The bodies of three Russian journalists killed in the Central African Republic have been repatriated to Moscow. Why were they killed?
There are currently about 10 paramilitary groups in the Central African Republic. Mercenaries from Russia recently appeared among them.
Militants of the Séléka group have been accused of murdering three Russian journalists in the republic on 31 July. The group unites Muslim combatants from various other groups and platforms. Its informal leader, Michel Djotodia, lived for about ten years in the USSR, where he studied at a technical school in the city of Oryol and later graduated from the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia.
Journalist Orkhan Dzhemal, cameraman Kirill Radchenko and producer Aleksandr Rastorguev went to the Central African Republic in order to shoot an investigative piece on Russian mercenaries in the country.
The murder of the journalists has made the Russian military presence in the Central African Republic one of the main topics of discussion of the international media.
Russia and the CAR: what we know now
Journalists first spoke about a potential Russian military presence in the CAR in the beginning of 2018. In March, Agence France-Presse reported that more than 170 Russian instructors were based some 60 kilometres from the capital. An AFP correspondent noted rows of tents in the area and Russians in military uniform that were training local soldiers. He was not allowed to take pictures at the time.
Some time later, a number of international investigative journalists came to the conclusion that the Wagner Group, the same paramilitary organisation that is allegedly fighting in eastern Ukraine and Syria, was active in the area.
What is the Wagner Group?
The Wagner Group, also known as CHVK Wagner, is a Russian company which provides military and security services. Its specialists have fought in Ukraine, Syria and Sudan. The ‘contract-organisation which provides military services’ is comprised mostly of former Russian officers.
According to many Russian media outlets, the Wagner Group is directly accountable to the Russian government. Several million dollars are used to maintain the group every year. The existence of the group allows the Russian authorities, for example, to say that the regular Russian army has withdrawn its troops from Syria. Formally, this is true. However, the Wagner Group is still present in the country and answers to the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation.
The domestic political situation in the CAR
The country received independence from France in 1960. Since then, civil war has raged almost continuously. It has been governed by Faustin-Archange Touadéra since 2012. The latest data shows that government troops control just 20 per cent of the country’s territory. The rest of the CAR is divided between more than 10 paramilitary groups.
In 2013, France sent troops to the CAR and tried to regulate the armed conflict in the country. However, after they withdrew their troops in 2016, military activities renewed with even more vigor.
What are Russian mercenaries doing in the CAR?
Since 2013, there has been a UN ban on weapon imports to the CAR. However, in 2017, Russia was able to convince the UN Security Council to allow it to deliver light weaponry to the country. Many experts believe that the UN agreed to this in order to avoid China’s expansion in Africa.
In the beginning of 2018, the ban on weapons sales to the CAR was extended by one year. However, Russia has retained the right to continue selling weapons to the country.
Russia’s primary interest could be the natural resources in the region: oil, gold, uranium and others.
The president of CAR, Touadera, has been to Russia twice in the past year. First he met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, and in May he participated in a St Petersburg economic forum where he thanked President Vladimir Putin for aide during the ‘dire humanitarian situation’.
Moreover, according to western media outlets, Russia maintains contact with representatives of the CAR rebels, given that the main portion of resources that interest the Kremlin are under their control. Russian diplomats have met with representatives of at least three of these groups.