Russia is using mercenaries and arms sales to gain access to Africa’s natural resources, the top general overseeing US military operations in Africa said Thursday.
“By employing oligarch-funded, quasi-mercenary military advisors, particularly in countries where leaders seek unchallenged autocratic rule, Russian interests gain access to natural resources on favorable terms,” Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the commander of US Africa Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee in prepared written testimony.
“Some African leaders readily embrace this type of support and use it to consolidate their power and authority. This is occurring in the Central African Republic where elected leaders mortgage mineral rights – for a fraction of their worth – to secure Russian weapons,” he wrote.
“They want to have influence on the continent,” Waldhauser told the committee Thursday when asked about Russia’s activities in Africa.
“I would just point to the Central African Republic right now where the Wagner group has about 175 trainers, where some of the individuals are actually in the President’s cabinet and they’re influencing the training as well as the same time having access to minerals in that part of the country,” Waldhauser said, referring to the Russian military contracting firm that has been linked to operations in Syria.
Russia’s role in the Central African Republic came to the forefront after three Russian journalists were shot and killed there last year.
The journalists had traveled to the African nation in July 2018 to investigate the activities of Russian private military contractors and to find out how the contractors were involved in exploiting the Central African Republic’s mineral wealth.
“With minimal investment, Russia leverages private military contractors, such as the Wagner Group, and in return receive political and economic influence beneficial to them,” Waldauser wrote.
“Recently, the President of the Central African Republic installed a Russian civilian as his National Security Advisor. The President also promised the armed forces would be deployed nationwide to return peace to the country by forces likely trained, equipped, and in some cases, accompanied by Russian military contractors,” the statement said, adding “Russia’s ability to import harsh security practices, in a region already marred by threats to security, while systematically extracting minerals is concerning. As Russia potentially looks to export their security model regionally, other African leaders facing similar instability and unrest could find the model attractive.”
Asked about the difference between Russian and Chinese activity on the continent Waldhauser said, “Recently in the elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where Joseph Kabila just went out of office, one of his opponents said the Chinese bring the money and the Russians bring the muscle.”
Waldhauser also wrote that Russia was increasing its involvement in Libya, a country that continues to be beset by violence as rival factions seek to increase their control of the oil-rich nation.
While the US has backed the UN-recognized and Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, Moscow has established links to both the GNA and a rival faction in the east led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar.
“Russia is more deliberate in Libya as they invoke Gadhafi -era relationships and debts to obtain economic and military contracts,” Waldhauser said, referring to the former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi who was ousted in a NATO-backed military intervention in 2011.
“These agreements are aimed at accessing Libya’s vast oil market, reviving arms sales, and gaining access to coastal territories on the Mediterranean Sea, providing Russia closer access to Europe’s southern border,” Waldhauser said.