To gain insight into Russia’s governance model in Africa, one only need look at the experience of the Central African Republic. Russian mercenaries with the notorious Wagner Group, ostensibly brought into CAR in 2018 to help stabilize the beleaguered government of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, now control diamond and gold mines in the north of the country and have warned UN peacekeepers to steer clear of Russia’s area of control.
While commonly referred to as private military contractors, Wagner is, in fact, an off-shoot of Russia’s GRU intelligence agency. The private contractor designation provides Moscow a degree of deniability over the actions of the paramilitary group, which include charges of extrajudicial killings, rapes, torture, and arbitrary detentions. Wagner’s deployment of an estimated 2,300 “instructors” has provided Moscow leverage in a context where it has historically had little presence.