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“We will defend Russia”: how Russian mercenaries influence the Central African Republic

Russia flags are raised in the streets of Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic. Protesters’ placards say “It’s NATO’s fault”, while “We will defend Russia to our last breath” is heard.

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, the first Russians of the Wagner group arrived in the city, at the same time that France failed in a project to calm the civil war in the region. It didn’t take long for Bangui to sign an agreement with Russia that calls for sending around 2,000 war instructors to form a national army. The Russian organization is made up of mercenaries who are often involved in armed conflicts in different parts of the world.

As found out by the French newspaper Le Monde, residents of Bangui receive the equivalent of R$10 to participate in pro-Russian demonstrations – which is considered a large sum for those who live in the second poorest country in the world. The per capita income in the Central African Republic is US$214,06. As a parameter, per capita income in Brazil is US$6.479,.

With the presence of the Wagner group in the region, another movement, composed of Africans, gained strength: the national Galaxy. Encouraged by the propaganda of the Russians present in the city, the African protesters even organized an invasion of the French embassy in the country and threatened French soldiers who “dare to walk the streets of the city”, in the words of the group’s leader, Didacien Kossimatchi.

The pro-Russia, anti-NATO, anti-UN and anti-France discourse is maintained by the Wagner group and supported by the oligarch close to Vladimir Putin, Evgueni Prigojine, as revealed by Le Monde.

 Forças da Missão Multidimensional Integrada de Estabilização das Nações Unidas na República Centro-Africana, durante uma pausa nos combates, em 2021. Foto:  EFE/EPA/ADRIENNE SURPRENANT
United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission forces in the Central African Republic, during a break in fighting, on
. Photo: EFE/EPA/ADRIENNE SURPRENANT

Cultural Invasion

A monument built in the city of Bangui opens wide the Russian cultural invasion of the country’s capital. They are the characters of the first Russian action feature film shot in the Central African Republic: The Tourist, a film that tells the story of Russian soldiers saving Africans.

Earlier this year, it was also built in capital a Russian cultural center, where there are language classes and other exhibited monuments that honor the former Soviet Union. There are also Russian film screenings and even a Soviet carousel to attract children.

Children of Bangui learn lullabies in honor of Russian mercenaries. “With the Russian presence, in a short time we have a good result. It makes me want to hold the flag to say thank you to Russia, thank you to the present Putin”, reads the lyrics.

Violence, threat and death

To gain this social and political influence, mercenaries had to get people fighting cultural encroachment out of the way. Russia’s ambassador to the country, Vladimir Titorenko, was pressured to step down last year and who took control of the office were members of the Wagner group.

Russian mercenaries have achieved such importance in the region. who received tributes from the main authorities, among them the former prime minister of the Central African Republic, Simplice Mathieu Sarandji, and the country’s current president, Faustin-Archange Touadéra.

With this political protection, information control reached the press. In 2020, three Russian journalists investigating the presence of mercenaries in the country were killed. Correspondent Orkhan Dzhemal, documentary filmmaker Alexander Rastorguyev and cameraman Kirill Radchenko were in a car, at night, on the way to recording an investigative report when they were hit.

The main investigations into the case were funded by exiled Russian oligarch and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky. In 2020, after listening to dozens of calls and checking messages, the researchers concluded that the journalists’ death was premeditated. . Investigators found evidence of complicity between the killers and a police officer from Bangui, who was believed to be close to the crime scene.

In the same year, CNN reported that this police officer had a close relationship with a police trainer. Russian military in Bangui.

In April 2020, UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay, made a statement condemning the murders and calling for efforts by nations to clarify the crime. “I urge national authorities to spare no effort in investigating the circumstances of this shocking attack and bring its perpetrators to justice. It is critical for society as a whole that journalists can fulfill their mission of informing the public without fearing for their lives,” said Azoulay.

Those responsible for the deaths remain unknown.

What is known about the Wagner group

International investigations estimate that about ten thousand people have already been part of the organization . In August of last year, a BBC report had access to a tablet lost by a member of the group. The equipment recorded the participation of thousands of mercenaries in the Libyan civil war and gave indications that numerous war crimes were committed by them.

The British press spoke with two military trainers from the group, under anonymity condition. They informed journalists that the mercenaries who are part of the association are not officially hired by the group, but by shell companies, as if they were oil rig workers or security professionals.

Despite Moscow denying any relationship with the association, a former mercenary interviewed by the BBC claims that Wagner is “a structure that aims to promote the interests of the State beyond the borders of the country” and is linked to Russian intelligence services.

According to analysts, the group originated from another private military formation, Slavonic Corps Limited, which operated in Syria in 2013, but was defeated. After that, the former officer of the Russian military intelligence service (GRU), Dmitry Utkin, created the group that lends its nom de guerre, Wagner.

In addition to other battles in Syria and Libya, the group’s military had a strong presence alongside Ukrainian rebels in areas such as Donbass in 2014, region which had the sharpest conflicts since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 09141517.

This may explain the phenomenon seen on the streets of Bangui. On one of the posters raised by Africans in the latest demonstrations financed by the mercenaries, it says “Russia is saving the Donbass”.

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