Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman who is portrayed in mainstream media as Putin’s “chef” and owner of the mythical “Wagner Group” is reportedly to invest in numerous African countries.
According to Bloomberg, Russia is looking to rekindle its Cold War-era ties across Africa. However, according to the outlet, Russia does not posses the financial resources that the US, Europe or China have, so it is attempting to subdue the countries by sending in mercenaries in “unstable but potentially rich states who have a taste for Russian weaponry.”
Prigozhin and his supposed entourage of “contract soldiers and political operatives” are to offer security, arms training and electioneering services. In exchange they supposedly require mining rights and other opportunities, according to two unnamed individuals who are familiar with the matter.
According to Bloomberg he is already active or is currently moving into 10 countries that have military relations with Russia: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Libya, Madagascar, Angola, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and the Central African Republic.
This increase in activity comes ahead of the 2019 Russia-Africa summit, which is to host more than 50 leaders from the continent in Russia. According to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this move will ensure “Russia’s active presence in the region.”
In 2014, Putin gave Prigozhin an award for his service to the country. Putin also reportedly compared his work to that of George Soros, “the American billionaire financier who’s long been accused by the Kremlin of subverting governments at Washington’s behest.”
“The Russians want influence with governments, they want economic access and they’re much more flexible—that’s their advantage,” said Peter Pham, head of the Washington-based Atlantic Council’s Africa Center. “It doesn’t cost very much to send a couple of hundred guys to shore up a president.”
Bloomberg added that Prigozhin had not responded to email and phone requeststo comment via his Concord Catering Company. Officials in the countries he’s “targeting” also had no comment.
Prigozhin and his company were among the three Russian businesses and 13 Russian individuals indicted in February by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation in the alleged meddling in the 2016 US Presidential election.
Most recently, on November 15th a US judge rejected a bid to dismiss the charges by another one of Progozhin’s companies.
Africa is significant, because ever since the Soviet Union-era, Russia has had strong ties with the region. Thus, the Kremlin’s focus on it is not surprising, especially taking into account the Western sanctions that are being imposed on a regular basis.
Bloomberg also published a map that shows Russian influence in the African countries.
According to Polina Slyusarchuk of Intexpertise, an Africa-focused research group in St. Petersburg, Russia is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to develop commercial and security ties with the African continent as a whole.
This is unsurprising as US conduct under the Trump administration has been leading to regionalization and clustering, thus pushing for closer ties between regions that have not always been under Washington’s grace.
Russia’s efforts to invest have not all been successful, however. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa froze his predecessor’s multibillion-dollar nuclear power project with Russia after he took office in February.
The Russian government is however increasing the amount of investments in attempts to persuade the countries, in addition to writing off $20 billion of debt held by African countries in 2017. This goes contrary to what Bloomberg claimed earlier that Russia does not posses the financial resources to invest.
Recently, Egypt won a $25 billion Russian loan to build its first nuclear power plant. There are also on-going talks with Eritrea to establish Russia’s first logistics hub on the Red Sea, near the US permanent base in Africa and China’s first ever military facility abroad in Djibouti.
In March 2018, Sergei Lavrov made a trip to Africa and visited five nations, including Zimbabwe, in which Russian companies are involved in a $3-billion platinum-mining venture.
According to one of Bloomberg’s anonymous sources, “Prigozhin’s political consultants advised Emmerson Mnangagwa on his disputed victory in the July election to succeed Robert Mugabe, who turned Zimbabwe into an international pariah during his four-decade rule.”
Mnangagwa’s opponents accused him of seeking help from “Russians” to manipulate the polls, his party the Zanu-PF rejected all allegations and no evidence was presented to back the accusations.
Russia also gained a military presence in the Central African Republic when the UN allowed a waiver for it to arm and defend the government of the country.
Bloomberg also cited Russian and French media reports who claimed that the mythical Wagner group, which is supposedly owned by Prigozhin has led to gold and diamond concessions in both the CAR and Sudan. In the CAR, three individuals presenting themselves as journalists were murdered, they were hired by exiled tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky to “investigate Wagner group activity.” The MSM showed this incident as an attempt by Prigozhin-linked entities to hide their activity. However, according to data available online, the “journalists” died because of a poor security planning of their trip across the conflict zone.
Prigozhin is now supposedly about to enter into the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is to have elections to choose a new leader soon.
President Joseph Kabila named a retired general as the ambassador to Russia and tasked him with negotiating arms supplies and assistance, according to an unnamed Western official. The DRC embassy said that Russia has not supplied it with any weapons and that it plays no part in the upcoming elections.
“Kabila is desperate for outside help,” said Martin Fayulu, an opposition candidate. “It’s not surprising Russia is moving into the Congo, given our vast mineral wealth.”
According to Bloomberg, Russia also has interests in Madagascar, the worlds biggest producer of vanilla and holder of deposits of valuable metals. A Kremlin envoy flew to the island in March for talks with then-president Hery Rajaonarimampianina.
According to the unnamed Western Official, Russia is supporting a bid by President Alpha Conde to scrap term limits so he can seek to stay in power after his mandate ends in 2020. The African state is the single largest supplier of bauxite for Russian aluminum giant United Co. Rusal.
Guinea foreign minister and government spokesman both refused to provide comments to Bloomberg.
As to Libya, Prigozhin reportedly attended talks between Russian Defense Minister and Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar, who controls most of the eastern part of the oil-rich state.
“Like any normal businessman, Prigozhin is looking for the most lucrative places to invest his money,” said Irina Abramova, head of Russia’s state-funded Institute for African Studies in Moscow. “He thought, why shouldn’t I give it a go? And he should only be thanked for that if Africans benefit.”
Russia does, in fact, have numerous interests in Africa, and rightfully so. According to experts, the Russian efforts are coordinated with those undertaken by China. However, unlike the US, it is understandable that both China and Russia are following some “evil plot” to abuse the countries’ resources and population. The US and other Western countries are, of course, only there to assist the populace and take nothing in return.