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March 28, 2024 Special Dispatch No. 11237

Growing Influence Of Wagner Private Military Company (PMC) In The Central African Republic (CAR)

March 28, 2024
Africa | Special Dispatch No. 11237

As Russia's war in Ukraine continues, heightening tensions with the West and bringing international sanctions, the Kremlin strives to increase its influence in the countries of the "Global South." In the Central African Republic, the mercenaries of the Russian-funded Private Military Company (PMC) Wagner are being aimed this goal. Wagner PMC has been operating in the Central African Republic since at least 2018. After the deaths of Wagner commanders Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin, mercenaries sign contracts directly with the Russian Ministry of Defense.[1] The Wagner Group continues to increase its influence on the continent, expanding its operations from purely military to the media, but it may soon face a new competitor in the form of Ukraine's special services.

Wagner PMC In CAR

The channels associated with Wagner regularly post items about the group's activity in Africa, including videos of combat training, and joint operations, with the Central African Armed Forces (FACA).[2] For example, on march 20, 2024, the "Wagner Orchestra/Wagner" Telegram channel, associated with Wagner PMC, published a video[3] of Wagner forces and FACA attacking transport and personnel of "militants in the CAR." The video depicts a helicopter attack (possibly a Soviet-made Mil Mi-8, a medium twin-turbine helicopter dating from the 1960s) on several pick-up trucks. The video's text claims that more than 20 "gang members" were "eliminated." Another post, on February 19, parades dead bodies of the "militants."[4]


This screenshot of the post[5]by "Wagner Orchestra/Wagner" Telegram channel depicts several dead militants, as a result of special operation by FACA forces with the support of PMC Wagner in the north of the CAR. The post states that the militants' losses consisted of eight men killed and approximately 20 injured.

It seems that Wagner operations in the Central African Republic are extending beyond combat missions to include mediation of conflicts and spreading positive propaganda about Russia and the Wagner Group "brand." One of the posts,[6] published March 12, stated that Wagner mercenaries had mediated a conflict involving a kidnapping in a village located in Mbomou prefecture. The accompanying post depicts local villagers holding Russian flags. Community-building activities include: Wagner members celebrating Russian military holidays with local CAR residents;[7] screening films glorifying the group;[8] organizing motorsport rallies,[9] and commemorating ceremonies[10] honoring the deceased Wagner commanders Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin.[11] One such ceremony was attended by representatives of the military authorities, police and gendarmerie of the republic.


The photo[12] depicts armed Wagner PMC fighters with CAR villagers posing with Russian flags after the resolution of a conflict involving a kidnapping.


This photo, which accompanied a post[13] on the "Wagner Orchestra|Wagner" Telegram channel, shows participants in a motor rally in support of the Wagner group in Bambari, in central CAR. The men in the photo pose in T-shirts bearing the "Wagner" PMC logo.


This photo, published on the Telegram channe,l "Wagner Orchestra|Wagner,"depicts servicemen of FACA saluting the monument, "Ti Bata Siriri na Bê Afrika" ("Let's keep peace in the Central African Republic") which is dedicated to the comaraderie between Russian military instructors (the Wagner Group) and FACA servicemen.

Wagner servicemen have even been able to vote in the last Russian presidential elections. On March 17, the "Wagner Orchestra|Wagner" channel showcased[14] several photos of the group's mercenaries, stationed in the Central African Republic, voting in the Russian presidential elections. The photos illustrating the post show the masked group's mercenaries standing in, and in front of, a Russian consular building.

After the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund curbed financial assistance and support programs for the country, CAR authorities began to strive to deepen cooperation with the Kremlin. On April 18, 2023, the President of CAR's Economic and Social Council, Alfred Tainga Poloko, during a roundtable organized by the Public Chamber of Russia, stated that the CAR intends to further develop relations with Russia.[15] On February 16, 2024, the country's President, Faustin-Archange Touadera, at the Moscow forum called, "For Freedom of Nations!" praised Russia's efforts in combating "neo-colonialism" (from which the CAR suffers, according to participants in the forum).[16]

Wagner Group Recruitment

A wide recruitment campaign was launched as more evidence of Wagner group's efforts to increase its influence on the continent. On March 12, a "Grey Zone" Telegram channel associated with Wagner posted a recruitment add for an "African tour."[17] The post sought military specialists - both ex-Wagnerites and new recruits - and listed contacts (phone numbers) for potential recruits. A special number highlighted openings for UAV operators. 


This screenshot of a post[18] by a "Grey Zone" Telegram channel depicts several armed Wagner mercenaries; their faces are digitally blurred. The watermark at the top of the image is the Wagner Group logo. The caption reads: "Welcome to Africa. Work & Travel with Wagner Group."

In addition to combat specialists, the group seeks interpreters; knowledge of French and Arabic is especially needed.[19] The Telegram advertisement promises fine working conditions: "decent and fair financial remuneration; life and health insurance; the best equipment and modern technology." The ad does caution: "The work is dangerous and [requires] responsibility, but is very interesting!"

Ukrainian Special Services

The Wagner Group may face a familiar enemy on African soil: Ukrainian intelligence. On February 26, the head of Ukraine's Main Intelligence Directorate, Kirill Budanov, during a forum "Ukraine. Year 2024" confirmed the presence of Ukrainian intelligence in Sudan.[20] In his words, this was done to "eliminate the Russian enemy in every conceivable place on Earth."

In turn, the "Grey Zone" revealed that Russian military pilots (including those serving in the Wagner Group) began to receive phone calls with offers to join the armed conflict in Sudan (on the side of the Sudanese Armed Forces). The post raised deep concerns about the call, warning the servicemen not to accept the offers: "Attention! Recently, pilots with experience in Africa, including members of the Wagner Group, started to receive phone calls with offers to take part in the armed conflict in Sudan, within the Sudanese Armed Forces. Be careful! No Russian forces are taking part in the Sudanese conflict, but according to available information, special units of the Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) of Ukraine are openly fighting on the side of the Sudanese Armed Forces...The Wagner Group is not participating in the civil war in Sudan!" reads the post. The text asserted that Ukraine's Armed Forces are behind such calls. The post would appear to perceive the danger as quite real: "Safeguard your life and your honor!" the text urges. The post then invites those wishing to participate in hostilities in Africa to enlist only through the Wagner Group.

 

[1] According to media reports, Wagner mercenaries stationed in Africa were forced to sign a contract with the Ministry of Defense, in contrast to those remaining in Russia. It seems that the majority of them decided to sign a contract with the Rosgvardia (National Guard of Russia). See: https://www.gazeta.ru/army/news/2023/09/18/21311804.shtml.

[2] See for instance: Telegram, t.me/orchestra_w/12145; t.me/orchestra_w/12012; t.me/orchestra_w/11735, t.me/orchestra_w/11624.

[3] T.me/orchestra_w/12145.

[4] T.me/orchestra_w/11624?single.

[5] Ibid.

[6] T.me/orchestra_w/12012?single.

[7] T.me/orchestra_w/11735?single.

[8] T.me/orchestra_w/11888.

[9] T.me/orchestra_w/11844.

[10] See further: t.me/orchestra_w/11191; t.me/orchestra_w/11735?single.

[11] T.me/grey_zone/21901.

[12] T.me/orchestra_w/11844.

[13] T.me/orchestra_w/11844?single.

[14] T.me/orchestra_w/12108.

[15] Www.kommersant.ru/doc/5940452.

[16] Tass.ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/20005521.

[17] T.me/grey_zone/22367.

[18] Ibid.

[19] T.me/grey_zone/22400.

[20] 24tv.ua/ru/operacii-gur-sudane-budanov-prokommentiroval-cel-ukrainy_n2502196.

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