Russia offers African governments ‘regime survival package’ in exchange for resources, probe says

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso – January 20, 2023: A banner of Russian President Vladimir Putin is displayed during a protest to support Burkina Faso President Captain Ibrahim Traore and call for the withdrawal of the French ambassador and military forces.


Russia’s military intelligence service is offering African governments a “regime survival package” that provides military and diplomatic support in exchange for access to strategically important natural resources, according to a new report.

The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the world’s oldest defense and security think tank, explained how the rebranded Wagner Group in Africa is working to consolidate and expand Moscow’s strategic relationships across the continent through guarantees regime security and geopolitical protection in exchange for lucrative mining concessions.

Russia’s defense ministry was not available to comment on the report’s findings when contacted by CNBC.

Wagner has long been a key component of the Kremlin’s efforts to increase its influence in politically volatile countries across central Africa and the Sahel, including the Central African Republic, Mali, Burkina Faso and Sudan.

But since the death of its former leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, last summer, the group’s operations have been subsumed by Russia’s military intelligence unit abroad, known as the GRU.

Report authors Jack Watling, Oleksandr V Danylyuk and Nick Reynolds explained that the GRU chose to split Wagner’s activities in two.

The first, known as the Volunteer Corps, covered Wagner’s former operations in Ukrainewith other private military contractors such as Redut providing the legal mechanism for Wagner fighters to sign up, before the companies signed contracts with the Russian Defense Forces, effectively bringing them under the control of the GRU.

Russian Wagner Group officers are seen surrounding Central African President Faustin-Archange Touadera as part of the presidential security system during the campaign for the referendum to change the constitution and remove term limits, in Bangui, Central African Republic on July 17, 2023.

Leger Serge Kokpakpa | Reuters

The second, the Expeditionary Corps, takes over the disbanded paramilitary group’s activities overseas and uses a number of companies as fronts to enlist fighters, but also aims to recruit and train local forces in areas where Wagner was active.

This unit is led by Andrei Averianov, who is widely believed to have played a role in the plane crash that killed Wagner’s rebel leader Yevgeny Prigozhin and much of his top command.

The RUSI report said Russian authorities assessed the strengths and weaknesses of Moscow’s Africa strategy in the wake of Wagner’s dismissal from the defense ministry following a failed coup. Documents reportedly revealed a “vision of exploiting access for a more concerted attack on Western interests.”

“For example, it is suggested that Russia’s relations with Niger could be used to threaten French access to uranium mined in the country, further increasing the dependence of the French energy sector on Russian uranium,” the report said.

“The ‘offer’ now being pushed by the GRU is described internally as a ‘regime survival package.’ The logic of this offer is that Russia will provide elites in target countries with military support, economic and political protection from backlash through the UN or other international mechanisms, and the support of political technologists to sell their popularity domestically.”

NIAMEI, NIGERIA – JULY 30: Coup supporters take to the streets after the military seized power in Niamey, Niger on July 30, 2023. (Photo by Balima Boureima/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Central to the package is the isolation of the target country’s leadership, and the report details how the Mali Expeditionary Force now provides personal protection to the president, ensuring consistent proximity to decision-making at the highest level of government. This is very similar to the strategy Wagner developed in the Central African Republic.

As also demonstrated in the Central African Republic, Wagner was also very adept at creating domestic information channels through which he could spread the Kremlin’s message. RUSI emphasized that these efforts are in line with the goal of ending the relations that the target countries have with the West, where partners are reluctant to maintain ties with military partners in the event of massacres or violations of international law.

In this regard, the GRU currently sees uniquely fertile ground. Russian flags and messages of support for Russian President Vladimir Putin have become commonplace at mass demonstrations in support of recent military conquests or against traditional governments across Africa.

“First, with the US increasingly fixated on the Indo-Pacific and Europe saturated by the war in Ukraine, most African businesses have become power economy affairs,” RUSI said.

“Furthermore, the disparity in resources and attention given to Ukraine or Gaza compared to Tigray, for example, has left a sharp and bitter impression across Africa of the hierarchy of Western concerns.”

This has been exacerbated by the “apparent contrast” in Western rhetoric between accounts of the devastation in Ukraine and Gaza, leaving many in Africa to see a gulf between the values ​​applied by Western powers and those demanded by partners on the continent.

RUSI suggests that Moscow is seizing the opportunity to use persistent instability in Africa to drive migration to Europe and cause further political destabilization, all part of a long game of unconventional warfare.

Finland recently closed its Russian border, accusing Moscow of funneling migrants to it in response to the country’s accession to NATO, a charge the Kremlin denies.

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