The Black Panther Party and their Foreign Affairs

Black Panthers at a demonstration (credit: CIR Online)

Key Judgements

KJ-1. – BPP likely contributed more to US foreign policy interests than advancing ideological or political concerns. Cleaver and the international branch positioned the US on an inherent advantage against states which provided support and protection to the BPP. Avoiding a diplomatic stance likely gave the US added capabilities to tackle the organisation.

KJ-2. – The isolation of the BPP wing outside of the US highly likely decreased its degree of politicization. Likely everyone perceived providing assistance to the international wing as support towards non-state actors. Likely no one thought about interference in domestic affairs.

KJ-3. International support for the BPP was highly likely for promoting a communist message in the US. The relationship between the BPP and foreign nations, such as did not result in gaining any noticeable strength domestically. Cuba, Algeria, China, and North Korea are the main examples.

The Beginnings

Revolution. On college campuses in the West, revolution is the flavour of the decade. Systems, institutions, political parties… The claimed fault lines and fractures within them have stirred up social movements and symptomatic chaos. Even the most idealistic of Western citizenry may have a hard time seeing a distant end to the madness.

“Unprecedented” is a word ad nauseam in the zeitgeist. Indeed, these times are strange. There is a public cry for the breakdown and restructuring of the failed systems, but these cries are not unique.

The 1960s and 1970s are rife with parallels to the civil rights and social justice movements of today. The Cold War was in full force. The war between the West and communism being fought in distant lands and US inner cities.

Within the American interior, the war was against the spread of ideology. The US is a near-impossible nation to attack from the outside in. The best way to spread the ideas of communism to the proletariat class is from the outside in. This was the same way as US adversaries during the Cold War desired. College campuses became incubators for anti-west and anti-imperial ideas. Groups like the Black Panther Party (BPP) formed, using such ideas as a basis for their goals.

The Black Panther Party, started in 1966 by students/comrades Huey Newton. The group was a black nationalist political party in the US. They had a deeply rooted Marxism at the nucleus of their ideological driven activism.

Foreign Affairs

The BPP is known for its domestic exploits in the US. Nonetheless, they also conducted foreign affairs to meet their ambitions of joining the communist revolution. This would lead to interesting relationships with international governments, all of whom were enemies of the US. Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, two of the main BPP leaders, had similar views on international outreach. Nonetheless, they had different ideas on how to carry it out.


Newton’s goals were centred on black communities within the inner cities in the US. These included the establishment of social programs for the poo and arming the population. It also included training blacks in the law, and working alongside other social organizations to spread the ideas of liberation.


Cleaver was more of a Che Guevara figure to Newtons Fidel Castro. Branching out into the global communist movement was a tangible goal in his eyes. His priorities to do so shifted away from the BPP’s original mission. The violent uprising required for a true proletariat revolution was a motivation for Cleaver’s emphasis on foreign support. In his eyes, the plight of the working class was not unique to the American blacks, but a global effort.  

What you had at the end of it all was a fractured BPP. Both Newton and Cleaver parted ways because of their differences in goals.

The Role of Cuba

Exportation of Black Nationalism

Cuba likely served as the preferred foreign source of support for the BPP and civil rights activists. 6 years before the foundation of the BPP, Robert F. Williams self-exiled to Cuba following kidnapping charges. Soft power activism gained weight with the establishment of The Crusader and Radio Free Dixie. These were a newspaper and radio program operated from Cuba by Williams. There was an increase in the momentum of violent protests during the 1960s in the US. Until late 1967 there would be no armed association between Cuba and the BPP.

The Castro regime almost certainly exploited the ‘domestic armed actor’ condition of the BPP in the US. In 1967, BPP Prime Minister and SNCC founder Stokely Carmichael were invited to Cuba. Carmichael, along with 2 DGI officers, travelled to meet Amilcar Cabral and offered increased fighting capabilities along the PAIGC. The role of Cuba in the Zanzibar revolution provided Carmichael with an opportunity to train 20 militants in Guerrilla Warfare. He then would join the PAIGC. Carmichael ultimately did not take part in combat and settled down in Guinea. The rest of the militants sought exile in Algeria. Despite Carmichael’s split with the BPP, Castro likely elevated the awareness of the Black Panther Party’s foreign affairs and the civil rights current outside of the US.

Black Panther Elbert Howard speaking in Amsterdam (credit: Wikicommons)

The Black Panther Embassy in Algeria

Cleaver, Minister of information of the BPP, was exiled in Cuba to, later on, establish the international branch of BPP in Algiers. Arriving in 1969, the Pan-African Cultural Conference provided legal status to establish a BPP delegation in the Casbah. From 1969, the international tangent of the BPP shifted ideologically towards an anti-imperialist and anti-colonial body. In September 1970, the BPP established its first official headquarters in Algiers until 1973. Cleaver returned to the US following geopolitical pressure, divisions within the party and lack of progress. The Black Panther Party’s foreign affairs in Algeria provided opportunities to establish relations with revolutionary actors. Namely, actors that were with racial inequalities in the US. Simultaneously, the Algiers branch showed inherent issues in the success of Cleaver’s faction.

Division Within the Black Panther Party

Known as the Newton-Cleaver split, the BPP divided. In 1970 there was a split between a domestic-community based faction and an international network of guerrilla-attracted activists. While violence as an instrument was maintained in both divisions, Cleaver became exposed to revolutionary actors. He disconnected with the brand majority of domestic BPP support led by Newton. Being insulated from domestic support and connections, highly likely the BPP’s foreign affairs lost significant capabilities to pursue international cooperation. A disconnection with ideological narratives likely moved the perception of Cleaver’s faction to be a non-state actor rather than a political party’s headquarters.

Expansion of Sympathisers

Cleaver’s new ideology made the BPP Algiers faction increasingly capable of gathering international support outside of oppressed black communities. Newton and the BPP in Oakland recognised ideological currents within revolutionary states. He linked the party to Marxism-Leninism, although roots remained within local communities in Oakland. Cleaver’s change in discourse placed capitalism along with white supremacy and imperialism. This broadened the potential clients to be included in a transnational guerrilla organisation. ´

Lack of Activity

Despite creating a transnational body, capabilities and resources ultimately made propagandistic support and isolated action the primary activities of the faction in Algiers. The Revolutionary People’s Communications Network (RPCN) became the evolution of the Black Panther Party foreign affairs. Providing a platform to all revolutionary movements to communicate led to the circulation of Babylon as a replacement of The Black Panther, as well as West German Black Activist newspaper Voice of the Lumpen. Established by Kathleen Cleaver, the head of communications of the Algiers faction, digital communications became a staple of the primary activity of the network, gaining support in countries like Israel, India or New Zealand with only superficial advocacy.

In West Germany and Algiers, Cleaver and the international faction established minimal contact with armed actors of which they produced little benefits. The Red Army Faction (RAF), an anarchist underground movement in Germany that received training from the PLO, travelled to Algiers to seek cooperation with members of the BPP. The Black September Organisation responsible for the Munich kidnappings and attacks also attracted Cleaver, showing an almost certain appeal of the use of violence against states rather than particular causes or motivations. Ultimately, alliances with the RAF or the Black September Organisation likely emerged more as idealistic cooperation than realistic objectives. The likelihood of a unified attack on US soil almost certainly remained very low and improbable.

Limited Alliances and Internal Divisions

The Black Panther Party’s foreign affairs ultimately depended on the external support of state-like actors to maintain pressure on the transnational anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist revolution. Following Cleaver’s exile in Cuba due to his arrest warrant, Castro refused to acknowledge the presence of the militant. When he did, Cleaver was forced to flee to Algeria, while the intended objective was for Castro to organise and train black guerrillas on Cuban soil. In Algeria, the association with the Black September Organisation and the 1972 hijackings pushed the Boumédiène government to favour economic trade over revolutionary commitments. By 1973, Eldridge and Kathleen cleaver fled to France, while the rest of the organisation scattered to Tanzania, Egypt or back to the US.

The Black Panther Party Rides the Orient Express

As aforementioned, the Cold War era that the Black Panthers lived through was rife with revolutionary governments and movements forming across the world.

Huey Newton’s intellectual framework for the BPP’s nationalistic and Marxist thought developed from ideas and literature he encountered during his time in college in the 1960s. In his memoir Revolutionary Suicide, Newton writes: “It was my studying and reading in college that led me to become a socialist. The transformation from a nationalist to a socialist was a slow one, although I was around a lot of Marxists.”

Newton had an especially romantic view of Chairman Mao Tse-tung. He writes (after describing his lack of clarification on what socialism really was): “So I read more of the works of the socialists and began to see a strong similarity between my beliefs and theirs. My conversion was complete when I read the four volumes of Mao Tse-tung to learn more about the Chinese Revolution. It was my life plus independent reading that made me a socialist – nothing else.” This appreciation even led the BPP to even produce and distribute copies of Mao’s “Little Red Book” in order to fundraise for party weapon purchases.

Pan-African nationalism and the liberation and empowerment of black communities in the US was surely the primary domestic goal of the BPP. It did not receive its honorary title of being an American “Vanguard of the Revolutionary” without reason. Newton and the BPP saw themselves as a political party destined to awaken the proletariats’ collective consciousness, and Mao’s success in the Chinese Revolution was worth emulating or at least desiring to.

Mao Zedong

Chairman Mao Zedong (credit: Wikicommons)

Mao was a fan of the civil rights movement taking place in the US, as noted in an August of 1963 speech. “The American Negros are awakening, and their resistance is growing stronger and stronger. Recent years have witnessed a continuous expansion of their mass struggle against racial discrimination and for freedom and equal rights.” Mao’s exhortation predated the BPP’s formation, but its relevance is undeniable. For communism to work, there must be a collective global uprising, and the best way for the revolutionary to reach the US was from the inside out.

In September 1971, Newton and a small entourage of BPP royalty embarked on a “diplomatic mission” to China, where representatives from Chairman Mao’s government met and embraced them. According to Eveline Chao from ChinaFile:

“The Panthers were, of course, presented a highly curated vision of China. The country was in the throes of the disastrous Cultural Revolution. Paramilitary students, known as Red Guards, had over the last five years denounced, tortured, and killed millions of people. China was a failed state ‘all is chaos under heaven,’ as Mao boasted. The Panthers saw none of this. “It was an amazing experience to see in practice a revolution that is going forward at such a rapid rate. To see a classless society in operation is unforgettable,’ Newton recounted in his memoir.”

Black Panther Party foreign affairs and Chinese relations did not extend far past this, at least significantly. As with other Communist leaders and revolutionaries, it was likely more opportunistic and propagandistic. It was likely about viewing the BPP as a valuable or effective group to further ideological goals. In contrast to Mao’s revolution and others, the human resources and organization were nonexistent. BPP numbers were nothing compared to foreign forces. Indeed, the US lacked any conditions capable of being exploited in such a dramatic way.

BPP and Juche: Ideological Marriage

The Juche Tower in Pyongyang, North Korea (credit: Nicor)

Branching away from China, North Korea and its Juche ideology was an ideal partner. Both were in marriage for the Black Panther Party, their foreign affairs, and their revolutionary aspirations.

Juche is a complex ideology developed by the DPRK at its early foundations. According to the first leader of the DPRK, Kim Il Sung, “Establishing Juche means, in a nutshell, being the master of revolution and reconstruction in one’s own country. This means holding fast to an independent position. It means rejecting dependence on others, using one’s own brain. It means believing in one’s own strength, displaying the revolutionary spirit of self-reliance, and thus solving one’s own problems for oneself on one’s own responsibility under all circumstances.”

According to Benjamin Young in The Asia-Pacific Journal: “In 1969, the Black Panther Party (BPP) established a relationship with the North Korean leadership that was based upon the principle of self-reliance (under the rubric of the Juche ideology), the transnational goal of Third World revolution, and a mutual antagonism towards American intervention around the world.”

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) was an ideal case study in the practical application of a “successful” revolution. Black Panthers saw the Juche ideology as compatible with the domestic goals of independence in the black community. The Third World was a global body, and its unification and empowerment were a communist goal. Military support and training were one way in which the DPRK could support the effort. According to Young, the “government went a step further by training two thousand fighters from twenty-five countries. This happened between the 60s and the 80s. Most notably, members of the JRA, PLO and the IRA received training in North Korea. However, the BPP was not part of the mix. The group did not take part in any such training during their visits.

BPP representatives visited the DPRK twice: 1969 and 1970. As with China, the visit was nothing more than the exchange of pleasantries and exhortation. They exported Juche ideas back to the BPP members in the US, but there was nothing of substance given back.


The Black Panther Party’s foreign affairs are fascinating from a PR standpoint. They added virtually nothing of substance to the movement. The foreign governments the BPP tried to cultivate relationships were top tier professionals in the revolution game. Although the BPP wanted to reach their level of play. They lacked the organization, human resources, and set conditions within the US that gave room for significant change. The Black Panther Party’s foreign affairs attracted attention from the US government. In return, the only thing they received was the diversion of more government resources to eliminating their existence.


The Information Research Department: The Foreign Office’s Propaganda Bureau

The Information Research Department
(Img; Guy Burgess of the Cambridge Spy Ring (right) in 1956 after his defection to Soviet forces; via NYBooks)

The Information Research Department (IRD) was a propaganda department of the UK’s Foreign Office from 1948 to 1977. The IRD is one of the UK’s best-kept counterintelligence secrets. Whilst documents are usually declassified after 30 years, the IRD still has files withheld from public knowledge. However, several documents were declassified by the Foreign Office in 2019. These have provided new insights into how this highly secretive department worked to create anti-communist propaganda throughout the Cold War.

The Information Research Department: So What?

At the height of its operations, the IRD had between 300 and 600 officers, and a budget of £1.5 million in the early 1960s. The IRD was regularly feeding reports to the BBC and other national and international agencies. The declassification of highly sensitive documents pertaining to the IRD’s operations provides a new opportunity to understand in detail the IRD’s function and impact on anti-communist rhetoric during the Cold War.

The Information Research Department: Background

The Foreign Office founded the IRD in 1948 as an answer to Soviet propaganda in the west. The Foreign Office assessed that ministerial speeches about the Communist threat were insufficient to counter the immense capabilities of Soviet Russia. Therefore, the Fo founded the IRD as a subsidiary department of the Foreign Office, to become an integral part of Britain’s Cold War effort.

In 1948 and 1949, the IRD had 50 officers working with limited capacity. At this time, the IRD focused on factual publications regarding the reality of living under the Soviet Union. Whilst starting out with a relatively small team of personnel and a limited budget, the IRD quickly developed a workable system of contacts. The Foreign Office and UK government saw this as scalable. They saw a potentially highly effective, system of counterintelligence. The resources allocated to the IRD increased steadily throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

IRD Operations

Throughout the Cold War, the nature of the department shifted significantly. The IRD mainly worked by distributing reports to foreign media outlets through trusted contacts. Oftentimes this would be reports based on sanitised intelligence, but the IRD also produced falsified and unattributable documents. More recent evidence of documents declassified in 2019 reveal that the IRD was also responsible for ‘special political action’, including bribery, propaganda, and covert political funding.

The memorandum by the Foreign Office dated 31st of May 1949, reveals the true nature of the work that IRD undertook:

“The most effective technique for overt propaganda work overseas is to get the ideas and information you desire carried for you by the local newspapers. Key men in carious walks of life, local broadcasts etc., without any sign that the ideas and information emanate from British official sources. Since, as I have stated above, we are under instructions that it should not be generally known that H.M. Government are carrying on anti-Communist propaganda, we are confined to this technique.”

Most of the intelligence disseminated by the IRD were exaggerations rather than complete falsehoods. By the time of its closure in 1977, the IRD had a list of over 100 journalists in almost every national newspaper, that knowingly or unknowingly used the propaganda that the IRD produced. It also had an unknown number of private clients, creating a two-tier system of state and non-state actors, which allowed the scope of the IRD to grow whilst maintaining confidentiality.


The IRD worked with the BBC and other government departments to assist with the collection and dissemination of anti-communist information. However, it also had significant contacts and clientele overseas. The machinery abroad consisted of information staff in almost all British embassies.

Provenance and Closure

Interestingly, Moscow was aware of the functions of the IRD from its very beginnings. One of the first agents to work for the IRD was Guy Burgess of the Cambridge Spy Ring. Burgess was fired from his post after only two months of work for being ‘dirty, drunk, and idle,’ however, at that point, he had collected enough information on the IRD’s operations to take to Soviet forces.

It was not Soviet discovery that was the downfall of the IRD. In 1977, it was the Labour Foreign Secretary David Owen who closed the Information Research Department. He argued that the covert methods of the IRD were “out of step with the times,”. He also argued that the nature of the covert activities was not in line with modern British political beliefs. As a result, the IRD’s activities ended. Any remaining work passed over to MI6 and other relevant departments of the Foreign Office.


Little is known in the public domain about the overall scale and impact of the IRD. This is mainly due to the covert nature of its operations. Probably, considering the size of the department and its resources, the IRD changed the course of the Cold War.


Agent 355 – George Washington’s Unknown Female Spy

Agent 355 is the protagonist of a story where the main actor identity still remains unknown nowadays.

The Culper Ring (Culper Spy Ring), was an American intelligence organisation. General George Washington set up this organisation and Major Benjamin Tallmadge supervised it during the American Revolution. This network of spies was active from the British-occupied New York City to Northern Connecticut between 1778 and 1780.

The group was employing a set of codes and invisible inks to provide to General Washington timely and accurate information. The information that the Ring supplied to the General was often related to surprise attacks from the enemy. Sometimes this intelligence also dealt with British plans to counter or weaken the strength of the Americans.

Most of the members of the group were acquaintances and friends of Tallmadge. The Culper Ring gave all of the agents a secret identity, which corresponded to a number. Tallmadge was 721, Abraham Woodhull 722, Robert Townsend 723, and 711 was George Washington. Within the group, there was also a woman, Agent 355, but her identity is still unknown.

Agent 355

Agent 355

355 was the cypher for “lady” in Tallmadge’s codebook. Only once did the Culper Ring’s correspondence in 1779 mention Agent 355. The message from Woodhull said: “I intended to visit 727 (codename for New York) before long and think by the assistance of a 355 of my acquaintance, shall be able to out wit them all.”

Most say that Woodhull recruited Agent 355. She was part of an important Tory family who was able to gain information about British commanders and politicians from various gatherings within New York’s British society. It was easier for a woman to get information in these circumstances. Soldiers and politicians talked freely in front of them, not considering them a threat. She was friend with Major John Andre, who was the Chief of British Intelligence, and she probably knew Benedict Arnold, an American military officer. Some believed that Major John was the one responsible for Andre’s arrest and for exposing Benedict Arnold’s treason.

In 1780, the authorities arrested and then hanged Andre since he helped Arnold with the attempt to surrender the West Point’s fort in New York. Arnold managed to escape, and the British arrested Agent 355. In October 1780, a letter that Woodhull wrote was found, reporting that “several friends were captured”. One who had been ever serviceable to this correspondence.”, which some believed to be Agent 355.

After the authorities interrogated her many times, they took her to the HMS Jersey, a British prison ship located in the New York harbour, despite her being pregnant. Some say, that she gave birth on the ship, but both she and her son died, due to the poor condition aboard and various mistreatments.

Possible identities

Even though the identity of Agent 355 is still unknown, many hypotheses were made.

Anna Strong is one of the women considered to be Agent 355. She was Woodhull’s neighbour, and she supported and helped the Culper Ring, by signalling the location of Caleb Brewster, Agent 725, and by sending coded messages through her laundry line. Brewster was the agent responsible for carrying secret messages between Tallmadge and the network of spies.

Supporting the idea of Anna Strong being Agent 355 was that Strong’s husband was imprisoned on HMS Jersey and that she was bringing him food on the ship. This would explain her presence on the ship, and maybe her later imprisonment.

Another theory regarding Agent 355’s identity was Sally Townsend, the wife of Robert Townsend, also known as Agent 723. Mostly everyone believed that Agent 723 and Agent 355 were in a relationship and that she was pregnant with his child.

Despite her identity is unknown, Agent 355’s legacy keeps living on. Her strength, determination, and her sacrifices were of great value to her country. Because of the nature of their job, these spies did not leave many traces behind. On the other hand, there is enough intelligence to prove that the Culper Spy Ring and its members played a significant role during the American Revolution.


Giorgio Marincola: The Black Partisan

Giorgio Marincola: The Black Partisan

Giorgio Marincola was born on the 23rd of September 1923 in Mahaday, a town north of Mogadishu, Somalia. His father, Giuseppe Mrincola, was an Italian infantry officer in the Somali colonies and his mother, Aschirò Hassan, was a Somali woman born in Harardere. In 1926, after the birth of his sister Isabella, they moved to Italy with the father, which recognised both of the children as his own, which was a rarity in those days, and was able to grant them Italian citizenship.

“I feel the homeland as a culture and a feeling of liberty, not as any colour on the map. The homeland is not identifiable with dictatorships close to the fascist ones. Homeland means freedom and justice for the people of the world. This is why I fight the oppressors.”

These are the words declared by Giorgio Marincola, the Black Partisan, at “Radio Baita” in Villa Schneider (Biella) in the first months of 1945. He was forced by the Nazis to compel his fellow partisans to give up, but instead, his words convey a feeling of belonging, fight and resistance.

Marincola first lived with his uncles in Pizzo Calabro, Calabria, and in 1933 he moved to Rome to live with his family. He attended Liceo “Umberto I”, a high school in Rome, where he met Professor Pilo Albertelli. Albertelli was the co-founder of the Action Party (Partito d’Azione), a liberal socialist political party in Italy, which was also anti-fascist. He educated Marincola to critics, dissent, social justice and freedom and guided him to the anti-fascist movement.

Giorgio Marincola as a Lieutenant

In 1941, after high school, Marincola enrolled in the University of Medicine in Rome to specialise in tropical diseases and then go back to Somalia and work there, but he never finished. During his years in university, Marincola got close to the Action Party and took part in many sabotage actions to defend the city of Rome, until 1944 when he enrolled in the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). In the Special Forces of the Allied command, Lieutenant Marincola, also called “Mercuzio” or “Mercurio”, organised various attacks against the Nazi-fascist troops.

In August 1944, Marincola joined the Bamon mission and the month after he suffered a leg injury. After a couple of months, Marincola met British Captain Jim Bell who described the young man as “the only man that really wanted to do something and not wasting his time or money in different activities.”

The Capture

On the 17th of January 1945, the Black Partisan Marincola was captured by the Nazi troops and he was transferred to Biella, in Villa Schneider. During his captivity, the fascists forced him to give a speech on the radio in order to deceive other partisans and broadcast anti-partisan propaganda. During the transmission, Marincola did not follow the Nazi requests and he was beaten while the broadcast was still on. He supposedly said instead “I perceive the nation as a culture and a sense of freedom, not as any (racial) colour.” After Biella, he was moved first to Turin and then, in February 1945, to Bolzano transit camp, which was one of the largest fascist concentration camps in Italy.

On the 25th of April 1945, also known as Liberation Day, the Resistance won the fight against the Nazis and freed all the prisoners in the camp, where the Black Partisan was kept. The war was over, the major cities in the north of Italy were not occupied anymore by the Nazis and Marincola was ordered to go to Switzerland. Instead of following the order of his captain, Marincola chose to join a group of partisans and went to Val di Fiemme, to free the last cities, which were still occupied by the fascist troops.

Giorgio Marincola died in Stramentizzo on the 4th of May 1945, at the age of 22, during a clash with one of the last Nazi troops in the area. The reason why he, like many others, is described as a “forgotten soldier”, is because he died after Liberation Day when everybody thought the war was already over.

When his body was found it was difficult to recognise him, and he was first identified as a “South African medical officer” and then as an “African American man”. It was difficult to identify him because according to the racial laws during the fascist period, “every mixed-race man was considered a native, a non-Italian man”.

During his life, Giorgio Marincola and his sister often stated that many people considered them Italian in Somalia and Somali in Italy. But Marincola was feeling Italian. He fought for the country and its freedom and never cared about others opinion or judgment.

His Legacy

In 1953 Marincola was awarded the highest military honour in Italy, which is the Medaglia d’Oro al Valor Militare, in recognition of his sacrifice and his efforts for the country. In 1964, a street in Chiavazza, Biella, was dedicated to him and in August 2020, the Municipality of Rome decided to name a metro station in Rome after him.

What is now left of the Black Partisan is not much: a notebook with some of his notes and different memories of his friends. But in reality, Marincola with his sacrifice left much more than that to Italian history.

Giorgio Marincola: The Black Partisan

Giorgio Marincola, right, and Eugenio Bonvicini, left, in the Castle of Mongivetto in autumn 1944. (Marincola’s family archives)

Image: (link)


Wagner in CAR: Russia’s ‘Non-State State Actor’ Part VI

Wagner in CAR

Wagner in CAR is an essential weapon in the hybrid warfare arsenal of the Kremlin. By utilizing Wagner and other private military companies (PMCs), the Russian state enforces its existing spheres of influence.With a focus not only on existing spheres such as former Soviet states like Ukraine and Belarus but also on new opportunities further afield in Africa, like the Central African Republic (CAR).

Timeline of Russian influence in the Central African Republic

  • The CAR government grew impatient with the UN arms embargo imposed on the nation since 2013.
  • Struggling against an insurgency from the Séléka coalition and anti-balaka militias, the CAR called for assistance in military equipment coinciding with a French material and political withdrawal. 
  • In 2017, CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The nature of the meeting was to request assistance to bolster the CAR army against the rebels. 
  • Russia secured an exemption from the embargo in December 2017, ships Russian-made arms and Russian PMCs (Private Military Contractors) in 2018. 

France Withdraws

French soldiers were once very active in CAR affairs. Operation Sangaris in 2013 was an attempt by French forces to stabilise the civil war. Civilian deaths and scandals marred the campaign. Following the operation, France made the decision to withdraw from CAR, despite once having a strategic interest in the natural resource potential in the country. French state-owned nuclear giant Areva purchased uranium mining rights for $2.5 billion in 2007. However, in 2012 it proved to be a poor choice when uranium levels were significantly lower than estimated.

French Soldiers in Bangui 2013. Source: Idriss Fall VOA

The CAR government repeatedly requested military aid to fight the rebels, which was met by timid assistance from the French, in the form of poorly maintained Chinese and Pakistani AK-47s. These small arms were confiscated from the terror group Al-Shabaab in Somalia. Disappointed, the CAR government was forced to deal with the Russians for proper equipment and support.

Wagner and Co. 

It is important to remember that the Wagner Group is just one cog in a growing Russian PMC machine; a machine providing military instructors, security advisors, and armed guards for VIPs, facilities, and mines. This includes protecting construction materials transported from Sudan, another African country with a Russian PMC presence. Wagner operators frequently arrive with the weapons sent to the CAR, under the context of “military instructors.” 

While PMCs are technically ‘illegal’ in Russia, giving it relative obscurity, and allowing them to operate under the umbrella of plausible state deniability. Consequently, when the UN agreed to let Russia provide military advisors to CAR, the UN expected official Russian military personnel; PMCs were not in the equation. This PMC loophole utilized in regions of interest provided plausible deniability to the Russian government, which was advantageous when reports of ‘heavy-handed’ tactics from military and law enforcement officials trained by Russian PMCs came to light. 

Wagner in CAR

Russian SOF or Wagner? Source: @AbraxasSpa on Twitter


Sewa Security Services

Sewa Security Services is a Russian PMC that provide close protection for the CAR’s President Touadéra, while the UN was told that the ‘instructors’ were present for training exercises. Sewa exists as a subsidiary of Lobaye Invest, owned by, unsurprisingly, Yevgeny Prigozhin, aka “Putin’s Chef.” Prigozhin is also the owner of the Wagner Group. 

In January 2018, Russian weapons and PMCs–Wagner landed in CAR, in June/July mining permits in the Yawa and Pama region were awarded to Lobaye Invest. Prigozhin is a close ally to Russian President Putin, using private companies to extend Russian influence. Prigozhin is also the orchestrator of the now-notorious Internet Research Agency; a troll farm in St. Petersburg and the artillery of Russian disinformation campaigns

In 2020, CNN investigations discovered Russian troll farms in Ghana and Nigeria, outsourcing disinformation campaigns, and thus increasing plausible deniability. The extension of Russian influence does not only exist through the private military company Wagner Group. Companies such as Lobaye Invest also acted as the financier of a Russian radio station, soccer tournaments and beauty contest in CAR, solidifying ties.

Wagner in CAR

Sewa Security members guarding President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. Source: CAR Government

Military Instructors

Beyond instructor functions, Wagner PMCs are present with the CAR armed forces to ensure “weapons are handled properly.” In real terms, Russian PMCs serving alongside CAR assets are now in essence active personnel ready for engagement if the need arises. This designation expands to securing mineral extraction projects, a keen interest of Russians. These extraction projects usually occur in disputed territory with a heavy rebel presence.

Three Russian journalists investigating the PMC presence in non-government control areas were ambushed and killed in July 2018. UN observers report that Russian PMCs are operating checkpoints and joint patrols with CAR forces. The Russian PMC machine in CAR is well and truly active, but with numbers undisclosed, the size of the PMC force is unclear. 

Russian trained SAOS-GSPR (Section d’Appui aux Opérations Spéciale – Groupement Spécial Chargé de la Protection Républicaine) with a Spetsnaz patch

Hand in Hand

As a German Foreign Ministry Report stated, Africa, is Russia’s top geopolitical priority. CAR, also being one of Russia’s closest allies on the African continent, is set to be one of the six military bases to be established by Russia on the continent. The integration of PMCs, if successful, will provide the necessary stability to extend Russian soft power with vital UN votes, a flow of natural resources, and a growing market for Russian arms exports. 

10 BRDM-2 armoured personnel carriers gifted by Russia. Source: CAR Government

 The Inside Man

If the evidence of Russian state interest was in question, President Faustin Toudéra’s national security advisor is none other than Valery Zakharov, a former GRU intelligence officer. Zakharov’s appointment was facilitated by Yevgeny Prigozhin, furthering the Russian state and private business entanglements in the CAR.

Wagner in CAR

Colonel Konstantin Pikalov aka “Mazay” aka “The Colonel”. Source: Bellingcat

The Colonel

Colonel Konstantin Pikalov, aka “Mazay,” aka “The Colonel” under the guise of personal security, is influencing the direction of Russia’s Africa strategy, with Zakharov reportedly following his recommendations. Mazay was once a Russian military career officer, fighting in two Chechen wars, and involved with the PMC Slavonic Corps in Libya. Mazay is reportedly overseeing military issues in Africa through the “Convoy” Military Security Company, a Russian legal entity based in St. Petersburg. Mazay is serving as a liaison between the PMC military/political consultants and the Russian Ministry of Defense. This was highlighted by Bellingcat, which revealed email correspondence of Russian military instructions reaching Mazay in CAR. 

What’s Next?

Last week the Russian Ministry of Defense announced it is sending 300 soldiers to the CAR to avoid a Coup attempt, according to insiders. This fits in the narrative of Wagner and Russian regulars being deployed to support leaders that curry favour with the Kremlin. President Touadéra has already proven to be a loyal ally and has fully embraced Russian influence. If this Russian influence is better than France or the UN will be determined soon enough.

This article first appeared on Sandboxx News 


The Counterintelligence Failures of Britain’s Secret Police Part II

Counterintelligence Failures

Undercover officers from the Metropolitan Police enjoyed several successes over 40 years in missions to infiltrate environmental, political and animal rights-activism groups and identify and disrupt planned protect activities, serious political violence and public disorder. Superior capabilities and access to resources and expertise conferred a competitive advantage and meant they were able to utilise intelligence to support their mission. However, a series of counterintelligence (CI) failures on the part of the undercover officers meant the operations unravelled into one of the most famous exposures of state-sponsored espionage on British citizens in history. The undercover officers ultimately failed to protect the secrecy and sanctity of their mission and the enduring implications continue to be felt by the UK’s intelligence, security and law-enforcement community. 

Defensive Counterintelligence

A number of factors point to a complacent attitude and blatant disregard of basic defensive CI and vetting techniques amongst undercover officers. There are examples of officers being recruited despite having personality disorders; suffering from PTSD; defecting to activist groups; revealing the identities of undercover officers and missions, and blowing their own cover with accidental answerphone messages. Basic defensive counterintelligence techniques, including compartmentalisation, vigilance, secrecy and effective vetting should counteract these failures, especially given the quality and abundance of resources the undercover units had access to. These measures provide confidence by ensuring missions are built on a strong defensive and security-conscious foundation. Instead, officers underestimated their targets and were complacent as to the importance of counterintelligence and operational security, ultimately causing failures in their missions and inflict enduring damage on public trust. 

Going Native

Multiple instances of intimate relationships between undercover officers and activist targets point to further complacency, with some officers even fathering children.  Intimate relationships are a sign of changing loyalties and altered attitudes.  They prevented undercover officers from behaving rationally and purposefully as they became emotionally involved in the activist groups they had infiltrated, destroying the integrity of the mission. This, again, points to a disregard of basic defensive CI and operational security and a complacent attitude amongst undercover officers. 

The intimate relationships also fuelled the open-source intelligence (OSINT) capabilities of activist groups.  As the identities of undercover officers began to unravel, emotionally disgruntled activists were motivated to avail of open-source birth and death records to expose the officers.   Despite often lacking the accuracy, relevance and reliability of resource-heavy signals, human, imagery and geospatial etc intelligence, OSINT can still play a critical role when analysed and deployed effectively. In fact, the OSINT capabilities of non-state actor (NSA) groups often match or outweigh those of law enforcement due to the expertise gained by their proximity to the subject matter. As the OSINT capabilities of NSA groups continue to improve with the ever-increasing availability of technology, state-sponsored law enforcement and intelligence must emphasise commitment to basic defensive CI and operational security in order to counter the threat faced.

Operational Security

The overall complacency and lack of operational security and CI amongst officers highlight a lack of effective governance.  Oversight mechanisms and regulatory and operational boundaries should ensure any encroachment on individual rights and freedoms is necessary and proportionate to the threat faced. Without strict and effective accountability mechanisms within a clearly defined mandate, law enforcement and intelligence risk their officers acting ultra vires and abusing their position of power, thereby threatening the overall effectiveness of their intelligence and CI operations. 

These failures have resulted in long-term and far-reaching damage to public trust and confidence in the legitimacy of state-sponsored CI and intelligence and their ability to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the individual rights and freedoms we expect in a modern liberal democratic society. Public trust empowers law enforcement and intelligence services through the democratic process. Consequently, a lack of public trust jeopardises government resources and budget allocation, therefore threatening the ability of intelligence and law enforcement agencies to execute their mandates and safeguard public safety and security. 

Asymetric Counterintelligence capabilities

The resource deficit faced by activist groups and the asymmetric nature of their CI capabilities led to short-term operational success for the undercover officers.  The leaky defensive mechanisms of activist groups offered no protection from the superior capabilities of undercover police units who could use their resources and expertise to access intelligence to support and bolster their mission. However, complacency offset this short-term success and officers underestimated the OSINT capacities of activist groups. This was exacerbated by a failure and lack of effective oversight and accountability mechanisms. These factors ultimately destroyed their mission and inflicted enduring damage in public trust in state-sponsored intelligence, security and law enforcement. 

Long-term Integrity

The UK intelligence community continues to feel the effects of the revelations in “Undercover: the true story of Britain’s Secret Police” with multiple pieces of legislation, including the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, intended to implement more robust oversight mechanisms.  However, it remains a real risk that such legislation will be to the detriment of the effective and efficient functioning of our intelligence, security and law enforcement services and their ability to execute their mandate to safeguard public safety and security. Overall, the enduring failures of the undercover police units demonstrate the importance of prioritising defensive CI and operational security and keeping the long-term integrity and sanctity of the mission at the heart of operations.


Image: Andrea Baldo / Youtube (link)


Mauritanian Spartacus: Will Put an End to Slavery?

Mauritanian Spartacus

While enjoying rapid economic growth in the 21stcentury, largely a product of fishing along its 700-kilometre long coastline and exploiting its abundance of minerals, most notably iron, copper, phosphate, and gold – Mauritania has failed to transform this growth into societal development, most importantly to end hereditary slavery. Meanwhile, the ‘Mauritanian Spartacus’ is preparing for the June presidential election.

Ethnic Divisions and Slavery

An estimated 25% of the population is Afro-Mauritians made up by Sub-Saharan ethnic groups. The remainder is Moors. Within the Moors, there are the Arab Berbers or the Beidane (‘white Moors’), and the Haratine (‘black Moors’). The Beidane makeup 30% of the population but occupy 80% of power and leadership positions in Mauritania. While the Haratine makes up 45% of the population. The Mauritian regime does not separate the Moors statistically as the Beidane and Haratine share cultural, linguistic, and religious practices distinct to the Moors – which the Haratines have acquired after decades of assimilation and slavery.

Mauritania was the last country in the world to abolish slavery in 1981 and to criminalize it in 2007. Estimates the amount of enslaved people in Mauritania have ranged from 2 – 20% of the total population, about 90,000 – 880,000, with the most recent and supported reports closer to the 2% estimate.

Mauritanian Spartacus

There are several reasons why it is hard to estimate and end slavery in Mauritania, one of which is the caste system. The caste system has slavery embedded in it with its hierarchical structure where the Haratines rank the lowest. Moreover, many people are born into slavery unknowingly, often because of a slave master raping a slave, then sending away the mother after the child is born, leaving the child to grow up with its masters as its closest and only family, and normalizing the slave-master-dynamic. Because of the normalization of this practice over a long period of the time reinforced by the caste system, slavery has become so accepted in Mauritania that many consider it a normal part of daily life, that goes for the slaves as well.

Discrimination and Racism

Despite the abolishment, criminalization, and improved criminalization of slavery (2015), little has been implemented. The regime claims that slavery is rare and handled swiftly when discovered, yet only four slaveowners have been convicted since the law was implemented in 2007. Meanwhile, slaves who are freed either by force, external pressure, or by escape, leave to find themselves without support. Socioeconomic programs to help Haratin lack proper implementation to make a significant change and little to no compensation is paid to those freed.

Illiteracy is a continuous problem in Mauritania that is exacerbated by the slavery practice. Only 51% of the population is estimated to be literate and only 43% of women are. Education has been identified as a key sector in overcoming slavery, the caste system, and illiteracy, which has led to the creation of about 60 schools since 2014 intended for Haratines. However, public schools tend to fall into despair or are unable to find teachers, while Beidane children largely attend private schools. Additionally, about 41% of children in Mauritania lack birth certificates, most of which Afro-Mauritian and Haratine children. Without birth certificates, children cannot be enrolled in school.

Without school, compensation, or significant state support, former slaves in Mauritania end up in urban areas looking for work. As more slaves have been freed but left without means, the slums in the cities have grown. Haratines who escaped slavery generations ago are unable to escape slum because of the caste system. Effectively, the country is racially polarized whereas in rural areas the Haratines are enslaved by Beidoun masters, while in urban areas there is a sense of segregation with white neighbourhoods and black neighbourhoods, as well as black schools and white schools.

Breaking Status Quo

Although the government categorically deny the existence of slavery, recent years have seen anti-slavery movements gain more traction – and have led to arrests of far more activists than slave owners. One of these activists is Biram dah Abeid, the ‘Mauritanian Spartacus.’ Biram, who himself was born into slavery, has been jailed several times in the last decade after establishing the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania (IRA-Mauritania) in 2008. Latest in August 2018, when he was jailed in what is believed to be an attempt to avoid him running in the parliamentary election that was held in September 2018, in which he won a seat to from his prison cell. In June 2019, he will be running for the presidency and, perhaps, liberate a people.  

Image: Fast Company (link)


Russia’s ‘Non-State State Actor’ Part V

This series of articles have explored the activity of the Russian private military company (PMC) Wagner in Africa. Links between subsidiary companies, Wagner management, and links to GRU & Ministry of Defence (MOD) has been established. Despite reports of Russian PMC activity in several African states and what that indicates – at this point there is not enough conclusive open-source material available to establish physical Wagner presence in other African states. Instead, this article will further explore Wagner’s origins which will reinforce its state connection.

The Legacy of Executive Outcomes

Executive Outcomes (EO) was a PMC established in 1989 in South Africa. It was founded by Eeben Barlow and Simon Mann – Both of which from special forces background. The PMC operated over a 10-year period, in which it claimed to provide military and strategic advice, comprehensive training packs for armed forces, and equipment advice and training. Within that timeframe, EO landed contracts with the governments of Angola and Sierra Leone, officially. However, the group was reported to be working in Uganda, Botswana, Zambia, Ethiopia, Namibia, Lesotho, and South Africa as well for private enterprises. In addition to its military consulting services, it is well documented that EO was operating tens of other companies with various areas of interest, some of which involved in mining and natural resources. Evidently, a business model with striking similarities to that of Wagner.

From Idea to Africa

Eeben Barlow visited Russia in 2010 when he attended the St Petersburg economic forum. In addition to his presentation at the forum, he gave a closed presentation to a delegation from the General Staff. Reportedly, in the closed presentation, Barlow explained the model for establishing a PMC and added Russian-specific adaptations. The Russian bureaucracy experienced huge changes in the next years in Putin returning for President, the retirement of the head of the General Staff, and the resignation of the Defence Minister.

According to sources affiliated with MOD, it was at this point that Prigozhin was chosen to establish, fund, and operate the PMC. Likely because he had Putin’s trust after hosting international leaders’ visits to Russia since the early 2000s, and because of his management and establishment of the ‘troll factory’ that was successful in the anti-opposition propaganda campaign in 2011. Prigozhin started landing big government contracts with his catering business, first of which was Russian school lunches. By the end of 2012 Prigozhin’s contracts were valued at more than 90 billion Rubles (approximately GBP 1M). These contracts are likely to have been awarded to Prigozhin for the very purpose of establishing the ‘troll factory’ and Wagner. After the Slavonic Corps failure in Syria in 2013, it became evident that the deployment was premature. In 2014, Utkin and other mercenaries from Slavonic Corps started appearing in Crimea and southeast Ukraine. Their presence there was limited, and their role was a supporting one, allowing the PMC to test its capabilities close to home. Evidently, the group proved themselves useful.

In 2015, Prigozhin started landing MOD contracts for providing services like food, cleaning, and construction for the Russian military in addition to hospital contracts and more school contracts. That money was allegedly used to establish the Wagner camp in Molkino, recruit more personnel, and generally improve training and equipment to prepare for Syria. Wagner’s Syria deployment peaked at the recapture of Palmyra in which Utkin and three other presumed Wagner commanders were awarded medals at a Kremlin ceremony. After Palmyra, the deal was made between the Syrian regime and Evro Polis and demonstrated a first step towards self-sufficiency.

What’s Next?

By now, Wagner operates in several African states. Similar to Barlow’s EO, Prigozhin’s Wagner is just one of several companies under the umbrella. Where they differ is in that Prigozhin receives directions from MOD, and Wagner receives operational support from MOD. This approach provides Moscow with plausible deniability which enables them to pursue foreign policy ambitions with less risk and without the same restrictions. Russia’s return to Africa is likely to continue and expand due to Russia’s identity in which it considers itself a major power and intends to establish itself as a major power in a multipolar world, as an equal to the US and China.

Image: Image: Twitter / @warsmonitoring (link)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grey Dynamics LTD.

Wagner: Russia’s ‘Non-State State Actor’ Part IV


Wagner: Russia’s ‘Non-State State Actor’ Part IV
Wagner mercenaries at an undisclosed location. Picture released by the Ukrainian security service (SBU)


Libya had amassed a debt of no less than $4.6 billion to Russia by 2008, largely stemming from the Soviet era. President Putin travelled to Libya and met Gaddafi in ’08 and wrote off the entire debt. In return, Russia’s state-owned Russian Railways earned a $3.48 billion contract to build railroads connecting Sirte and Benghazi. Arms deals were signed – in 2010 these deals made up 12% of Russia’s total arms export valued at $10 billion in total.


Additionally, Russia’s favourite son, Gazprom, struck deals with Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) to form a joint project to explore hydrocarbons in the region. Gazprom also holds stakes in the Elephant field after striking a deal with Italian ENI. All deals were signed at the time of Libya’s construction boom in 2008 when Gaddafi was to invest $52 billion in infrastructure projects – projects that Russia had a great interest in.


Instead of becoming an international financial hub for the region with skyscrapers shooting up in the sky, Libya was shot up and sent into a spiral of violence. As Libya’s spiral of violence seems to move towards an end, Russia has come to reinvest and revive frozen contracts. And as we now know, on the African continent – Where there are conflict and natural resources, there is Wagner.



Prigozhin’s Dinner


In Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, and the CAR Wagner’s presence is rather well documented by pictures, flight manifestos, videos, and witnesses while mining and security companies can be traced back through the hierarchy of companies eventually leading up to Prigozhin at the top. These operations function as some dysfunctional covert operation that is quite overt, yet provides plausible deniability simply because the link between Moscow and Wagner is not on paper in black-and-white while the private-public dynamic blurs Moscow’s involvement just enough to pull another ‘Salisbury’ – Not referring to the actual poisoning, but to Moscow’s standardised reaction when caught with their pants down; ‘anti-Russian hysteria‘, ‘cheap soap opera’ or notions of similar nature. Libya is quite different, hard evidence is scarce, but indicators and motivation are evident.


In Libya, there are several possible outcomes of the conflict and now planned election, and Russia is hedging. Moscow has hosted several Libyan politicians with conflicting interests and partners, most recent with Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. But Russia’s number one in Libya is Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar. Haftar made a visit to Moscow on 7 November 2018, to meet with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.


The two have met several times since 2017 when they met aboard the aircraft carrier ‘Admiral Kuznetsov’ just off the coast of Libya. Russia did not announce the meeting and seemingly attempted to keep it a secret. Libya’s National Army (LNA) did apparently not receive that memo as they recorded and published Haftar’s arrival and meeting for propaganda purposes. Upon his arrival, the video shows the appearance of no other than Prigozhin.


When later confronted with the video Russian officials dismissed the observation, claiming Prigozhin was there to cater and organize a dinner. However, the recordings show Prigozhin in the meeting with a translation earpiece and nametag, evidently being an equal participant, while Russian media found that Shoigu had left for Kazakhstan before any dinner had taken place.



On the Ground


Some reports have claimed that regular Russian army, GRU operators and Spetsnaz has been on the ground in Libya. This claim contradicts the Kremlin’s current modus operandi (MO). Other reports claim that GRU operators and Spetsnaz forces are on the ground, under the banner of Wagner, technically making them Wagner personnel. These reports are far more viable as it gives Russia the opportunity to deny – which they do.


Meanwhile, we already know that Wagner’s base is shared with GRU and Spetsnaz in Molkino, sending personnel from there to act as agents of the state abroad does not make sense when they can be sent under the cover of Wagner, clearing the Kremlin from any responsibility in case of any unseen problems while concealing their role and intent. Additionally, Putin’s greatest threat is internal opposition and a dead agent of the Russian state overseas could raise eyebrows, a dead private mercenary will not. Wagner is a (close to) risk-free solution to the execution of foreign policy.


Haftar has received military support from Russia since February 2017 when oil terminals in eastern Libya were attacked. The Russian forces, assumed to be elite personnel under Wagner, landed in Mersa Matruh in western Egypt, later observed further west towards the Libyan border in Sidi Barrani with drone equipment. The Russian deployment was confirmed by Egyptian security sources who added that six units from Russia had been flown into Egypt before departing for Libya 10 days later.


Additionally, numerous reports claim that Russia has moved weapons to Haftar through Egypt and that Wagner personnel has trained LNA personnel using the equipment and maintenance of it. It should be noted that state-owned Rosneft, Russia’s second favourite son, signed a deal with NOC, also in February 2017. A source within the Russian Defence Ministry has also confirmed the presence, stating that both civilian and military instructors are in Libya.


In late 2018, around the same time as Haftar’s meeting in Moscow, Ukrainian intelligence released flight manifestos establishing that the same airline unit taking Wagner personnel to Sudan that is mentioned in part 2 of this series, started transiting through Benghazi – Indicating that Libya is an area Wagner personnel are rotating into.



The Libyan Scheme


Some observers believe Russia’s interest in Libya lies in controlling the migration flow into Europe to pressure the West. This is unlikely. Based on Russia’s policy in Africa, Russia has identified Haftar as who they want to be in power. Then upgraded his army’s equipment, sent Wagner personnel for support, training and maintenance of equipment, and are likely to strike deals that give access to natural resources.


In these deals, Wagner personnel is likely to be scrambled to secure the centralized power and sites of investments either by force or in a consultancy role alongside local militia. Russia’s interest in Libya is oil and gas for economic gains and to reinforce its strategy of energy diplomacy, along with its desire to revive pre-civil war contracts in arms and infrastructure. Wagner will play a role in the physical security of these futures contracts, whether it be securing oil fields, pipelines, or the construction of railways, and it can only be expected that subsidiary companies of Prigozhin, similar to Evro Polis in Syria, show up in Libya alongside Wagner personnel.



This article was first published on 23-08-2019


Image: Image: VK (link)


Wagner: Russia’s ‘Non-State State Actor’ Part III


Another war-torn mineral-rich state ripe for Russian arms, investment, and cooperation were the Central African Republic (CAR) in late 2017. In 2016, France formally ended its military mission in the CAR, leaving the responsibility of the security situation on the shoulders of the UN peacekeeping forces who were already overwhelmed prior to the decision. Additionally, in April 2017, the US-led manhunt for warlord Joseph Kony ended, leading to the withdrawal of 1,500 US-sponsored Ugandan troops stationed in the CAR.


Just a month after, US President Trump announced his commitment to slashing foreign aid by 32% in 2018 as a part of his ‘America First’ strategy in which one of the biggest losers would be the CAR, expected to go from receiving $60 million to a proposed $6 million. These events, despite the foreign aid reduction proposal getting shut down in Congress in 2018, effectively formed a power vacuum in 2017 – soon to be filled by Wagner and Russia.



Accept Our Arms and Consider Us Partners

Those events spiked ethnic fighting and the CAR plead for arms in late 2017. France offered 1,400 assault rifles it had seized in Somalia for a stiff price. Russia objected to this in the UN Security Council as the CAR has been under an arms embargo since 2013. Russia meant arms seized for breaching the embargo on Somalia could not be recycled for such a purpose – Then quickly lobbied the Security Council for approval and made a generous donation of 5,200 AK47s, 900 Makarov Pistols, 840 Kalashnikov machine guns, 270 RPGs, 140 sniper rifles, and 20 portable anti-air defence systems, plus ammunition.


On 16 February 2018, Tunisia announced they had seized Russian military cargo off a ship named URAL that had departed from Novorossiysk in Russia. The ship was in route for Cameroon when it was hit by a storm and requested to dock at the port of Sfax in Tunisia for repairs. Upon arrival, Tunisian authorities found that the ship was loaded with 24 unregistered containers packed with military equipment like satellite communication equipment, uniforms, and medical supplies, along with unauthorized armoured personnel carriers, military trucks, and ‘everything required to set up military camp.’ The same ship is reported to have been delivering Russian cargo to Syria since 2016. The case of URAL is interesting for three reasons;


  1. URAL’s path was erratic – Initially heading west in the Ionian Sea making a sharp turn towards Libya. As Libya got close, another sharp turn west, for Tripoli. Seemingly, something occurred, and the ship was forced to head to Sfax instead of Tripoli

  2. Military trucks of the same type as the ones seized in Tunisia – Ural-4320 desert camo with post-Soviet modifications – started appearing in the CAR within weeks of the seizure

  3. The Russian embassy in Tunisia told RIA Novosti that the cargo’s destination was meant to be CAR


Hence, the case of Ural indicates that;

  • Russian military equipment can transit through Libya. And from Libya, through Russian partner Sudan, it can be delivered to CAR

  • Russia is supplying more than the original donation – Probably to arm and accommodate a large number of Russian personnel




Prigozhin’s Security and Mining Export


Lobaye Invest: Started operating in the CAR in October 2017. Lobaye is a mining company that has received concessions to explore two large deposits in the CAR for gold or other minerals. CAR is also rich in uranium and diamonds. Lobaye’s CEO is Yevgeny Khotodov reportedly a co-worker of Prigozhin, the same man is also CEO for St. Petersburg based Argo and M-Finance, the latter being a mining company. M-Finance is strikingly similar to M Invest which has already been linked to Prigozhin in Sudan. Additionally, African Intelligence reported that Lobaye is the ‘daughter’ of M Invest, which links the cluster of companies in Sudan and CAR with each other, and Prigozhin. Evidently, as Meroe Gold is Prigozhin’s mining proxy in Sudan, Lobaye holds the same position in the CAR.


PMC Wagner:In Sudan, the Wagner personnel posed as civilian instructors or as M Invest personnel. In the CAR, Wagner personnel has reportedly posed as civilian instructors and employees of Sewa Security Services, which is based in Bangui. Additionally, a private military company named Patriot has emerged in the CAR. It is unclear whether PMC Patriot is a different company or just another front of Wagner. Swiftly after the arrival of Russian personnel, President Touadera swapped out the ‘blue helmets’ with Russians to provide his personal security.


Reportedly, it is PMC Patriot that provides VP security while Sewa provides security for the lucrative mines, and civilian instructors train government forces. It is largely understood by linking the different actors involved that all Russian security personnel is PMC Wagner and that both Wagner and Lobaye are there on behalf of Prigozhin who is there on behalf of Russia.



All Eyes on Wagner


In March 2018, Russia reportedly sent 170 instructors to train government forces, understood to be Wagner personnel. In July, three Russian journalists were on their way to the mines in Ndassima, which are explored by Lobaye. It is unclear whether it was Wagner or local militias that killed the journalists. Locals report that Wagner and locals travel together to and from the mines, indicating cooperation with rebel forces as well as government forces. The incident caused Wagner to gain much, and surely unwanted, attention.


The same business model as deployed in Sudan has been deployed in the CAR – Security for natural resources. However, the CAR is complex and involves various opposition groups, which means Russia have to work with everyone – and they do. Prigozhin and Russia are striking deals with whoever they have to strike deals with to explore those mines and project influence. What those deals consist of, weapons supply, cooperation, revenue share, or anything else, remains to come to light.


Meanwhile, Wagner forces on the ground have been estimated to be anywhere from 170 – 1,500, others suggesting they move between Sudan and CAR as needed. What remains certain is that Russia’s ‘proxy presence’ in CAR is greater than officially reported, and Russia will continue to expand its presence on the African continent.




Image: Image: VK (link)


This article was first published on  25-02-2019