Exclusive: Advance into Africa — an audit of Russia’s growing economic and military footprint on the continent

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (C) waves during a family photo with heads of countries taking part in the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit at the Sirius Park of Science and Art in Sochi, Russia, 24 October 2019. The Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum take place on 23-24 October 2019. EPA-EFE/SERGEI CHIRIKOV / POOL

Russia’s concerted push into Africa is re-establishing the country’s strongest links with the continent since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Trade with Africa grew to $20.4bn in 2018 while Russia has signed military agreements with 21 African countries.

Renewed ties with Africa culminated in Putin’s inaugural Russia-Africa summit which took place in Sochi between 23 and 24 October 2019 with 43 of the continent’s 55 heads of state attending.

This modern-day “scramble for Africa” by Russia as well as China, India, Turkey, the Arab League, South Korea, the European Union, France and Japan has taken place in the vacuum presented by US President Donald Trump’s retreat from the continent.

But Russia’s presence in Africa is not without controversy with the shadowy private mercenary Wagner group piggybacking on the mother country’s foothold in several war-torn countries.

The “godfather” and funder of Wagner is Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St Petersburg- based oligarch known as “Putin’s chef” who has clandestinely led Russia’s push into Africa over at least the past three years. Wagner functions as an undeclared branch of the Russian military.

(Click on the interactive map for more detailed information)

Below is an audit of Russia’s presence in Africa.

ALGERIA Russia’s largest African client for weaponry. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, between 2014 and 2018, Russia supplied the Algerian military with 66% of its weapons. Russian Ambassador to Algeria Igor Belyaev estimated in July 2018 that Algeria accounted for half of Russia’s arms sales to Africa.

ANGOLA In April 2019, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Angola’s Joao Lourenco signed six mutual co-operation agreements. Angola purchased Sukhoi SU-30 fighter jets superior to any combat aircraft currently operated in southern Africa.

Russia is also building a naval base in Angola. In late September 2019 Russian engineers began surveying parts of the old Lobito harbour. The deals give Russia a stake in mining operations in return for arms and surveillance equipment. Lourenco has also expressed interest in purchasing Russian S400 missile systems.

BOTSWANA In August 2018 an agreement was signed for Russia to provide “peace-keeping” training to the Botswana military. An estimated 20 or 30 Wagner staff and about 100 Russian military act as trainers/advisers.

BURUNDI In August 2018 a co-operation agreement on counter-terrorism and joint training of troops was signed. Wagner and Russian staff are providing training. The Russian military is also training the Burundi military and police and hosts approximately 100 of the top recruits for annual training in Russia. Russian private military company (PMC) Patriot is involved in the construction of an airbase outside the capital.

BURKINA FASO In August 2018, Burkina Faso signed a deal with Russia by which the two countries agreed to co-operate on countering terrorism. On 24 October 2019, in Sochi, the Russian military met with the Burkina Faso Minister of Defence, Moumina Cheriff Sy, and discussions were held with regard to strengthening this agreement. In 2017 the country purchased two Russian helicopters as well as missiles.

CAMEROON Since 2015, Russia has been providing military training and equipment to Cameroon to assist in the war against Boko Haram. There are military, industrial and intelligence treaties in place, with Wagner providing training to the Cameroon intelligence services. Weapons offered to Cameroon include sophisticated anti-aircraft systems.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC In August 2018 an agreement was signed making provision for the Russian training of the CAR military. The special security adviser to the Chad presidency is Valery Zakharov, a Putin insider and a Russian citizen.

Wagner, too, is deployed into the area where it takes part in hard fighting as well as training CAR troops. In return, the CAR has ceded a number of mineral concessions to Russian companies.

A new, more shadowy security company — Sewa Security Services — emerged during 2019, also taking part in the hard fighting and training CAR troops.

Wagner has been linked to the murder of three Russian journalists, veteran Orkan Djemal, Alexander Rastorguev and Kirill Radchenko, who were investigating the group’s activities.

According to the Guardian, secret documents describe the CAR as “strategically important” and a “buffer zone between the Muslim north and Christian south”. It allows Moscow to expand “across the continent”, and Russian companies to strike lucrative mineral deals, the documents say.

Wagner claims credit in CAR for getting of rid of politicians who are “orientated to France”, including national assembly representatives and the foreign minister.

This appears to be Charles-Armel Doubane, sacked in December 2018. Russia has “strengthened” the army and set up newspapers and a radio station. Russia is an “83% friend”, The Guardian reports the documents as saying.

CHAD In August 2017 a mutual co-operation agreement providing for anti-terrorism co-operation and joint training exercises between the Russian and Chad armies was signed. Wagner has a small office in Chad staffed by about 50 men.

The Russian embassy in N’Djamena was significantly enlarged in early 2017 with the extra space being used to accommodate seven senior Russian military officers.

COMOROS In November 2018 an agreement for Russia to train law enforcement officials was clinched. According to The Guardian, Russia is keen to exploit a long-running territorial dispute in Comoros. France directly controls one out of four of the Indian Ocean islands, Mayotte. In 2018, Wagner employees flew to Comoros via Belarus. Their objective was to test if “political technologies” might be used to inflame the row between Paris and the Comoros government.

CONGO-BRAZZAVILLE In May 2019 Russia signed a deal to repair and refurbish existing Congolese weapons systems free of charge while selling some new weapons systems to the country. It would also provide a number of trainers for the country’s military and police.

One PMC source indicated that up to 1,500 Russian military and Wagner staff were in the country.

COTE D’IVOIRE In July 2019, Foreign Minister Marcel Amon-Tanoh of Côte d’Ivoire visited Russia and signed agreements with the Russian foreign minister that the two nations would co-operate to fight international terrorism and extremism.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO In May 24, the Kremlin announced it was dispatching a team of army specialists to the DRC. According to Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press spokesman, these specialists will service Russian-made military equipment.

Russians observed in the DRC appear to all be former airborne forces or special forces — judging by their uniforms and insignia. When asked what they are doing in the DRC they have explained that they are advisers or trainers to the DRC military.

EGYPT In November 2017, a deal was signed allowing Russia to position troops at the Sidi Barrani military base to provide training to the military. Upwards of 4,000 Russian military personnel, including airborne forces, are currently encamped at the base. Russia Federal Security Service personnel are involved in training Egyptian forces. The deal also provides surveillance equipment and weapons for counter-terrorism operations.

EQUATORIAL GUINEA About 200 Wagner members are involved in protecting about 100 Russian military intelligence officials at the Pico Basilé island spy base. This base allows for interception of signals from almost all of the west coast of Africa. Over recent years the base has been significantly enlarged.

ERITREA In October 2018 the Eritrean Minister of Foreign Affairs Osman Saleh Mohammed confirmed that he had met with the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in Sochi — and that a Russian military base was among the matters discussed. Russia is presently constructing a logistics base here.

ESWATINI Russia supplied new infantry weapons systems in February 2015. Wagner personnel were dispatched to provide training on these. Wagner and Russian officials reportedly hired several homes and apartments around the capital. This is important as a listening post close to South Africa and Wagner staff often cross the border.

ETHIOPIA In April 2018 equipment for training and also for surveillance and espionage was delivered.

GABON Putin received the Gabonese and CAR presidents, Ali Bongo Ondimba and Faustin-Archange Touadéra, during the 2018 Soccer World Cup. At the meeting, the trio discussed security in the CAR and how the three countries could step in to stabilise the CAR.

There is no mention of military agreements between Gabon and Russia. However, with the very small size of the Gabonese military it would not be possible for the country to intervene in the CAR without first significantly expanding the size of its military.

GAMBIA In September 2016 Russia began military training in the country after the sales of weapon systems.

GUINEA CONAKRY A signed 2018 deal allows for Russia to train Guinea’s military and also to provide training in air/sea rescue.

GUINEA BISSAU Wagner is reportedly on the ground.

LIBYA Wagner is currently involved in hard fighting in support of General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army, which is attacking the UN-recognised government in Tripoli with the support of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Haftar’s advance has bogged down in the face of fierce resistance chiefly from fighters from Misrata, and a number of Wagner employees have been killed. A few weeks ago a video appeared on social media purporting to show the personal belongings of a Russian mercenary captured after Tripoli forces beat back an attack from Haftar’s fighters. In November 2018 Khalifa Haftar travelled to Moscow and met the defence minister, Sergei Shoigu. Prigozhin was spotted at the talks.

MADAGASCAR The world’s fourth-largest island is one of Russia’s strongest allies. According to the Guardian, the new President Andry Rajoelina won election with the “Company’s support” (presumably Wagner) and Russia “produced and distributed the island’s biggest newspaper, with two million copies a month”, it adds. Rajoelina denies receiving assistance.

MALI Following a Russian Mali summit early in 2019, Wagner were brought into Mali to assist in fighting the insurgency by the ISIS-aligned Al-Mourabitoun group. Unlike Russian army advisers, Wagner are taking part in actual fighting.

MOROCCO In June 2019 a high-level Russian delegation visited the country for three days. Morocco is widely rumoured to be interested in buying the Russian S400 missile system — in order to counter the increasing numbers of Russian-supplied weapons in neighbouring Algeria.

MOZAMBIQUE For some years Russia has been courting Mozambique. In January 2017, it signed agreements for the maintenance of existing military weapons and also the supply of additional new equipment. Over the past year, Russia has actively been training and equipping the Mozambican military

In August 2019 reports emerged that a force of 2,700 Wagner personnel were stationed in Russian warships off the coast.

The gruesome death of at least seven Russian fighters from the Wagner group at the hands of insurgents in northern Mozambique on 31 October 2019 has highlighted Wagner’s presence in active operations.

NIGER An August 2017 deal allows Russia to train the armed forces of Niger and to provide ongoing military training and education to the officer corps. The two countries agreed to share information relevant to the war on terror, while Russia undertook to train the Niger military and police.

In September 2019, Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou visited Russia.

The Russian embassy in that country has significantly increased in size and has added a heliport as well as what appears to be a communications suite of some considerable size — with at least one surveillance radar.

NIGERIAIn August 2017, a co-operation agreement was signed on military training, peacekeeping and efforts to counter-terrorism and piracy.

In October 2019, Russia was on the verge of signing a security contract with Nigeria, providing weapons and training to counter the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency. Wagner mercenaries are certain to be in the mix.

RWANDA In October 2019, Russia has signed a deal with Rwanda that will see the Russian nuclear power utility Rosatom build a nuclear power plant in the country. Russia will provide security for this facility — and has undertaken to train the Rwandan police and military so that they can take over the security detail on the plant.

SIERRA LEONE An August 2018 deal will allow Russian fishing boats to operate from Sierra Leone. In return, Russia will supply new infantry weapons and training. As part of the deal, the Russians also agreed to service and repair old and unserviceable equipment.

SOMALIA A small office of 20 or fewer Wagner men was opened in April. Russia has for some time been investigating the possibility of a defence base in Somalia. Prior to the Somali Civil War the USSR had a significant military base at Berbera in the breakaway region of Somaliland.

SOMALILAND Negotiations are underway for Russia to take over the Berbera port in return for recognition of that country’s status as an independent country.

Ironically, the Berbera harbour was extensively modernised and upgraded by the US military after the Russians were “chased away” from the harbour by the Somali government. The expanded port would give Russia the chance to base the largest surface ships and submarines in the port — and also carry out repairs on them.

SOUTH SUDAN More than 100 Wagner contractors are in South Sudan training government units.

SUDAN In February 2018, an agreement was signed to develop the Sudanese armed forces. Two sources familiar with the talks said that M Invest, the Russian parent company which signed the prospecting and mining agreement with Sudan, represents Prigozhin’s interests.

In November 2017, Russia and Omar Al Bashir signed a deal that Al Bashir claimed involved giving Russia the “keys to Africa”, in protection from US aggression in the area.

According to The Guardian, Wagner “political technologists” drew up a programme of political and economic reform designed to keep Al Bashir in power.

It included a plan to smear anti-government protesters and to use fake news and videos to portray demonstrators in Khartoum and other Sudanese cities as “anti-Islam”, “pro-Israel” and “pro-LGBT”.

The deal gave Russia mining rights in return for weapons and eavesdropping equipment. Although Al Bashir was deposed in April, Wagner remains there, with the new government keeping on the Russian advisers.

TANZANIA In January 2018 a co-operation agreement was signed to allow military training by the Russian military — and also to allow Russia to use Tanzania as a place to develop and test certain weapons types. From late 2018 Russian and Wagner people have been providing training to the military.

Russia has given bursaries to selected Tanzanian police and military staff.

UGANDA Wagner has a small office, probably 10 men or less, in the country. In 2019, Russia signed an agreement with Uganda, the terms of which focused on Russian promises to help Uganda develop nuclear power stations.

ZAMBIA In April 2017, Russia supplied anti-aircraft weapon systems and also the refurbishment of existing military equipment as well as new radar systems and the upgrade of existing radar systems.

ZIMBABWE In October 2015, a deal was signed which allows Russia and Zimbabwe to host joint military exercises. The deal also includes the Russians agreeing to assist the Zimbabwean Defence Corporation to manufacture and market weapons systems. Wagner has a small office, probably 10 men or less. There are, however, plans to increase this significantly.

Conacted for comment, Alexander Kulyaev, First Secretary and Press-Attache for the Russian Embassy in the Republic of South Africa said: 

Thank You for your enquiry. For a comprehensive answer we would need some time to properly research the information you are referring to, we will get back to you at a later date.

Off the top of my head I would suggest not mixing unproven allegations on the military companies activities and official state-to-state military-technical cooperation and legitimate military hardware contracts.

Also, as for the Russian official position on some of these issues, kindly take a look at what Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov had to say just recently.

We will update this article should the further information or comment come to light.  DM

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