6th Jun 2023


EU fixing to leave Bangui, as Russian influence grows

  • 'Wagner Group is also training the FACA [the Central African Republic's army], including units already trained and certified by EUTM RCA [an EU training mission],' the report warned (Photo: un.org)
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Russia is gaining power in the Central African Republic (CAR) as the EU pulls out, amid similar developments in neighbouring Sudan.

"The influence of the Prigozhin network connected to WG [Wagner Group] is increasing in the security sector and beyond," the EU foreign service said in a CAR "strategic review" dated 24 April.

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Yevgeny Prigozhin is a Russian oligarch who controls Wagner Group (WG), a mercenary force active in several African countries, Syria, and Ukraine.

And the internal EU review, seen by EUobserver, painted a picture of almost complete CAR-state capture by the Kremlin's shadow army.

Wagner was "heavily involved" at the highest political level in a "project to revise the constitution, which would enable [CAR president Faustin-Archange] Touadéra to stay in power beyond the present limit of two terms," the EU said.

"To muster support for that project, Wagner has a network of political advisers, troll farms, and pro-Russian activists who devise and implement strategies to manipulate public opinion," it said.

Russia has also run anti-Western "demonisation" campaigns in CAR on "an industrial scale" with "the desired effect", the EU added.

In military terms, "a significant amount of the deployed FACA [CAR's army] units outside Bangui operate under the direct command or supervision of WG mercenaries, which have in parallel deeply infiltrated the [FACA] general staff," the EU said.

And on the economic front, Wagner was "engaged in the diversion of fiscal revenue of the Central African state, they now hold a pervasive position in the country's economy," the report warned.

The "presence and influence of the WG in economic sectors is increasing, in particular regarding natural resources management (companies active in the mining, forestry sectors, but also food/alcohol)," it added.

For its part, the EU has a military training mission (EUTM RCA) and military advisory operation (EUMAM RCA) in Bangui.

But EUTM froze training in 2021 when it emerged Wagner was using EU-trained CAR soldiers to commit atrocities.

And as Touadéra tilts ever closer to Russia, the EU instructors are doing less and less, with sagging morale.

"In the case of EUTM, none of the defined benchmarks have been achieved," the EU said, speaking of last year. "In EUMAM, of the 69 international posts, 22 are currently vacant," it said.

They should stay for another few months with a "significantly reduced" presence, the EU foreign service recommended to EU countries' ambassadors.

But the EU should "conduct a strategic assessment not later than January 2024, with a view to possible closure of both missions if conditions for a re-engagement are not met", the foreign service said.

And both EUTM and EUMAM should already "prepare the closure of the mission[s]," it recommended.

Its review mentioned Sudan in passing only.

"The deepening of relations between WG and elements in the leadership of Sudan will likely impact on the conflict and security dynamics in the country's [CAR's] northeast," it said.

The ongoing CAR instability comes amid a security collapse in Sudan, where Wagner also has political advisors, military trainers, and gold mines.

The EU, UK, and US have pulled out diplomats and evacuated many of their nationals from Khartoum due to fighting between two rival generals, with reports that Wagner is arming its champion in the war.

"If we leave [Sudan], we also leave some space for Wagner troops and Russia to play this game," Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto warned in Luxembourg on Monday (24 April).

Déjà vu

Meanwhile, the current civil war in CAR has already dragged on for eight years, the EU report noted.

And if Sudan was to go the way of its southern neighbour, the future for both local people and Western interests in the region looked dire, the report suggested.

Looking at the CAR model, Wagner fighters were popular in Bangui, where people saw them as effective warriors against anti-Touadéra rebels, the EU said.

But in reality, Russia was enflaming the conflict, EU diplomats said.

Wagner was doing little to drive out anti-Touadéra guerrillas from their rural strongholds.

But at the same time, "WG mercenaries regularly violate HR [human rights] and IHL [international humanitarian law], including summary executions, torture and rape, some of which is also directed against FACA personnel," the report said.

There was "increased instability, ethnic violence, and division within society" as well as "aggravated" poverty in areas under Wagner control, it added.

Training missions aside, the EU has injected over €1bn of development aid into CAR in the past few years.

But for all Europe's soft power, fighting remained so intense, with "increasing use of explosive devices", that "on average, 32,000 people are forced to leave home each month and seek safety elsewhere in the country," the EU report said.

Over three million people are deemed in need of urgent "humanitarian assistance and protection", in a figure rising by 10 percent a year, it said.

And given European concern, voiced also by Finland's Haavisto, that a Sudan war might "cause a big migration wave", CAR violence has so far pushed over 740,000 refugees into neighbouring Cameroon, DRC, and Chad, the EU report noted.

"The future remains bleak," it said.


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