According to leaked documents available to The Guardian, Russia is seeking to bolster its presence in at least 13 countries across the continent of Africa.
This, it intends to do through building relations with existing rulers, striking military deals, and grooming new generation of “leaders” and undercover “agents”, the leaked documents reveal.
The leaked documents were obtained by the Dossier Center, an investigative unit based in London. The center is funded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian businessman and exiled Kremlin critic.
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Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman based in St Petersburg and a close ally of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is leading the mission to increase Russian influence on the continent.
One aim is to “strong-arm” the US and the former colonial powers, the UK and France, out of the region. Another is to see off “pro-western” uprisings, the documents say.
Putin showed little interest in Africa in the 2000s. But Western sanctions imposed in 2014 over the annexation of Crimea have driven Moscow to seek new geopolitical friends and business opportunities.
Already, Russia has a military presence and peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic (CAR). CAR is described 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.
In 2018 the US special counsel Robert Mueller indicted Prigozhin, who is known as “Putin’s chef” because of his Kremlin catering contracts. According to Mueller, his troll factory ran an extensive social media campaign in 2016 to help elect Donald Trump. The Wagner group – a private military contractor linked to Prigozhin – has supplied mercenaries to fight in Ukraine and Syria.
In the documents, details show the scale of Prigozhin-linked recent operations in Africa, and Moscow’s ambition to turn the region into a strategic hub. Multiple firms linked to the oligarch, including Wagner, are known by employees as the “Company”.
On 24 May, the Kremlin announced it was dispatching a team of army specialists to the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press spokesman, they will service Russian-made military equipment. So far, Moscow has signed military cooperation deals with about 20 African states.
Five days later, the Kremlin said it would host the first-ever Russia-Africa summit in October in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Putin and Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, will chair the event. About 50 African leaders are due to attend. The aim is to foster political, economic and cultural cooperation.
A map from December 2018 seen by the Guardian also shows the level of cooperation between the “Company” and African governments country by country. Symbols indicate military, political and economic ties, police training, media and humanitarian projects, and “rivalry with France”. Five is the highest level; one is the lowest.
The closest relations are with CAR, Sudan and Madagascar – all put at five. Libya, Zimbabwe and South Africa are listed as four, according to the map, with South Sudan at three, and DRC, Chad and Zambia at two.
Other documents cite Uganda, Equatorial Guinea and Mali as “countries where we plan to work”. Libya and Ethiopia are flagged as nations “where cooperation is possible”.
It is unclear how many Prigozhin initiatives have actually gone forward. There is evidence that media projects mentioned in the documents are now up and running – albeit with marginal impact. They include a website, Africa Daily Voice, with its HQ in Morocco, and a French-language news service, Afrique Panorama, based in Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo.