In addition to the very conspicuous agents of Spetsnaz, the special forces responsible for President Faustin Archange Touadera's personal security and for the protection of his private residences and of ministerial buildings in Bangui, Russian operatives are in the process of taking control of the rest of the Central African state apparatus. Mineral reserves as well as strategic and diplomatic affairs are now being overseen by Russian advisors, much to the displeasure of the Rwandans, who had hitherto fulfilled this role. This growing Russian influence is a source of deep concern in Western diplomatic circles, not to mention among local political leaders. Analysis.
Security at the mining sites
In January, some 200 military trainers officially arrived (without passports) in Bangui to provide training in how to handle the arms stocks delivered free of charge by Russia to the Central African Republic in late 2017. They now number 1,400 - an extraordinary number in a country which has traditionally served as a rear base for the French army in Africa. These men, most of whom are members of Spetnasz but registered as employees of the private firm Sewa Security Services, a subcontractor for the Russian state, are deployed in the capital but also in the vicinity of the gold deposits in the north-eastern region of Birao close to the border with Chad and Sudan. They are also protecting the interests of mining companies such as Lobaye Gold, which was very active in this area in the Bozize era. Over 470 minerals, including gold, diamonds and uranium, have yet to be properly exploited in the country, and the last Western companies still active in this sector have withdrawn, leaving the field free for new operators.
A very special advisor
According to Intelligence Online (Indigo Publications, IOL 805) the Central African president has entrusted his personal security to ChVK Wagner, a firm set up by a former officer in Russia's elite special forces, Dmitri Utkin. He has also recruited Valeri Zakarov, a Kremlin insider, as his security advisor. This highly sensitive role was previously the preserve of the French: for many years, Francois Bozize called on the services of General Jean-Pierre Perez, the boss of EHC. Zakarov is now Moscow's inside man at the presidential palace and he is personally involved in dealing with the recent upsurge of violence in the country. He visited the PK5 district of Bangui, the majority of whose inhabitants are Muslim, to assess the situation after violent confrontations between militia and MINUSCA peacekeepers on 10 April. Two weeks later on 28 April, Russian ‘negotiators' arrived aboard a Cessna at the Kaga-Bandoro aerodrome in the centre of the country for talks with Abdoulaye Hissene and Nouredine Adam, the leaders of the Front populaire pour la renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC), an offshoot of the former Seleka rebel movement which still controls the north-east. This initiative was very unwelcome to the Central African political class and some of its foreign partners.
This increasing Russian grip on the security apparatus and security affairs comes at a time when the United States is funding several programmes to equip the FACA. France, which is avoiding contact with Moscow envoys based at Berengo camp some 60km outside the capital, is retaining its profile through a unit of seven drones and 80 military personnel. Beyond serving its rather opaque business interests, Russia's presence in the country signals a renewed interest in Africa after its withdrawal at the end of the Cold War. The Central African Republic also places Russia in proximity to other countries in crisis, such as Congo-K, Congo-B and Gabon, which may offer a wider market for its services in the sub-region and beyond.