimir Putin is also trying to create African dependencies on Moscow’s military assets and access African resources, targeting countries that have weak governments but are often rich in key commodities such as oil, gold, diamonds, and uranium manganese. Russian private security companies like the Wagner Group purport to solve complex local military and terrorist conflicts that African governments are grappling with. They also provide those governments with the ability to conduct counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations that, unlike the United States, are not constrained by human rights obligations, and allow African governments to be as brutal as they like in their military efforts. In return, Russia seeks payment B. in concessions for natural resources, large commercial contracts or access to strategic locations such as air force bases or ports.

Moscow’s hybrid warfare strategy in Africa

Since 2006, Putin has been trying to rebuild Russia’s presence and role in Africa, which was severely weakened after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Between 2015 and 2019, Moscow signed 19 military cooperation agreements with African governments. Cooperation was largely focused on the sale of Russian arms.

More importantly, Russia’s expanding influence in Africa has focused on the use of private security companies to provide counterinsurgency and counterterrorism training and advise local governments struggling with counter-militancy. The expansion of their presence across the continent is taking place despite the fact that since March 2018 Russia has banned mercenary activities under Article 359 of its Criminal Code. Beyond avoiding official Russian military casualties and thus public outrage and surveillance of foreign operations, the private security companies provide plausible denial for the Kremlin. Moscow renounces any command and control over them in order to acquit itself of them problematic behavior, such as egregious human rights abuses and mistreatment of civilians. They also provide a proxy tool for military confrontations with the US without Russian troops being directly involved. In 2018, for example, around 300 contractors from the Wagner Group Clashes with US special forces in Deir el-Zour, Syria. Aside from supporting governments allied with Moscow, the Russian contractors are also a source of intelligence for the Kremlin.

Russia’s use of mercenary equipment to further Moscow’s goals has its reasons Roots in the 1990s when Russian private security companies like Moran Security Group and Slavonic Corps started deploying Security services for Russian businessmen in Africa. The key turning point for Moscow’s systematic use of Kremlin-linked private security actors, however, came in 2014, when the West imposed sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and destabilization of Donbass. The Wagner Group — Founded by a former special forces officer in the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU) – played a prominent role in operations in Ukraine, providing the Kremlin with a Preview its capacities and usefulness for maneuvers in other parts of the world. Like the IRA, the Wagner group is reportedly funded by a Kremlin-linked oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin.

The Wagner Group in Africa

In recent years, Wagner Group contractors have been deployed in the Middle East and Africa, including Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, Mozambique, Madagascar, Central African Republic and Mali, focusing primarily on protecting the ruling or emerging government elite and the criticism concentrated infrastructures.

In 2017, for example, the Wagner Group deployed around 500 men to put down local uprisings against the government of Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir. As payment, Prigozhin received the exclusive rights to mine gold in Sudan, channeled through his company M-Invest. Before his fall in April 2019 Bashir offered a naval base on the Red Sea To moskau.

The Wagner Group was represented in the Central African Republic (CAR). support the weak government of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, whose decrees hardly extend beyond the capital, against various rebel groups since 2018. Their arrival in the Central African Republic coincided with an operation associated with Prigozhin is awarded Diamond and Gold Mining Licenses. The Russian security company was widespread accused committing serious human rights abuses and harassing peacekeepers, journalists, aid workers and minorities. Wagner’s presence puts the CAR government at odds with the United Nations and Western governments, increasingly demand that the CAR will end its dealings with the Russian company or risk losing its support. In December the European Union suspended its military training mission in the country.

Libya’s geostrategic location on the Mediterranean coast and its oil and other natural resources have also attracted Moscow and Kremlin-affiliated Russian private security companies. With access to only one port in the Mediterranean, at the Syrian facility of Tartus, Russia’s military presence in the region cannot compete with NATO’s Permanent Mediterranean Force (STANAVFORMED) and the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet based in Naples. But the Wagner Group interferes in the ongoing civil war deployed units in Libya in 2019 in support of warlord Khalifa Hifter in his attack on the capital Tripoli. The Wagner Group provided consulting, support and training capacity and resorted to indiscriminate means such as demolition of civilian areashelped Hütter take control of some of Libya’s oil fields. Like other foreign mercenaries and militias active in the country, the Wagner group has defied calls by the UN-backed Berlin conference to leave them. Russia has dismissed any responsibility for the Wagner Group’s actions in Libya and their detrimental impact on UN peacemaking efforts.

Since 2017, Mozambique’s al-Shabab insurgency has swept through the country’s northern province of Cabo Delgado. The government cannot stop the expansion of al-Shabab hired the Wagner group for counterinsurgency operations in the fall of 2019 and renewed his previous contract as the Mozambican President’s Praetorian Guard. However, given his inability to understand the local insurgents and the indigenous forces they had to work with, the Wagner Group’s operations failed spectacularly.

Among the Wagner Group’s recent worrisome operations in Africa is Mali, where Islamist militants remain powerful and governance is poor and unaccountable. A complex structure consisting of numerous jihadist terrorist groups and regional Tuareg and other autonomy movements operates in the country. Among them are dangerous al Qaeda Sahel offshoots like Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (IS-GS). France has been militarily engaged in Mali since 2013, supported by other European countries and the US and African countries as part of the G5 Sahel Joint Task Force, but has failed to achieve a decisive defeat of the militants. France is now weary of the quagmire of governance and counterinsurgency intended to halve their contingent there to 2,500 soldiers in 2022. A military junta that seized power in August 2020 is already weak turned to the Russians. With access to Uranium, diamond and gold mines as likely payoffs should a Wagner Group operation involving 1,000 contractors train Malian soldiers and protect the country’s government officials. The Malian government faced both Western opposition and domestic outcry in late December denied any presence of the Wagner group. Such a presence would seriously undermine the sustainability and effectiveness of Western counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations and likely contribute to a further degradation of human rights in Mali.

disinformation campaigns

Russia’s low-cost hybrid warfare in Africa and competition with the United States and its allies goes beyond the military realm and fuels disinformation tactics. In Africa, as elsewhere in the world, including USA in the 2016 presidential election, disinformation propagandists like the IRA seek to ignite social conflict within societies and undermine support for democracy. The IR tried to manipulate Madagascar’s 2018 presidential election, for example. Meanwhile in Mali the IRA accused the French counter-insurgency of being a facade for the exploitation of local uranium mines.

To counter their problematic actions, Washington imposed sanctions against individuals and entities associated with the Wagner Group and the IRA; the EU followed. However, like sanctions against Russian government officials, these sanctions have not resulted in relevant changes in behavior.

Despite criticism from the United Nations and the West of the Wagner Group’s behavior in Africa, and threats of Western financial consequences to African governments who hire the Russian security firm and allow it to commit human rights and civil rights abuses, the Wagner Group – from the Kremlin Encouraged and done bidding – likely to remain in Africa. Even sanctions shouldn’t change that. But the Wagner Group’s own failures and the counterproductive effects of their actions may, over time, diminish their appeal to African governments.

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