Russia's African Policy Constructed on Security
We heard the name of Wagner, which we can define as a Russian mercenary group, during the civil war in Libya. Wagner, who came to the country to help Haftar's forces and used his own military equipment, played an important role in Libya with its 1200 fighters. Of course, everyone knows that such a "company" will not settle in a region for the sake of preserving democracy or stabilizing its position in the country. Moreover, the oil fields in Libya and the opportunity to be active in the Eastern Mediterranean seem more interesting than the stability of Libya.
In fact, Wagner can be seen as an important part of Moscow's policy of cheaper-than-normal expansion. The cost of the occupation is best read through the example of the United States within the scope of the occupation operations in the last twenty years. Therefore, the cost of invasion must be reduced, and this cost can now be brought down to the expected level if it is carried out by smaller but effective groups, not by large armies, airstrikes, or a build-up of tanks. Especially the fact that such a movement is carried out by civilian militia groups further strengthens the hand of states in terms of responsibilities. A “company” created for the purpose of providing security will face far less liability than a government bill.
It can be said that Russia, which continues its expansionist policy in Syria after the initiatives in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, sees Africa as a powerful balancing factor. The existence of autocratic governments in many parts of Africa is one of the factors that can strengthen Russia's hand, as seen in the example of China. The usefulness of the continent's conflict with democracy encourages such countries to export their closed regimes.
Returning to Wagner again, it would be appropriate to start by examining his activities in Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan, and Mozambique. The group, which is on the side of Haftar in the long-standing turmoil in Libya, directly undertook the task of protecting President Faustin-Archange Touadéra in the Central African Republic. In addition, Valery Zakharov was made a special security adviser to the president. This appointment, which caused discomfort in various layers of the bureaucracy, combined with the reaction from Foreign Minister Charles-Armel Doubane, the minister was dismissed (Siegle, 2021). One of the most criticized points about the 2020 elections was the Russian presence behind the president. This "security" issue, which is claimed to affect the elections, may become a more serious threat to the sovereignty of the Central African Republic in the future. Reports indicate that Wagner was simultaneously negotiating a revenue-sharing with the rebels while taking control of the lucrative gold and diamond mines in the north (Kimberly, 2019). Another area of intervention was Sudan. The group, which activated its existence, especially during the period of Al-Bashir, tried to protect the government when protests against the administration started. There are also reports that it was deployed to help the Mozambican government respond to the terrorist threat spreading rapidly in the north. Coincidentally, the region is home to a multi-billion dollar gem mining operation and national reserves of liquefied gas (Siegle, 2021).
We have examined the process of the coup in Mali in the previous sections. After the coup, supporters of the army took to the streets in Bamako to celebrate. Interestingly, some of the celebrants were waving Russian flags. Many others were holding similar pre-printed posters celebrating Mali-Russian cooperation, photos of Vladimir Putin, and messages thanking Russia for its support. Although Russia did not have strong bilateral, cultural or historical ties with Mali, the formation of these images was remarkable.
Some news in the regional media stated that Diaw and Camara were in Russia before returning to Mali to carry out the coup. It was also reported in the media that two officers moved from Bamako to Moscow earlier in the year to attend military training supported by the Russian armed forces and returned about a week before the coup (Obaji, 2020).
The presence of Russian flags in the squares in the most recent coup d'etat in Burkina Faso, which would not surprise anyone, is also an indication that Russia's regional policy is being pursued quietly but effectively.
It seems that the Russians increased their influence in the continent through their close contacts with Denis Sassou-Nguesso in the Republic of Congo, Ali Bongo in Gabon, Andry Rajoelina in Madagascar, Emmerson Mnangagwa in Zimbabwe, and Salva Kiir in South Sudan. The expansionist policy that China has built on soft power elements seems to be implemented by Russia over security. The fact that governments have a lot to lose increases the necessity of staying in power, while Russia takes advantage of this necessity. This concern should be read together with the increase in social incidents among young people such as EndSARS in Africa. The Russians promise the African elite cadres the continuation of power. At this point, it should be noted that Moscow did not accept Wagner's activities. Putin, to the question, asked about Libya, "The Russians fighting in Libya do not represent the state." (Reuters, 2020). It has similarly responded to the warning from Germany and France about the deployment of up to a thousand Wagner fighters in Mali (France-Presse, 2021).
Russia has made gains by stepping into gaps left behind by the West and which China is reluctant to fill. Russian weapons and security support make little demands on African leaders, in stark contrast to decades of European or American aid. Russia signed a deal with Nigeria for six Mi-35 helicopters after the United States withdrew from a 2014 deal with the Nigerian government to supply attack helicopter shipments to the country over concerns over human rights in Nigeria. Similarly, U.S. military aid to Egypt since the military coup in 2013 and the cutting of arms has allowed Russia to seize 31 percent of Egypt's major arms imports today. Russia is currently Africa's leading arms supplier, with at least 15 countries purchasing more than a third of all weapons from the Kremlin. The 2019 Russia-Africa Summit further advanced these military relations. The Kremlin has signed 50 contracts covering the economic, military, environmental, and nuclear sectors. Signed agreements for the supply of military equipment with more than 30 African countries. These deals are estimated to be worth $12.2 billion.
In addition, Russia has signed at least 16 contracts for nuclear cooperation agreements with African countries.
● Central African Republic: A few months after Moscow supplied the country with ammunition in 2018, Russia's Lobaye Invest received a license from the OAC government to explore and extract gold and diamonds in the country. Lobaye Invest was founded through M Invest and is a subsidiary of MFinance, founded by Wagner founder Prigozhin.
● Sudan: Wagner allegedly supported the Omar al-Bashir regime through Russia's Sudan-based front company Meroe Gold, as well as PMCs through M Invest. Wagner also protected these companies' gold mines in Sudan. The US administration included M Invest on the sanctions list in July 2020.
● Mozambique: Russian oil company Rosneft and Nigeria-based Oranto Petroleum signed an agreement in May 2018 to collaborate on oil and gas projects in Africa. The deal expanded Rosneft's reach in Africa through Egypt and Mozambique.
● Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): Russian company Alrosa, which accounts for 95 percent of Russia's diamond production, signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the sustainable development of the diamond mining industry with the aim of “exchanging technology” with the Congolese diamond mining company Bakwanga.
In the photographs that have recently appeared in the press in Mali and Zimbabwe, the training given by the Russians to the soldiers of the relevant countries can be seen. It is obvious that this training, which has the potential to start in different countries in the near future, disturbs France the most. The move that France, which started to liquidate its soldiers from Mali, will develop against this dagger stuck in the heart of "Francophone Africa" will become clear in time.
The problem, which became visible when Russia, which carried its theoretical existence into practice, expanded its presence, especially in West Africa, does not only concern the former colonial powers of the region. Various collaborations in the commercial field also have to follow these moves. It would be incomplete to perceive Russian activity only as a matter of security. The "cooperation" moves that started with security have the potential to move stones in the economic fields as well.
Considered independently of institutions and individuals, the main problem is trying to resolve the internal issues of a sovereign country on the African continent, be it Mali or Mozambique, through dialogues between Russia and European countries. This perspective, which does not seem different from the whole of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, is the most important problem of Africa. Sovereign African states need to get rid of being an area of intervention for other countries as soon as possible. The way to this will be the end of elitist governments and everyone's respect for the real will of the people, as shared in the previous sections.
● France-Presse, A. (2021, October 22). Putin dismisses links to 'Mali-bound' Russian mercenaries. Inquirer: Retrieved from https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1505100/putin-dismisses-links-to-mali-bound-russian-mercenaries
● Kimberly, M. (2019). Russia's Use of Semi-State Security Forces: The Case of the Wagner Group. Post-Soviet Affairs, 35(3), 181-204.
● Obaji, P. J. (2020, August 20). Mali Coup Leaders Seized Power Days After Returning From Military Training Camp in Russia. Daily Beast: Retrieved from https://www.thedailybeast.com/russia-trained-the-mali-coup-leaders
● Reuters. (2020, January 11). Russia's Putin: Russians fighting in Libya do not represent the state. Reuters: Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-libya-security-russia-idUSKBN1ZA0N4
● Siegle, J. (2021). Russia and Africa: Expanding Influence and Instability. In G. P. Herd, Russia's Global Reach: A Security and Statecraft Assessment. Garmisch-Partenkirchen: George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. Retrieved from Africa Center for Strategic Studies: https://africacenter.org/experts/joseph-siegle/russia-strategic-goals-africa/