HomeNewsAfrican intrigues of the Kremlin as a new element of geopolitics

African intrigues of the Kremlin as a new element of geopolitics

Sounded in the European press dispatch of Russian mercenaries to the African continent showed how heated the Russian-Chinese relations are, and predicts a large-scale rotation for the Russian business elite.

When the Chinese Communist Party officially proclaimed the Arctic North of Russia a zone of exclusive interests of China in the sphere of economy and security last winter, the Russian authorities had to step up in Africa – the same zone of exceptional Chinese interests as the Asian Siberia.

During a new wave of Russian invasion in Africa, the Russian Federation sent a company of 120 military instructors to the Central African Republic in April. The French Le Monde found out that all instructors were not regular Russian servicemen, but employees of the Russian criminal group of the “Wagner” PMC. This company is criminal because, under the laws of the Russian Federation, private persons are not allowed to participate in military operations abroad. But in modern Moscow everything is decided by the patronage of VIP persons, and “Wagner” is no exception.

This private company is known for its very dubious military successes in the Ukrainian Donbass and Syria. The company’s unproductive combat losses were counted by hundreds of people in these countries. The caretaker of the company of mercenaries is billionaire Eugene Prigozhin, who started a business career with the work of personal cook of Vladimir Putin.

To ensure the operation of this private military enterprise in the CAR, the Russian authorities engaged in diplomatic acrobatics. In particular, the UN sanctions committee gave to the Russian Federation an exemption from the UN Security Council embargo for supplying the CAR Army’s training center with a large batch of Russian heavy and light weapons. The delivery included 5.2 thousand assault rifles, 900 pistols, 840 machine guns, 270 ATGMs and 20 anti-aircraft missile systems. The weapon was allegedly required for the acquisition of a training center and a new brigade of the army of the CAR of 1,300 soldiers.

 Acrobatics from “training mission” to “secret police”

Pictured around the dispatch of PMCs to the CAR, acrobatics and diplomatic dances with an official bypassing of the UN embargo were executed in the best traditions of the Kremlin’s hybrid external doctrine. According to the phraseology of Moscow, this doctrine is both “semi-military” and “semi-KGB” at the same time. Simply, this is not a doctrine for classical military victories, but more for financial reporting.

Strictly according to such canons, private foreign persons could not serve in the regular training unit of the CAR Army. They cannot to serve, but can work in status or civil cooks, or plumbers. Therefore, instead of the regular service of posted military servicemen in the army training center, Russian mercenaries made their official culbite and found another job in the CAR. Immediately after their arrival, they replaced the regular servicemen of the international peacekeeping mission of the United Nations, MISKA, in the service of the protection of the president of this country, Fosten-Arshanja Tuader.

The replacement of regular military peacekeepers from other countries by the Russian private unit generated tension between the CARs and these states. In addition, the mercenaries were quartered in the palace-museum of the former Emperor Bokassa. The transformation of the presidential palace-museum into a barracks caused tension between the authorities and the most powerful business clan in the CAR. This is the clan of the family of ex-President of the Central African Republic Donald Dakko. Many years ago, Dacco was the main opponent of Emperor Bokassa and his relative. The Palace Museum has become a symbol of victory since that time. Now one of the numerous descendants of Dacco is head of the local office of the French transport and construction corporation Bollore.

This global French corporation owns most of the CAR infrastructure, including the “road of life” of this isolated inland country – it owns a merchant fleet and a capital river port through which it monopolizes the navigational communication between Bangui and Brazzaville and Kinshasa. Through these capitals of neighboring countries, more than 80% of the total CAR exports go to international maritime routes. So, the Russians literally hit the spot with those who are well not quarreled over the captured palace-museum.

About the scale of the mission: it will not be enough

Concerning the Russian arms supply to the CAR in bypassing of the UN embargo, its scale should not be overestimated. The training brigade, for the formation of which the Russians did not start, had to strengthen three gendarmerie brigades that help the authorities control the capital of the Central African Republic Bangui. These security forces are strengthened with the help of the UN contingent of up to 10 thousand people, and by the support of the contingent of the African Union with up to 7 thousand people. A company of Russian mercenaries for these forces is not even a drop in the bucket, rather just a small malicious bacillus.

At least 25% of the population of this country lived directly in the capital of the country in 2017 that is at least 1.4 million people. Three patrol brigades, and one still not created new army brigade – this is critically small part to suppress such a mass of rebellious population. And that’s not all, because apart from its population, the capital of the CAR forms a larger metropolitan area, where the population and refugees exceed 2.3 million people.

In the conditions of an acute and protracted interconfessional civil armed conflict, the authorities need at least a few fully staffed Army Corps to control this entire mass of the population, but not only 4 brigades.

From the military point of view, the metropolitan metropolis is very complex. The agglomeration includes the “electric capital” of the CAR, the town of Boali with a cascade of hydroelectric power station, the Congolese trading satellite city of the capital – Zongo, and a specific satellite city – Bimbo, where prisons are located and all the highest judicial instances of the country operate. All this must be guarded against rebellion.

The large mass of the capital’s population of the CAR is roughly equally divided into the Catholic and Protestant warring among themselves. There is one thing that unites different Christian faiths: the underground network political groups “Antibalaka”. They include at least 60,000 militiamen who physically exterminate the disloyal Muslim authorities. The latter are leading in the opposition association of the Salaka parties with more than 30,000 militia members. We should add to this that the authorities of the CAR keep control over the main center of Catholicism in the country only with the help of the peacekeepers of the African Union, the eastern province of Bangassou.  Muslim north of the CAR adjacent to Chad is generally inaccessible for the central government.

Against the background of all these problems, it is very difficult to imagine what real military role the Russian Federation can play in this extremely remote African country. After all, Moscow could not cope with a similar corps task even under its nose. Because in 2014-18 the Kremlin was unable to staff three full-fledged Army Corps of “seconded vacationers” who were needed to stage the “civil war of Ukrainians with Ukrainians” in just a few regions of Ukraine. It was deployed only two Army Corps with manning not more than 60%.

But the African capital of Bangui is not close, like a fateful for Moscow Ukraine, and very far away. And if the Russian military mission in the CAR is not a business re-enactment, but a real operation, then it requires titanic tension and not two, at least four Army Corps. And it does not to mention the fact that the main thing for finding peace in the CAR is not only control over the capital. This is the return of central authority to the remote diamond and oil provinces of the CAR.

Unlike the Russian Federation, The former metropolis of this country, France, has a well-developed military infrastructure in Africa. But even so, Paris recently did not cope with these tasks, completely failing the military operation Sanaris.

Within its framework, an extensive fleet was deployed, hundreds of thousands of tons of military cargo were relocated and several thousands of military personnel were rotated. The above-mentioned current supply of arms from Russia to the CAR looks like laughter and tears in the background of this operation. Then why did the Kremlin get involved in an adventure with the “Wagner” PMC? Based on the “semi-military and semi-KGB” doctrine of the Kremlin, we will try to find the answer in the economy.

Economy of Civil War

The CAR receives most of the currency from the export of diamonds and rare species of wood. The most important for Africa airport Bangui and hundreds of sawmills in this country are burning a huge volume of oil products. But this country imports all aviation kerosene, gasoline and diesel, despite the fact that several giant oil fields were found in the Muslim northern regions of the CAR on the border with Chad long time ago, back in the 1970s.  

In addition to the “sleeping oil”, the divide of Central African Republic is also caused by diamonds. The industrial capital of this country, the city of Berberati, exported diamonds mainly to Lebanon and the UAE until recent time. Now it goes to Japan, India and Israel. And hundreds of thousands of Berberati Muslims, after the outbreak of the civil war with Christians, fled from their diamond-mining region to Chad and to the north of the CAR, into the provinces completely out of control of the central government.

The untouched reserves of oil and the search for loyalty among the diamond miners in the CAR turned this country into the arena of global “financial gladiators”. Several powerful global religious organizations are fighting for political influence in the republic, as well as corporations of China, France, the United States and Japan. Because of the war, the CAR oil reserves have been little studied, and so far they look smaller than neighbors, Southern Sudan with 5 billion tons and Chad with 1 billion tons. For comparison, the same total oil reserves as in these three countries of the center of Africa, according to the IEA, have Norway or the Sultanate of Oman in 2018.

All oil concessions on the border of two young oil countries with the CAR were bought by two owners in early 2010. This Swiss Cliveden Trading AG, which in addition to oil, produces copper and gold all over the world, and its parent Chinese state corporation CNPC. American ExxonMobil opposes the Chinese in the struggle for oil in the center of Africa. It manages of the oil pipeline to export oil to the ports of Cameroon from three regions: the Republic of Chad, the Republic of Niger and the province of Darfur in the Sudan.

The Chinese and Americans are getting along in the struggle for access to local oil. The first build pipelines with Japan, the Chinese are invested in ports, freeways and railways. The PRC is still winning this partnership. Companies from China, for example, bought major refineries in Sudan and Chad. And they also invested $ 25 billion in laying a new railway from the ports of Kenya to Central Africa, the first phase of which was launched in 2017. Japan, in turn, has invested more than $ 2 billion in the construction of an oil pipeline from Kenya to Southern Sudan. After its launch in 2019, it will be extended to Chad and the CAR, but with one condition – if this region will be not blocked by civil wars.

And the war, apparently, will continue, because the then president of the Central African Republic François Bozizé opened the first concession for CNPC Corporation in 2013, the Boromate oil field on the border with Chad. But this president was overthrown soon, and the next government of the CAR completely lost control over the provinces in the course of the struggle for power where the Chinese oil field is located.  

The Chinese aspect of Russia’s activity in Africa: fabricating of the illusions

Moscow also tried to get contracts for the construction of highways and railways in this new oil region of the world. But the fight was lost. After all, as you know, Russia and the roads are historically incompatible things. Therefore, by the present time, the Kremlin has left nothing other than to portray the Russian “backup dancers” of China’s African interests for the whole world and to prove irreplaceable Russian utility to Beijing in this matter.

So creating a myth about how Moscow is providing some invaluable support for pacifying the CAR for China is a profitable business from the point of view of business. Chinese people will pay someone in Moscow for it, which is pleasant in itself. But in fact everything is much more complicated.

Mercenaries from the Russian Federation arrived in Bangui obviously not for a useful task for Beijing, but on the contrary, in order to do more mischief and to create new problems for China if the Moscow-Beijing dialogue suddenly will go in a direction that is absolutely undesirable for Russians.

One of the main facets of this Russian-Chinese dialogue is “Siberian”. Over the past few decades, the sharing of Siberia’s resources has forced the Russian Federation to impose an indispensable Russian partnership in China in all points that are most painful for Beijing, in Kyrgyzstan, and then in Afghanistan, then, as recently, in the DPRK … But the China somehow manages themselves with the problems of these points, and absolutely without buying the services of Russian anti-crisis management.

In 2018, the failures of the Kremlin’s attempts to be useful in all these areas have become obvious. And in the end, the Siberian problems of the Kremlin forced him to take frank risks and plunge into adventures in the center of Africa which is very vastness for China.

Reason I. What is the main thing in trading in Siberia?

In the Chinese “White Book of the Arctic”, approved at the beginning of the year, the Chinese Communist Party declared the forestry and fishing industry strategically important for the Chinese economy. This became a worldwide economic sensation, because the CCP took such a position, despite the fact that the territory of the PRC does not possess either of it – neither zones of extensive sea crafts, nor large areas of logging. The latter China has no at all. Why they have to drain their fish resources or cut down Manchurian forests, if there are Russian nearby?

Such topics of the new Chinese northern doctrine did not receive any appreciable criticism within the Russian Federation. Criticism against Beijing was not for the simple reason that the new “arctic steps” of China are quite comparable to the real policy of Putin.

The most striking examples of such comparability are two. The first of these is the project of renting by the Chinese 150 thousand hectares of forest lands in the Krasnoyarsk region. It was activated by the end of 2017 under the onslaught of sanctions for aggression against Ukraine. The second example is the defrosting of the project of renting of 0.3 million hectares of agricultural land in the headwaters of the Amur River by China, which was started in 2010.

The rented by China Amur lands surround the single industrial uranium deposit in Russia. And now, if the development of the arms race requires expansion, will be difficult for Moscow. It will be necessary to apply for permission to Chinese companies-latifundists. Will they allow Russia to expand its uranium quarries on the Amur at the expense of the lands leased by the Chinese? This is a separate issue. Maybe they will, but Russian criticism of this situation will not be heard. After all, formally, Moscow has nothing to pick on from China, because, as the Kremlin classics said before the beginning of the Chinese Arctic expansion, “Russia has no borders in a certain sense”.

Relying on this motto, the Kremlin is struggling to show to the rest of the world that the departure of Siberia and the Arctic from Russia’s sovereignty is not at all what this transition really is. This is to say, not the transition of the most undeveloped part of the planet into the sphere of China’s exclusive economic expansion, but a secret Russian-Chinese plan, and almost an underground military alliance that covers all the world’s expanses from Siberia to Africa.

But there is no such union, military or commercial, between Russia and China on paper. It is only in the minds and strategies of the Kremlin dreamers. Based on such realities, the operation in the CAR will be no single. Obviously, there will be many more picturesque “trips to Africa for cunning Chinese interest.” Such a prospect is likely because, in addition to geopolitics, Russia’s current activity in Africa is looking at some purely domestic Russian processes.

Reason ІІ. A new rotation of Russian elites. Who will flee to Malta and who for diamonds?

For a long time of the last century, the crown of vast Russian creativity on the African field was the “blood diamonds” that were mined in numerous regions of African civil wars. Like oil or aluminum, Yakut diamonds form the basis of Moscow’s foreign exchange earnings. Therefore, the expansion in Sierra Leone, Angola and other countries looked motivated. Then more a producer controls production, the more stable the price and its revenues.

Such a diamond direction of the Russian invasion in the African continent is noticeable even now. But this direction has narrowed since the beginning of the 2000s, when the certification of diamonds for the Kimberley Process began. Along with the names of Russian arms dealers Arkady Gaydamak and Viktor Bout, this wave of Moscow invasion into Africa began to go away at the end of the 2000s.

In 2010, instead of the diamond direction, the main Russian priority in Africa was a new industry – money laundering of the “near-Kremlin” business elite and its satellites. Under the guise of noble investments in local mining and communications, the funds withdrawn from the Russian Federation left Africa for Europe as a “pure European capital” of noble origin.

The crown of honor of the Moscow invasion in this period passed from diamonds and airline owners to local African politicians. But in 2017, the pro-Russian presidents of South Africa and Zimbabwe, Jacob Zuma and Robert Mugabe, had to leave. They took their rightful place on the sidelines of politics. Before these changes, the purchase by Russians of African deposits was mistaken for many investors in Moscow as a long-running process.

During this process, the operator of foreign trade operations of the Russian state-owned Kaliningrad Amber Combine, Vitaly Mashkevich, for example, could become the owner of Africa’s largest platinum mine.

Such examples are enough to understand how money from the Russian Federation and the former USSR was poured into Africa literally by the river in 2010. Now, when sanctions are hampering the maneuverability of Russian capital on world markets, everything is changing.

The first role is played by investors like Yevgeny Prigozhin, who supported the Kremlin in difficult moments of sanctions, and now they receive delicious “African gingerbread” from the Russian authorities. No doubt, such characters will agree with any kind of Chinese intrigues of the Russian authorities.

As for the others, who previously distinguished themselves on the African field of Russian invasion, they will have a hard time. They will have to leave with ingloriousness, having sold everything for nothing.



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