Thursday, 29 November 2018

Trend In Russian Mercenaries Operating in Africa

It has been a year since the UN Security Council in its wisdom decided that it was a benefit to the Central African Republic for the Russian Federation to be granted a waiver on an arms embargo and send arms there[1]. While this idea was being debated in New York the United States, France and the United Kingdom grudgingly gave their approval to this concept. The blowback from this move is radiating through the continent as we speak.

 What was supposed to be a direct to direct Military training by the Russian Military to the reorganizing Army of the Central African Republic grew to include trainers and advisors from several Russian PMCs (Private Military Companies)[2]. Some of these companies have a history of operations in Africa supporting several nefarious regimes as they attempt to retain power by whatever means necessary. It has been reported that some of the militias in the Central African Republic will not disarm until the Russians leave.[3]

The first question is what would compel Russia take such action? The easy answer is to some people Africa is not a major security concern. Therefore it is not an issue to be watched closely until some event occurs that brings the situation into focus. Another explanation could be addressed by the phrase “Nature abhors a vacuum.” As the United States and other powers seem to withdraw from African Interests Russia feels that it is in their interests assert their influence.

The apparent disinterest in the situation inside the  Central African Republic by the west and the neighbors plays out to a tune that is seen as similar to heavy handed responses towards Sudan in the past has driven these regimes into their hands to conduct business. We are seeing this play out with new deals by Moscow with Eritrea,[4] Eastern Libya[5]and Mozambique. These are countries for the most part have been shunned for Human Rights violations and other governance issues.

The move into Mozambique is proving to be an interesting one. Already there is an American PMC currently operating in the Country. This group is headed by Erik Prince[6] who gained fame and scorn with the operations of Blackwater during its time as a contractor operating in Iraq after the US Invasion during the administration of George W. Bush. The situation in the Northeastern part of the country is a matter of concern for a year.[7] A series of random attacks that seem not to be a matter of concern to the authorities in Maputo makes this move to potentially become a flashpoint between the United States and the Russian Federation. What happens when these two combustible elements collide? Will there be a quick disengagement? This is a scenario that is both scary and tantalizing. There have been fears that these attacks have been launched by Jihadists Elements moving into the region as some groups actively seek a new safe haven.

So considering how insular Russians can be how have they reacted to anyone who has been attempting to conduct any oversight? The situation in the Central African Republic has been unique for the actions of the accounting of the Russian Government to the UN in the number of weapons and amount of ammunition that has been sent to the strife torn country. Compare that to the reaction of Wagner group when some Russian Independent Journalists tried to investigate their actions in the country.[8] This incident did raise some alarm bells regarding the actions of these group in Central Africa.

It is felt by some that the US and EU place too strict of a series of benchmarks on several of these states that restricts them from conducting any business with these states. This pushes them into the hands of Russia and other states where Business trumps other concerns. As long as these leaders get paid it doesn’t matter what happens inside their borders.

The influx of Russian PMCs may show that just like the US Military it may be overextended by current Operations in both Ukraine and in Syria. Outsourcing these efforts also gives the Kremlin what it feels a modicum of deniability that it often uses to temper critical voices from the International Community.

Written By: Scott Morgan