What is this micmac around the presence of Wagner in the Central African Republic?

A representative of Russia in the Central African Republic was injured on Friday by the explosion of a parcel bomb, an attack that the head of Wagner immediately attributed to France. Between the French soldiers who leave Bangui, the Russian influence in Africa, the parcel bomb and an Evguéni Prigojine who attacks Paris, the affair looks like a big deal kamoulox… But, above all, is Wagner really in the Central African Republic and, if so, what to do there? 20 minutes takes stock of this episode of the parcel bomb which further strains relations between Moscow and Paris.

What happened this Friday in the Central African Republic?

A Russian representative in the Central African Republic was injured by the explosion of a parcel bomb. “The head of the Russian House (the cultural center) received this Friday an anonymous package, opened it and an explosion occurred,” said the press service of the Russian Embassy, ​​quoted by the agency. official TASS press, stating that this official, Dmitri Syty, was hospitalized with “serious injuries”.

Dimitry Sytii (center), founder of the mining company Lobaye Invest and placed under US Treasury sanctions for his alleged links with the Wagner group, surrounded by Central African deputies on the steps of the National Assembly in Bangui on October 15, 2021.
Dimitry Sytii (center), founder of the mining company Lobaye Invest and placed under US Treasury sanctions for his alleged links with the Wagner group, surrounded by Central African deputies on the steps of the National Assembly in Bangui on October 15, 2021. – AFP

Shortly after, the Russian billionaire close to the Kremlin and founder of Wagner, Evguéni Prigojine denounced the involvement of France. “I have already addressed the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to launch a procedure to declare France as a state sponsor of terrorism,” he said, quoted by his press service. According to Evguéni Prigojine, Dmitri Syty, before losing consciousness, had read a note accompanying the package which said: “it’s for you, on behalf of all the French, the Russians will leave Africa”. Wagner’s chief provided no proof of this note.

Why does Yevgeny Prigojine accuse Paris?

In 2013, France deployed more than a thousand soldiers in the Central African Republic, a former colonial power, as part of Operation Sangaris, to put an end to inter-community violence there. Sangaris numbered up to 1,600 men and lasted until 2016.

This parcel bomb attack comes as the last French soldiers left on Thursday. The last 47 French soldiers of the logistics mission (MISLOG-B) took off from Bangui airport at the end of the morning. The departure of the French troops took place nearly four months after the French military left Mali, at the end of the consummated divorce between Paris and the junta in power in Bamako.

“In 2021, when the presence of the private military company Wagner was increasingly intrusive in the country, France considered that the conditions were no longer met for us to continue working for the benefit of the Central African armed forces”, said General François-Xavier Mabin, commander of French forces in Gabon. Already in the summer of 2021, Paris had indeed decided to suspend its military cooperation with Bangui, deemed “accomplice” in an anti-French campaign guided by Russia.

France regularly accuses these paramilitaries of committing abuses against civilians and of having established a regime of “predation” of the resources of the Central African Republic. Accusations far from pleasing Moscow which, through the voice of its armed wing Wagner, is trying to destabilize (and discredit) Paris in turn.

But what is Moscow doing in Africa?

Russia has been trying for several years to strengthen its influence on the African continent. The Kremlin has, according to analysts, engaged in covert military operations in at least half a dozen African countries over the past five years using the Wagner force, loyal to Vladimir Putin.

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And it is true that in several French-speaking African countries, Moscow is leading an active campaign of influence, particularly on social networks, and enjoys growing popular support when France, a former colonial power, is increasingly vilified there. . Several countries thus accuse the junta in power in Mali of having recourse to the services of Wagner, which Bamako denies. The question of a possible rapprochement with Russia has also arisen in Burkina since the coup d’etat of September 30, the second in eight months, which brought Captain Ibrahim Traoré to power, while the country is struggling to cope with recurrent deadly jihadist attacks since 2015.

Burkinabe Prime Minister Apollinaire Kyélem de Tembela met Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov on Monday in Moscow to discuss “priority issues for strengthening relations” between the two countries, according to a statement from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. foreign.

But then is the Wagner group also in the Central African Republic?

According to the Ghanaian president, there is no doubt about it. Nana Akufo-Addo thus affirmed on Wednesday that her neighbor Burkina Faso had “reached an arrangement” with the Russian paramilitary group loyal to Vladimir Putin. “I believe that a mine in southern Burkina was allocated to them as a form of payment for their services,” he said during an interview in the United States with the American Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken.

According to the Ghanaian head of state, “the Russian mercenaries are on the northern border” of Ghana, which is “particularly worrying”. The Burkinabe Foreign Ministry summoned the Ghanaian ambassador on Friday to express its “disapproval” after the Ghanaian president’s remarks. These statements are “serious and inaccurate”, added a government source.

Still, as indicated above, the departure of French troops from Bangui is closely linked to the presence of Wagner in the Central African Republic. A country torn by yet another civil war since 2013, when a coalition of predominantly Muslim armed groups, the Séléka, overthrew President François Bozizé.

What does the international community think?

Thursday evening, the head of American diplomacy reiterated his fears about the Russian group. “As soon as Wagner deploys, countries find themselves in a weaker, poorer, less secure and less independent position,” Antony Blinken warned during a press conference at the end of the three-party United States-Africa summit. days in Washington. “Our African partners tell us that they don’t want to see their resources exploited, they don’t want human rights abused, they don’t want their governance undermined, so at the end of the day, they really don’t want no Wagner,” he added.

For its part, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed that the parcel bomb attack was intended to “harm” the development of relations between Russia and the Central African Republic. The latter, however, did not appoint a presumed sponsor, unlike Evguéni Prigojine.

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