The war between Russia and Ukraine also reaches Central Africa

The clues are growing the Russian-Ukrainian war is metastasizing in distant Africa, and to be precise in the Central African Republic, the country on the continent where in recent years Russia has considerably increased its influence through the contractors of the Wagner group. On December 16th he was seriously injured due to a parcel bomb Dmitry Syty, head of the Russia House inaugurated last February in Bangui, the capital of Central Africa, and business partner with Yevgeny Prigozhin, the main financier of the Wagner group. This anti-Russian attack follows another mysterious attack which took place in the night between 27 and 28 November, when an unidentified plane had bombed (apparently with four bombs) a joint base of Wagner and the Central African armed forces (Faca) in the locality of Bossangoa, then heading north towards Chad. The shelling had caused damage but no fatalities or injuries.

French military operations in Central Africa

Unofficially, France was called into question for both events, a former colonial power which for many years held the important military base of Bouar in Central Africa, and which recently withdrew its last soldiers present on the spot. France has conducted seven major military operations on Central African soil since 1960, the year of the country’s independence. The last was the Sangaris operation between the end of 2013 and October 2016, authorized by the United Nations to restore security in the country torn apart by the struggle between the Séléka and Antibalaka militias, roughly attributable to Muslim ethnic groups from the north and Christian ethnic groups of the South.

After the end of the operation, which was carried out by 2,000 troops, a few hundred soldiers remained to offer logistical support to the UN peace-keeping mission called Minusca and to the European Union mission for training the Central African army Eut-Rca. In 2017, however, the new president Faustin-Archange Touadéra asked Russia for help for the first time, which provided him with weapons and trainers, and in 2018 the Wagner group made its appearance in Central Africa.

Russian influence growing in the country

When in January 2021 the rebel forces of former president François Bozizé’s Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) tried to storm the capital where Toaudéra had been reinstated as president for a second term, it was the militiamen of the Wagner together with 300 men from the armed forces of Rwanda and elements of Minusca.

Since then, Russian influence has been increasing in the country: companies attributable to Prigozhin have been awarded mining concessions (especially gold and diamonds) which apparently represent the remuneration for the services of the contractors, which they have begun to conduct together with the Central African armed forces anti-guerrilla operations in the north of the country for which they have been accused of violating the human rights of local populations. The extent of Wagner’s presence in Central Africa is estimated to be between 1,000 and 2,000 men depending on the period.

The threats to Syty and the parcel bomb

France has been called into question for the two recent anti-Russian episodes. In the first case it was argued that the plane responsible for the attack was not Chadian (Chad hosts the bases of the Cpc rebels), but French, that is one of the Mirages stationed in a military base near Ndjamena and used for raids against jihadist rebels in Sahel countries. In the second case, it is Prigozhin himself who calls France into question through the reconstruction of what would have happened in Syty. He would have received a first package from Togo, containing a photo of his son who lives in France and the threat that in the following shipment he would find his head, if the Russians had not left Africa and let the French return.

When a new package arrived on December 16, Syty would have opened without precautions and the package would have exploded, seriously injuring him. His associate Prigozhin’s reaction was furious («I have already applied to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation to initiate the procedure for declaring France a state sponsor of terrorism, as well as conduct a thorough investigation into the terrorist methods of France and its Western allies – the United States and others», declared the Russian tycoon), but the suspicion is making its way that the crude references to France in the parcels delivered to Syty are only a smokescreen and that recent events may be linked to Wagner’s role in Ukraine, where the company is involved in the fighting since last March.

The role of the Wagner group in Central Africa

Reports circulated last July that the company had reduced its presence in Africa (especially Libya, Mali and Central Africa) to supply fighters to the Russian forces in Ukraine, but in reality the new Wagner personnel sent to fight the Kiev forces are mostly prisoners from Russian prisons freed in exchange for leaving for the front and former Central African rebels who have crossed over to the other side of the fence. On the contrary, on 19 November hundreds of new contractors would have arrived in Central Africa aboard a military transport plane Ilyushin.

The punitive measures of the US and the European Union against anyone attributable to the Wagner group have escalated in the last two years. In July and September 2020 Prigozhin, Wagner and companies and individuals connected to the group were subject to sanctions by the US Treasury Department for allegedly trying to interfere in the US presidential election and for their role in Central Africa . In December 2021, the EU suspended its Eut-RCA mission to train the Central African Armed Forces due to Wagner’s growing influence and the European Council imposed sanctions against 8 individuals and 3 entities linked to Russian society.

On 23 November, the European Parliament voted a resolution inviting the European Council to include the Wagner group “in the list of terrorist subjects of the EU”. On that occasion, Prigozhin reacted by broadcasting a video in which a bloody hammer appears in a hard case on the Telegram channel of Concord Group, the parent company of his companies.

The war between Russia and Ukraine also reaches Central Africa