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How Russia’s Wagner army that briefly rebelled against Putin has taken over this African country

Durban – The Wagner Group, a private Russian paramilitary group, gained worldwide attention at the weekend when its leader, Yevgeny Prigzohin launched an insurrection against President Vladimir Putin and marched his troops towards Moscow.

Prigozhin, however, called off the march on Moscow because he wanted to avoid “Russian bloodshed” and claimed it was a demonstration of protest rather than an attempted coup.

However, a report by Sentry, an “investigative and policy organisation that seeks to disable multinational predatory networks that benefit from violent conflict, repression, and kleptocracy” has now laid bare how the Wagner Group has gained control of the Central African Republic (CAR).

With the aid of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, the Wagner Group – often dubbed Putin’s private army – has seized gold mines in the country and have committed atrocities against the population, including rape.

Five years ago, as the Russian Federation renewed diplomatic ties with the Central African Republic after a 40-year hiatus, the Wagner Group put boots on the ground.

More on this

• We didn’t want to overthrow Russian government, says Yevgeny Prigozhin, in first comments since mutiny
• WATCH: Wagner mutiny in Russia raises questions on overseas influence
• Wagner ends revolt but Putin’s grip questioned
• Putin survives Wagner revolt but forced to cut deal
• Wagner chief to leave Russia in deal to ease crisis

According to the Sentry, the CAR was torn by two decades of political instability and devastating armed conflicts had found little respite from Western nations or the United Nations.

President Faustin-Archange Touadéra was presented with an alternative solution by Russia: diplomatic, military, and political aid via the Wagner Group, according to Sentry.

What ensued, however, was far from a peaceful resolution.

The Sentry reveals a grim picture of systemic human rights violations, mass killings, and campaigns of terror, masterminded by Wagner, Touadéra, and his closest allies. Behind the façade of a counter-offensive against anti-government factions, these coordinated assaults, executed by CAR forces and Wagner operatives, served as a chilling form of psychological warfare aimed at crushing opposition and instilling the dominion of Wagner and Russia’s ally, Touadéra.

The Sentry’s investigation highlights an ominous development in this strategy of violence: the formation of a parallel army under the control of Wagner and Touadéra’s inner circle. This force is primarily composed of newly incorporated soldiers from Touadéra’s ethnic group and militiamen serving as proxies in military operations. While the president’s inner circle commands operations in the capital, Bangui, Wagner has extended its iron grip to areas outside the capital, Sentry claims.

Wagner’s brutal control reaches beyond politics, the report reveals, touching the very veins of that country’s wealth – its mineral reserves, particularly gold and diamonds.

The organisation’s mining companies – Lobaye Invest, Midas Resources, and Diamville – have successfully claimed mining licences, using violent means to drive civilians away from valuable areas. Wagner has effectively set up a network for industrial-scale gold production across CAR, Sudan, Cameroon, Madagascar, and Russia, evading national and international scrutiny.

The toll on CAR’s population is catastrophic.

Recent studies show that 5.6% of CAR’s population died in 2022—the highest mortality rate globally.

The Sentry believes that Wagner’s activities have exacerbated this humanitarian crisis. In essence, the report argues, Wagner, with the Central African president and his allies, has constructed a perfect blueprint for state capture – militarising power, looting valuable resources, and terrorising the population into submission.

And this is not a singular event, according to Sentry. Wagner’s reach is extending further into Africa, with Burkina Faso being the latest, and Chad the next targeted nation. The group’s use of propaganda and terror as tools for psychological warfare have been observed in various African countries, notably CAR and Mali, serving to expand Russian influence at the expense of Western interests.

“In these two countries, Wagner’s modus operandi has aimed to expand Russian influence, to the detriment of Western interests; Wagner’s hard and soft power – backed with Russian political and logistical support – has thus resulted in a diplomatic rupture with Western countries,” the report says.

The report also reveals that In countries like Libya and Sudan, Wagner has successfully infiltrated groups led by militia commanders Khalifa Haftar and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as “Hemedti,” securing logistical facilities and financial gains.