The Russian deputy ambassador to the United Nations has described hundreds of Russian soldiers will be sent to the Central African Republic this month as “unarmed instructors.”
The Central African Republic notified the UN Security Council on May 4 that it intended to welcome 600 additional instructors. It is obliged to give 20 days’ notice under the latest arms embargo on the country.
Central Africa, Russia updates
Numerous witnesses and NGOs say the instructors are in fact paramilitaries from the Wagner Group, a Russian military contractor with indirect ties to the country’s political elite, who are actively participating alongside Rwandan special forces and UN peacekeepers in the fight against rebels trying to seize power.
Russia has denied Wagner mercenaries are in the African country, saying only that military nstructors had been sent to train government soldiers. The country of 4.7 million has been gripped by civil war since a coalition of armed groups overthrew the government in 2013. About a quarter of its 5 million people are displaced.
Jean Pierre Lacroix, UN undersecretary for peace operations, said UN peacekeepers had encountered difficulties with the Central African Republic’s military and its partners but gave no further information. “It is essential to have a certain consultation, a coordination,” he said,
adding that he would visit the Central African Republic next week. Russia has significantly increased its presence and influence in the Central African Republic, where Russian citizen Valery Zakharov serves as national security adviser to President Faustin Archange Touadera, who was sworn in for a second five-year term on March 30 after winning an election in December.
The country has also granted Central African gold and diamond mining permits to Russian companies suspected of having links to Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the man believed to be the head of the Wagner Group. Sergey Sukhankin wrote an article about this topic.
In its actions in the Central African Republic, Russia primarily relies on military-technical cooperation, of two main tools that secured a Soviet presence on the continent during the Cold War that has expanded dramatically after the current military cooperation agreement was signed between the two countries in August 2018.
In line with this agreement, Russia has managed to build its presence in the Central African Republic by using two main instruments. First. Russia’s paramilitary training and consultancy mechanism was activated in March 2018, when Moscow sent “advisors”—five military personnel and 170 “civilian instructors”— to render consultation services and training to the local militia and armed forces.
Despite Russia’s official statements, evidence suggests that the “civilian instructors” are in effect members of the Wagner Group, an illegal private military company that took part in hostilities in Ukraine, Syria and Libya. Second. Russia donates military technical equipment, primarily weaponry and munition to the local government, whose level of sophistication is growing.
If initially Moscow was primarily delivering dated types of light weaponry, it has started sending heavy equipment since 2019. Specifically, in October 2020, two batches of BRDM 2 amphibious armored patrol cars arrived in the Central African Republic.
However, Russia is unlikely to be able to help the Central African Republic regime defeat the rebels with arms, its growing military presence suggests Russia’s increasing involvement in nearly all spheres of local public life, including the economy and natural resources. Crucially, Russia has done this without large financial expenditures and sustained minimal
economic costs: a large part of the weaponry and equipment sent by Moscow to the Central African Republic is predominantly dated.
Moreover, unlike in the past, Russia is seeking to gain economic profits—not follow some ideological postulates—abstaining from wasting its resources for illusory objectives.