August 9, 2018 Special Dispatch No. 7614

Russia In The World – Russian Private Military Companies In The African Market Of Military Services

August 9, 2018
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 7614

"Russia In The World" is a MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project review of Russia's geopolitical interests and areas of penetration. This installment will deal with Russian private military companies and their role in expanding Russia's influence..

The original image was taken from Studiya 13's Facebook page.


Vladimir Neyelov an expert for the Center of Strategic Conjuncturewrote an article, titled "Who Are The Competitors Of The 'Russian PMCs' On The African Market Of Military Services."

In the article, Neyelov states that Wagner Private Military Company (PMC), "a formally non-existent unit", moved from Syria towards the African continent. He added that the goals, which the Russian military contractor has in the African continent, are unclear.

However, Neyelov asserts that Russian PMCs would ensure the security and physical protection of central government and state authorities in Africa, in exchange for exclusive rights in concessions and extraction of mineral resources. This comes at a time that Russia seeks to strengthen its political influence in the region.

It is worth noting that On July 31, the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed the death of Russian journalists Orkhan Djemal, Kirill Radchenko and Aleksandr Rastorguev in Central African Republic.

The journalists travelled to the country on behalf of the Center for Investigative Journalism, supported by the former CEO of the Russian oil giant Yukos Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in order to prepare a film documentary about Wagner, the Russian private military company, reportedly operating there.[1]

Below are excerpts from Neyelov's article:[2]

Vladimir Neyelov (Source:

The Wagner PMC Moved From Syria Towards The African Continent

"In April-May of this year, the information barrages that accompanied the activities of the fighters from the so-called Wagner PMC (Private Military Company), a formally non-existent unit, shifted from Syria towards the African continent.

"Playing the role of first violin in this chorus was the French press, which could not help reacting to the astonishing impudence of the unknown Russian fighters, who had swiftly taken the key installations in the city of Bangui – the capital of the Central African Republic. Experts already started saying that by appearing in the CAR, and by activating its relations with Mozambique and DR Congo, Russia found itself away from its home grounds.

"One must say that the African continent to a large extent was the cradle of PMCs as they are now (and as the West is gradually getting used to).

"There is a serious flare up in the struggle for the African security services market: even the Ukrainians are trying now to join the company of the American, French, British, Chinese and Russians.

"Since, presumably, it is private military companies (that officially do not exist in Russia) that are used in other people's land, it is interesting to see what PMCs working in the African continent are traditionally strong, and who the Russian security services providers will have to come up against.

Veteran Of A Boer PMC Could Become Partners For Russian PMCs

"If one does not go too far back into ancient history... it emerges that one of the strongest players in the PMC market of the black continent was the South African Executive Outcomes.

"Founded by lieutenant-colonel Eeben Barlow in 1989, this company not only became a means of survival for white South African military men after the black majority government came rise to power in the RSA of, but for the first time turned war into a successful but also a legal business.

"One of the ironies of fate, one of the first successful Executive Outcomes missions was an operation against the forces of UNITA – the party of 'black socialism' with an anti-Communist bias – in Angola.

"Later, there were operations in Zaire, Burundi, Zambia, and other countries. Thus, in 1995, the operatives of Executive Outcomes returned control over diamond deposits to the government of Sierra-Leone, stamping out a coup d’état attempt.

"By the way, in Sierra-Leone, the company used Russian helicopters, which were at first piloted by Belorussian and Russian pilots. Russian experts in general turned out to be in high demand for military work on the continent.

"In December 1998, Executive Outcomes ceased to exist as a result of some backroom dealings by their rivals, under pressure of international organizations and RSA itself, which toughened its legislation regarding foreign military assistance. Despite this, its specialists were in high demand both in Africa and beyond.

"Today as well, the RSA remains a country with a well-developed military services sector.

"Eeben Barlow himself not only provides consultations to governments of a number of African states on issues of military security, but continues to meet, very successfully, the challenges of fighting all kinds of cannibalistic and Islamist groups that neither international organizations nor British or American troop contingents can handle.

"Thus, the STTEP PMC created by him in 2015 trained Nigerian special task forces and made meaningful progress in the fight against the Boko Haram terrorist organization.

"Taking into account the complicated relations of South African experts with their European and American colleagues, the veterans of Executive Outcomes could easily become partners for Russian business, including, in the future, Russian PMCs.

Many Smiled At The News That A Ukranian PMC Was Opening A Burkina Faso Office

"France, Great Britain and other European countries have naturally retained their influence in the currently independent states that used to be their colonies. One of their instruments of influence in the 1990s were PMCs, which from the very beginning acted in the interests of states, international organizations, and transnational corporations.

"After the enforced retirement of Executive Outcomes from the market of private military services, American, British and European PMCs took its place in the African continent. Becoming more actively involved, they extended their geographic presence, making it similar to the map of colonial possessions of former metropolitan countries.

"Among the countries and conflicts that Western PMCs participated in are Liberia, Ivory Coast, Sudan, DR Congo, Uganda, Somali, etc. And such names as MPRI, Sandline International, Erinys International, G 4S, Armor Group and others are familiar to anyone who has ever taken even a slight interest in the issue of private military companies.

"An important (although not the only) source of income for PMCs in Africa is protection and – more broadly speaking – ensuring the security of mineral deposits that the countries of this continent are rich in.

"Their work model is quite simple in this case. Transnational extracting corporations enter into contracts with PMCs, jointly ensure that the clans favorable to them are in power, and then start resource extraction under protection.

"The military and political presence of the US in Africa is structurally secured by the activity of The United States African Command (AFRICOM). PMCs often get contracted to act in the interests of the Command. Often, American PMCs in Africa arrive to areas of armed conflicts faster than army contingents, which once again serves to convince the experts that private contractors have gained s certain independence in American military policy.

"One must say that Western PMCs, even though they are a segment of business, try to enlist the support of their government for their activity one way or another. Russian companies know firsthand just how efficient and dangerous for competitors this 'PMC-state' interest cluster can be.

"In 2012 in Nigeria, the crew of the Myre Seadiver vessel (which belonged to the Russian PMC Moran Security Group) was arrested. According to the official line, for arms smuggling: 14 АК-47 assault rifles, 20 Benelli MR1 semi-automatic rifles, 22 rifles, and 8500 rounds of ammunition. At that time, the Russian PMC was faced with a powerful opposition on the part of the British Armor Group, which had worked closely in the region for a long time and had serious influence there, which was bolstered by its connections to the London government.

"In recent years, Chinese PMCs have also joined the fight for the continent; they are quietly and successfully expanding their influence, acting in close connection and under full control of the Chinese government. The names of such companies as China Security Technology Group or Hanwei Security Ltd are not well known, but they ensure the promotion of interests and the security of activities of such Chinese giants as DAR Petroleum Operating Company.

"The work model of contractors from the Celestial Empire relies on the characteristic features of the Chinese PMCs themselves, which are, in essence, state corporations – an offshoot of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

"What is interesting is that the personnel of the Chinese PMCs are mostly unarmed; they prefer to give orders to local subcontractors, and in case of conflict situations – to 'borrow' weapons from their subordinates.

"By the way, many smiled when they read the news about a Ukranian PMC, Omega Consulting Group, opening its office in Burkina Faso; nevertheless, military specialists from Ukraine after it declared independence have been no less sought-after since the 1990s than those from Russia. And Ukraine itself with its Black Sea ports has been a convenient transit station for various 'men with experience'. So, it is small wonder that after four years of war in the Donbass, not only Russians but Ukrainians as well decided to try their luck on the African continent.

"As we see, the market  for military services in Africa is absolutely packed. The competition is fierce, and that is why earlier – without the support of the Russian authorities – things were going badly for Russian players, even though such companies as RSB-Group, Moran Security Group, and Antiterror-Oryol obtained standalone contracts and worked in Sierra-Leone, Angola, Kenya and even the CAR.

Security Export Russian Style

"It is not known for a certainty what goals the unknown Russian military have, who so suddenly and swiftly 'occupied' the lion’s share of the African continent, but available fragmentary information allows us to see an emerging model of Russia’s interaction with African countries in the sphere of security.

"It can be briefly described as follows: political agreements about ensuring the security and physical protection of the central government and state authorities, training by the Russian experts of the African military personnel (a kind of personnel reserve), and all this in exchange for exclusive rights in concessions and extraction of mineral resources, as well as other preferences for the work of Russian business. Concomitantly, Russia’s political influence in the region is strengthened.

"As for the diplomatic and intelligence support, the concept is partly similar to the Syrian one, where it managed to balance the interests of rival countries. A similar situation obtains in Sudan and South Sudan, where Russia is building its relations with players who are manifestly hostile towards each other.

"It is possible that the delayed and relatively sluggish response of the European press to the appearance of Russian military consultants and other experts, who have nothing to do with the war department, can also be explained by backroom agreements with the very same French..

"After all, the Russians did not appear in the CAR in March or even in this year. But the names of PMCs Sewa Security Services and Lobaye Ltd in the French press, one of which (Sewa) is allegedly registered in India, evoke suspicion that they are only an allusion to the British TV series McMafia, where Russian bandits do their shady business via Indian firms and the port of Bombay.

"So, it is plain to see that Russia is successfully implementing the strategy of security export, even though in a different sense than the one originally intended.

"But in a situation where the ultimate goal of these actions is unclear, one should remember: when, as the Chinese sages said, you achieve victory or capture territory without a battle, there is always a risk that you are being lured into a trap, and the battle will follow..."


[1] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 76611, Russia This Week – August 5, 2018, August 7, 2018.

[2], June 21, 2018.

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