The ‘Hybrid’ Role of Russian Mercenaries, PMCs and Irregulars in Moscow’s Scramble for Africa

Executive Summary

  • Russia’s “return” to Africa—preceded by a decade of near absence on the continent—is premised on two main aspects: 1) geo-economic interests (notably, securing rare natural resources possessed by African countries and expanding Russia’s export capabilities in non-raw materials), and 2) geo-political calculations (such as using the votes of African states at the United Nations to “prove” Russia’s ability to overcome its isolation on the global stage).
  • Along with more traditional arms sales, PMCs and irregulars constitute a key element of Russia’s competitive advantage in the international struggle for influence in Africa. This strategy—on its surface quite similar to Moscow’s pre-1991 modus operandi—has increasingly acquired a new instrument, premised on Russia’s willingness to render services related to political consultancy and spreading disinformation. These services are said to be carried out, in particular, by people/entities closely associated with Yevgeny Prigozhin (an alleged sponsor of the Wagner Group PMC).
  • When it comes to its actions in Africa, Russia is pushing primarily in the countries and geographic areas that were formerly colonies of France and Portugal (and are still seen in Moscow as within Paris’ and Lisbon’s zones of influence). Russia deems these Western European states as weaker players on the African chess board.
  • One of Moscow’s main trump cards in Africa is “security export”—that is, providing consultancy and training in anti-insurgency and anti-terrorist operations. These services are dually provided to the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa by Russian military instructors (officially) as well as members of PMCs (unofficially). In addition, Russian PMCs may be actively involved on the ground in the violent suppression of anti-governmental protests or demonstrations.
  • Russia still lacks a coherent strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. In the short-to-medium term, however, one can expect an expansion of cooperation in this region between Russia and China (particularly as a part of their broader anti-US activities).


Prior to the mid-1950s, far-flung Africa was almost never a clear priority for the Russian Empire or its Communist successor, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). However, the process of decolonization and the maturation of the Cold War dramatically changed the geopolitical value of the world’s second-largest (and second-most-populous) continent; notably, Moscow began to view the newly emerging countries there as potential new disciples of Soviet ideology. Until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, Moscow was involved in virtually every conflict/civil war that took place in Africa. But even though it diverted huge economic resources for the “anti-imperialist struggle,” the Soviet Union achieved relatively meager results, reducing its presence on the continent by the late 1980s, followed by a nearly complete withdrawal after 1991. During the active phase of its involvement, Moscow’s activities were not limited to economic and material-technical support; military and para-military aid played an equally important role.

Following 1991, the newly established Russian Federation at first did not allocate Africa any visible role in its foreign policy. But the situation started to change from the second half of the 2000s, and it was premised on former Russian foreign and prime minister Yevgeny Primakov’s vision of African countries as an important mechanism for Moscow to diversify its foreign policy away from the West.[i] Beginning in 2012, Russia’s policies toward the African continent experienced a phase of upheaval that took on a qualitatively new form after 2014.

This study examines four key components related to Russia’s current presence in Africa. First, a brief look at the pre-1991 period will seek to establish the continuity and tradition inherent in Russia’s regional behavior. Second, Russia’s post-1991 (strong emphasis on the late 2000s and beyond) strategic interests and ambitions will be defined. Third, the tools and instruments of Moscow’s involvement in regional African affairs will be examined and analyzed. Crucially, this paper makes a distinction between “soft” and “hard” tools in the Russian foreign policy toolkit. Fourth, the paper features a case study involving the assassination, in 2018, of three prominent Russian journalists who were pursuing an investigation in the Central African Republic (CAR). The incident highlighted the connection between Russia’s strategic interests in Africa (and some specific sub-regions) and the activities of Russian PMCs in the area.

The Soviet Union in Africa: The ‘Unknown War’ and Beyond

Russia’s interest in Africa and the continent’s bountiful natural resources was first articulated between 1721 and 1723, when Tsar Peter I organized an expedition to Madagascar, (unsuccessfully) attempting to turn the island into a Russian colony.[ii] After the collapse of the Romanov Empire in 1917, the Bolsheviks lacked both sufficient attention and resources to further engage with this far-flung region. The situation, however, started to change following the Second World War, when increased popularity of the Soviet regime abroad coincided with the ramping up of anti-colonial struggles in Asia and Africa. After the death of Joseph Stalin (1953), who himself paid scant attention to African affairs, his successor Nikita Khrushchev began to perceive Africa as both a new battlefield in Moscow’s conflict with the West and as a potential pool for fresh  disciples of Soviet ideology.

As a result, between the 1950s and late 1980s, the USSR came to play an essential role in reshaping the African political landscape through massive support granted to local Marxist elements. Ultimately, all the major regional conflicts that broke out in Africa—including in Mozambique, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Zimbabwe, Chad, and Angola—drew on the Soviet Union’s (in)direct participation.[iii] Of the dozens of African countries supported by the USSR, Angola (with specific focus on the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) was allocated a central role. The Soviet government’s strategic objective was to “turn Angola into an example of an African Socialist state fully reliant on the USSR in both its foreign and domestic policies.”[iv] During 1975–1994, the total number of Soviet/Russian military personnel (the number remains classified) who served in Angola may have reached up to 11,000 men, including the highest number of Soviet officers involved in any African state.[v] Summarizing the role of the Soviet side in the Angolan civil war, Cuban leader Fidel Castro noted that “Angola would not have stood a chance without the political and technical-material support of the USSR.”[vi] One of the bloodiest African conflicts, the Angolan civil war (1975–2002)—known among Russian military veterans as the “Unknown War”[vii]—witnessed the USSR, over time, deploying the full spectrum of its conventional and non-linear capabilities, including:[viii]

  1. Information confrontation under the guise of “internationalism.” In the regard, aside from Marxist ideology, the issue of racism was extensively used by the Soviet authorities to inflame anti-Western sentiments domestically, internationally and regionally.[ix]
  2. Training and consultancy of local pro-Soviet forces (done by the Soviet military and special forces), particularly in non-linear war (including sabotage and diversion operations).
  3. Proxy war, with Cuban soldiers fighting on the side of the pro-Soviet forces.[x] Soviet involvement in Angola presented a particularly interesting case study because, aside from close collaboration with local forces (Angolan militants), the Soviets learned how to effectively communicate with the Cuban “volunteers” who poured into Angola during the second half of the 1970s.[xi] Today, some of these skills and competences have been vested on the Special Operations Forces (officially)[xii] and PMCs (unofficially).[xiii]

The Soviet involvement in Africa also witnessed Moscow providing support for the mobilization and (re)deployment of local armed forces (with heavy equipment), including rapid training of the local militia, with, perhaps, the most notable (and successful) case studies occurring during the conflicts in the Horn of Africa in the second half of the 1960s.[xiv]

Arguably the most crucial outcome stemming from Moscow’s involvement throughout Africa was the growth of Soviet naval forces: between 1961 and 1979 (the heyday of Soviet activities on the continent), the USSR managed to put into operation 200 new sea vessels (including two small aircraft carriers and two types of landing crafts). At that time (in 1972), the head of the Soviet naval forces (Voyenno-Morskoy Flot—VMF), Admiral Sergey Gorshkov, stated, “[Soviet] naval power is a messenger of the Socialist states, demonstrating Soviet achievements and boosting the international posture of the Soviet Union.”[xv]

Toward the end of the 1980s, Soviet policies in Africa—overburdened by rigid Communist ideology and clearly devoid of economic calculus—suffered a visible fiasco. Mounting domestic hardships and the collapse of popular support for Communism pushed the leadership in Moscow to dramatically decrease the level of Soviet involvement in African affairs. However, this withdrawal did not exclusively owe to internal reasons. As noted by former ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and chairperson of the Russian Association of Diplomats Andrey Baklanov, “It needs to be admitted that Western countries managed to mobilize all their ingenuity to find an adequate response to these challenges […] they strengthened their group discipline and ‘outplayed’ [the Soviets] in the realm of economic-financial relations with African nations.”[xvi] Meanwhile, Moscow was unable to elaborate a new strategy (or adjust it to the new post–Cold War reality), thus sharply downscaling the African vector in late Soviet–early Russian foreign policy calculations.

Russia in Africa: From Retrenchment to Return

After 1991, the newly emerged Russian Federation dramatically decreased its level of involvement in African affairs, yet managed to avoid a full and complete withdrawal. Still, by paying significantly less attention to Africa after the end of the Cold War, Moscow dramatically diminished the effectiveness of the three tools the USSR had extensively relied on:

  1. The “soft power” mechanism that used to be premised on education/scientific exchange and humanitarian ties;
  2. Military support; and
  3. Economic assistance, which was coordinated by the State Committee for Foreign Economic Relations (Gosudarstvennyi Komitet po vneshnim Ekonomicheskim Sviaziam—GKES) and played a pivotal role in various regional infrastructural mega projects.

Some studies (including analysis by Andrey Baklanov, published in August 2018), show that certain African countries derived up to 15 percent of their GDP from Soviet economic support.[xvii] By and large, prior to 1991, the USSR maintained cordial ties with 37 African actors, which resulted in the creation of nearly 600 industrial plants/objects of critical infrastructure, with approximately 300 being fully completed and becoming operable by the end of the 1980s.[xviii]

By the early 2000s, however, Russian ties with African countries (especially with sub-Saharan states) sank to an unprecedentedly low level. The situation started to change in 2006, when Vladimir Putin visited the Republic of South Africa (RSA)—an episode now widely construed by Russian sources as a first step toward Russia’s return to Africa following the “lost decade” of “Russia losing virtually all Soviet baggage [assets]” on this continent.[xix] It is important to note that Russia’s activities in Africa since 2006 drastically differ (at least on the surface) from the pattern set by the Soviets, which was premised on rendering massive economic support in exchange for loyalty (primarily reflected in anti-American rhetoric on the international stage). Indeed, Russia’s current model is premised on a different foundation. In a 2007 study, Andrey Maslov (at the time an assistant to the Russian president’s special advisor on Africa) formulated the following key principles[xx]:

  1. Economic interests, reflected not only in the large quantities of natural resources (Africa is said to contain approximately 30 percent of world minerals and mining materials) but also their low prices of extraction (in comparison to Russia, with its harsh climactic conditions and more expensive labor costs), which decreases the cost of production by 20–30 percent.
  2. Security interests, which fall into two main categories. First, countering extremism/radical Islamist fundamentalism. Second, in doing so, aiming to “confront the United States over its willingness to use this factor [growing Islamist radicalism in Africa] as a justification for its [US] growing presence in the central Sahara region.”
  3. Political interests, characterized by strengthening contacts with African nations, where Russia’s priorities are to follow two approaches: a) bilateral ties with South Africa; and b) multi-lateral ties with Angola, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mali, Guinea, Tanzania, Nigeria and Ethiopia.

The results of Putin’s visit to South Africa were boosted by then-President Dmitry Medvedev’s 2009 trip (accompanied by 400 prominent Russian businessmen), during which he visited both North (Egypt) and Sub-Saharan Africa (Angola, Namibia, Nigeria). This trip resulted in—aside from the proliferation of economic and political ties with African countries—a number of institutional reforms in Moscow: notably, the creation of the position of advisor on Africa (subordinated to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs).[xxi] Another step in the same direction was the March 2018 “African tourney” by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that included only countries of Sub-Saharan Africa: Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. Interestingly, Lavrov’s multi-country trip reinvigorated Moscow’s intellectual search for a Russian strategy in Africa. Namely, one researcher concerned with Russia’s “return to Africa” emphasized the following points[xxii]:

  1. Political cooperation, based on fortifying political ties with African nations. This aspect has attained a qualitatively new role in light of the post-2014 political crisis between Moscow and the West. African countries, which wield 54 votes in the UN, are viewed in Russia as a “gateway” and a way to escape isolation in key international institutions that, according to Russian intellectuals are dominated by Western powers. At the same time, Moscow views African states with increasing interest in the light of its desire to redraw the global institutional landscape through increasing the role of such organizations as BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
  2. Economic cooperation, premised on two main factors. First is increasing imports of mineral resources, exotic agricultural goods, fruits and vegetables from Africa as well as boosting Russian exports of agricultural products, weaponry/arms, fertilizers, and industrial goods and supplies. Second, cooperation in the economic sphere covers the export of Russian services and expertise in such essential domains as hydro- and nuclear-power projects, light industry, pipelines, satellites and IT. The nuclear aspect is particularly important: during ATOMEKSPO-2017 (the world’s largest venue for meetings and negotiations between global leaders within the nuclear power sector, attended by representatives from countries in Latin America, Asia- Pacific, Africa, and Central and Eastern Europe) Russia concluded preliminary nuclear project deals with Zambia, Ethiopia and Sudan.[xxiii]

In pursuit of this strategy, Moscow has intensified the frequency and upgraded the level of its bilateral contacts with African players. Namely, between 2015 and 2019, Russia hosted the leaders of Zimbabwe, Guinea, Sudan, the CAR, Senegal, Angola and Congo (some of them more than once). And while developing ties with these and other African countries, Moscow explicitly sought to put economic interests strictly ahead of sentiments and ideological considerations[xxiv] in an effort to underscore a departure from its Soviet-era practices. As argued by Russian Africanist Alexander Zdanovych, Russia “will be seeking to accomplish large resource-related projects in the Central African zone […] in parallel, Moscow will try to seek a gateway to the coast—this is corroborated by the intensification of contacts with Mozambique, Eritrea [and] Angola. Pursuing this type of strategy, the Russian Federation is simultaneously moving toward two oceans, which is very profitable from an economic point of view.”[xxv] Yet, the first Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum, held in Sochi, on October 23–24, 2019, did not explicitly confirm Russia’s move toward pragmatism in its approach to African states.

Ultimately, despite visible progress in some areas, Russia’s actual achievements in Africa have been meager in comparison with other leading global powers. Indeed, in competition with China, the United States and France, for example, Russia is unable to offer either compelling economic projects or a sufficient “soft power” draw. As stated by Yevgeny Korendiyasov, a former Soviet and later Russian ambassador to Burkina Faso and Mali, Russia’s economic potential in Africa pales in comparison with other players, especially China, whose interests in the region sometimes “collide with Russia’s […] especially when it comes to Rosatom-led projects.”[xxvi] That said, at least at the official level, the Russian leadership seeks to convince other governments that its ties with China in Africa lack any trace of confrontational competition.

Nevertheless, as serious and debilitating as this economic capabilities gap might initially seem, it does not disqualify Russia form being a potentially powerful player in the international struggle for influence on the African continent. In particular, the so-called ‘security export’ mechanism, described in more detail below, may be Russia’s surest and one of the few genuinely effective tools available to Moscow in this competition for Africa.

‘Make Africa Safe’:[xxvii] Russia’s ‘Security Export’ Mechanism

Russia’s emphasis on providing security-related services to African countries—arguably, the Kremlin’s main competitive advantage in the struggle/competition with other global players for African resources and influence[xxviii]—was closely outlined in the report “Global Threats in 2018: Forecasting Security Challenges for Russia and the World,” prepared by experts of the Valdai Club. Among other aspects, the document posits a “Russian responsibility, along with the United States, China and the European Union, to maintain peace and security in the whole world,”[xxix] which de facto legitimates Moscow’s so-called “security export” (eksport bezopasnosti)[xxx] strategy as a means to become a stakeholder in strategically important countries/regions plagued by military-political instability (terrorism, civil wars, social unrest).

During 2015–2019, Russia signed more than 19 agreements with African countries on military-technical cooperation. And importantly, to reach those agreements, Moscow used a complex array of tools and incentives. Specifically, in addition to the wide range of “products and services” offered to African customers (weaponry and security-related services), in seeking these deals Russian officials extensively appealed to: a) memories of Soviet aid and support (in Moscow’s words, “totally unselfish and not profit-oriented”) rendered to African nations in their liberation and anti-colonial struggle; b) the rejection of any forms of racism and discrimination; as well as c) the religious aspect (both in terms of Christianity—a special emphasis particularly in relations with Ethiopia—and Islam) as a form of non-material unity between African countries and Russia.[xxxi]

The responsibility for Russia’s “African vector” has been “allocated” to experienced diplomat and expert on the Arab world Mikhail Bogdanov (the Russian president’s special envoy for the Middle East and African countries, and a former deputy foreign minister),[xxxii] who, starting from at least 2017,[xxxiii] has assumed the central role in securing the Kremlin’s interests in Africa. Aside from frequent visits to the continent (with a visible tilt toward Sub-Saharan Africa), Bogdanov played an instrumental role in preparations for the Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum in Sochi.[xxxiv] Moreover, Bogdanov has undertaken tremendous implicit effort in facilitating Moscow’s military-technical cooperation with certain African countries. For instance, Bogdanov’s lobbying efforts resulted in the lifting of the United Nations’ arms/weaponry embargo on the CAR.[xxxv]

Officially, Russia’s “security export” mechanism in Africa is premised on two main elements: arms/weapons sales, and anti-terrorism or anti-insurgency training and consultancy services. The first is of growing interest among sub-Saharan countries, expanding beyond the Kremlin’s traditional customers in North Africa (Egypt and Algeria). As argued by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Russia is now the largest seller of arms and weaponry to Africa (the total share is 35 percent), with the largest buyers being Algeria, Morocco, Egypt and Nigeria.[xxxvi] Furthermore, African countries cumulatively made up 13 percent of Russia’s overall export portfolio between 2013 and 2017.[xxxvii] It is also interesting to trace an emerging balance in Russia’s arms export geography: in terms of heavy weapons and armored equipment, North Africa still dominates over sub-Saharan players, but the gap between the two regions is becoming less pronounced.[xxxviii] Speaking about sub-Saharan customers, it needs to be noted that these countries are increasingly willing to acquire new, sophisticated and more expensive types of weaponry, such as:

  • Mi-17V-5 (Kenya), Mi-35M (Nigeria, Mali) and Mi-171Sh (Burkina Faso) helicopters.
  • Su-30K (Angola) and Su-30MK2 (Uganda) fighter aircraft; MiG-29M warplanes and Mi-171 transport choppers (Nigeria).
  • T-90S tanks (Uganda).
  • Pantsyr-S1 air-defense systems (Equatorial Guinea).

The second major form of Russian “security exports”anti-terrorism and anti-insurgency training and consultancy services—is enjoying increasing popularity among both Moscow’s North African (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt) and sub-Saharan clients. Regarding North Africa, it is worth mentioning the increasing cooperation between the defense ministries of Russia and the respective African countries. For example, the Defenders of Friendship 2016 counter-terrorist exercise (October 15–26) was jointly carried out by Russian and Egyptian airborne troops.[xxxix] In general, it appears that North African countries (where the threat of terrorism has been a serious danger for decades) are eager to cooperate with Russia in the above-mentioned realm. The same motives have also now been enticing actors from the sub-Sharan region.

After the outbreak of the anti-colonial movement, many newly independent African states almost immediately descended into intense and bloody civil wars, whose consequences often still heavily affect their regions. In this regard, Russia’s present-day position as willing security provider was profoundly facilitated by Western countries’ (primarily, former colonial powers) and international institutions’ (including the UN) errors/deficiencies in stopping the violence across Africa.[xl] Furthermore, the advent of regional Islamic radicalism in the form of Boko Haram (2002) as well as its rapid growth and proliferation of ties with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS—later, Islamic State) seriously endangered West African countries and other continental players, including Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Chad, Benin, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique and Tanzania. The armies of the above-mentioned states turned out to be ill prepared to deal with the challenges posed by the tactics used by these terrorist groups and other irregular formations. And that hard security dilemma was further exacerbated by non-military difficulties (more than 48 percent of sub-Saharan Africans live in poverty, and 60 percent of Africa’s unemployed are youth[xli]).

Russia has accumulated significant experience in confronting non-state actors, which makes it an increasingly desirable partner for African countries. As noted by Nigerian Defense Minister Mansur Dan Ali, Russia could potentially assume an important role as Nigeria’s partner in fighting terrorism: “We [Nigerian armed forces] are also looking for assistance from Russia in our sub-region since we have a similar problem of an insurgency… Russia is playing a very important role in the Middle East, especially, in fighting [the Islamic State].[xlii] It thus appears that some African countries see Russia, if not as a substitute, as at least a supplement to (or a means of diversifying their dependence on) the West in this domain. Additionally, many African regimes (anti-democratic, fearful of their own populations, frequently internationally isolated, yet immensely rich in natural resources) are willing to cooperate with Russia in anti-guerilla/anti-partisan operations and in suppressing public revolts—undertakings that cannot be negotiated at the official ministerial level. These, and some other similar “gray zone” ventures, are instead ideal and potentially highly lucrative tasks for Russian proxy forces and quasi-state-linked groups.

Security Export to the ‘Gray Zone’

The above-mentioned areas of cooperation represent merely one side of Russia’s involvement in Africa. Another facet pertains to the economic interests of various Russian non-state actors (apparently, covertly operating in the interests of the state) in natural resource–rich Sub-Saharan Africa. Undoubtedly, these interests cannot be openly manifested, since cooperation with the above-mentioned actors encroach upon a “gray zone,” where legal entrepreneurial activities give way to semi- or illegal actions. Russian actors, however, prefer to deal with politically unstable and frequently isolated regimes in countries handsomely endowed with natural resources. And in this regard, Russia’s competitive advantage, in comparison with Western actors, is premised on three main factors: its distancing from critiquing domestic affairs (human rights abuses); the employment of means (including covert political consultations and shady electoral schemes) that are not used by Western players; and little fear of potential exposure due to the “plausible deniability” advantage.

Russian actions in this regard are premised on four main pillars. First is the principle of asymmetricity, reflected in—unlike during the Soviet period—preserving a balance between costs and profits. Second is avoiding a direct confrontation with more powerful competitors (primarily, the US). The third pillar is matching efforts with China (at least in the surface). And finally, Russian actors operating in in this space tend to be careful in picking their battles accurately—in such a way as to positively expand Russia’s influence.

This “shadow” facet of Russia’s “security export” mechanism can be divided into two macro-elements: para-military support for local regimes, and informational or “political technology” operations.

Para-Military Support for African Regimes

The para-military element includes the use of military advisors to render support to selected political regimes by:

  • Training local military personnel/militia loyal to the ruling elites;
  • Taking part (supposedly) in the suppression of anti-governmental public revolts/uprisings;
  • Protecting critical infrastructure and major raw materials extraction sites; and
  • Rendering security services to the local political and financial elite.

The main problem with these offered services—regularly (with the exception of the second point) performed by various Russian PMCs—is that officially, Russia de jure does not have entities of this type. So what Russia does instead (as discussed below, in greater detail) is to send members of its active military as a part of “peacekeeping forces” (authorized by the UN); at the same time, however, under this guise, Moscow secretly deploys to the theater members of illegal/mercenary formations.

The activities of Russian PMCs in Africa date back at least to the late 1990s, when a number of Russian security agencies (composed of former members of military/security services) reportedly attempted (without major success) to offer their services to Russian businesses entering the African market. A turning point in these efforts came in 2012—following the infamous “Myre Seadiver affair”[xliii]—when the head of the Moran Security Group (founded in 2011), Boris Chikin, openly lamented about the African market being virtually closed for Russian PMCs due to the “Western lobby” not letting in any newcomers.[xliv] Chikin (and some other Russian security experts) pointedly argued that the Russian state had to take a leading role in “promoting” Russian private security services. However, at the time, Africa was one of the least prioritized areas in Russian foreign policy; this situation only changed after 2014, when the West adopted economic sanctions against Russia for the latter’s aggression against Ukraine. As noted by some notable Russian experts (including Irina Abramova, the director of the Institute of Africa at the Russian Academy of Sciences), Russia’s “return” to Africa (especially, the sub-Saharan region)—though “not entirely linked to the outbreak of [the West’s] anti-Russian policies”—was greatly influenced by the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis and ensuing developments.[xlv]

While intensifying its activities in Africa, the Russian side is pursuing a two-pronged approach. At the official level, contacts are maintained by large state-backed corporations and official institutions (including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense) with the already-mentioned Bogdanov playing a key intermediary role. At the “unofficial” level, however, the key role has seemingly (based on available information) been allocated to Yevgeny Prigozhin—a Russian businessmen with a criminal past and a personally close connection to Vladimir Putin—who is frequently recognized as the financier of the notorious Wagner Group PMC. Starting in late 2017–early 2018, Prigozhin became actively involved in “African affairs.” Specifically, his personal airplane (it remains unknown whether the businessman personally traveled to Africa or if the plane was only transporting figures close to him) headed to African countries on several occasions. On the basis of Prigozhin’s (actual) personal trips (and flights performed by his plane), the following countries apparently acquired visible importance to the Russian side: the CAR, Sudan, Libya (the only country from outside of Sub-Saharan Africa), Madagascar, Angola, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and the DRC. It is important to note that these states:

  • are experiencing socio-political instability;
  • are handsomely endowed with strategically important natural resources; and
  • used to constitute “spheres of influence” (currently, more of spheres of interest) of such players as France, Belgium and Portugal—actors Russia does not see as capable of withstanding/warding off Russia’s involvement.

The year 2018 was marked by Prigozhin’s alleged[xlvi] multi-day Europe–Middle East–Africa journey that included the following trip legs: Germany–Lebanon–Egypt as well as Sudan–Kenya–Chad. According to journalists looking into this matter, Prigozhin’s plane carried at least two Wagner Group militants who apparently served as his bodyguards.[xlvii] It is also interesting to note that Prigozhin’s visit to Sudan (Khartoum) was quickly (three days later) followed by information posted on the Russian foreign ministry website stating that “negotiations [were] held in Khartoum that dealt with the issue of stabilization of the situation in the Central African Republic.”[xlviii] Moreover, these talks assembled inter alia members of the two competing military groups operating in the CAR: Séléka (a platform uniting Muslim fighters) and Anti-balaka (a faction, primarily composed of Christians).[xlix]

The scheme used by the Russian side in Sub-Saharan Africa follows a similar pattern to the one it tested in Syria: Moscow (covertly) enters into an agreement with the country’s leadership and, in exchange for covert military support, receives concession on access to the target country’s natural resources. Under this scheme, a portion of the profits allegedly go to the Russian state budget (via the companies/corporations involved), while the rest is distributed among private individuals who, in fact, may be closely associated with the government.[l] Notably, following the October–November 2017 rumors about Russian mercenaries being sent to the CAR and Sudan, that same year Lobaye Invest and M-Invest (Russian companies connected to Prigozhin) received licenses to extract gold, diamonds, uranium and other precious minerals in these countries.[li]

Another interesting development pointing to Russian PMCs’ growing operative theater in Africa was a July 2018 open letter, written by the All-Russian Officers’ Assembly, a national war veterans’ organization, urging government officials to fully legalize Private Military Companies. The document bears the signatures of Colonel General (ret.) Leonid Ivashov (the president of the Academy for Geopolitical Problems and a staunchly anti-US figure), Colonel (ret.) Vladimir Petrov, and the ataman (head) of the “Khovrino” Cossack community, Evgeni Shabaev. Regarding insights into Russian PMCs’ operations around the region, the document clearly states that Russian mercenaries are deployed “not only in Syria, but also in the Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan, Yemen, Libya and a number of other African and Arab countries.”[lii]

Three specific countries provide particularly poignant examples of the types of operations and involvement of Russian mercenaries/irregulars in Africa: Sudan, the CAR and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)


Occupying a geo-strategically important part of the African continent (with access to the Red Sea), the country is also handsomely endowed with oil, gold and other minerals. Yet, despite its economic potential, since 1989 Sudan has remained one of the most dangerous and impoverished states in the world. Under the governance of President Omar al-Bashir, who both came to power (in 1989) and was deposed (2019) through a military coup, the country turned into a safe haven for Islamic radicals (Osama bin Laden was harbored by Sudan during 1991–1996) and became embroiled in a civil war. Over the past two decades, the Sudanese authorities repeatedly but unsuccessfully tried to break their country’s international isolation by reaching out to Moscow. In 2008, Sudan took the Kremlin’s position in the Russo-Georgian military conflict[liii]; and in 2014, Sudan voted at the UN in favor of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. As early as 2017, Russian sources started disseminating information (corroborated by video footage) that Russian (para)military personnel, later identified as “members of a Russian PMC,” were operating covertly in and around the Port Sudan area, training local armed forces.[liv] At approximately the same time, the Sudanese head of state amplified his anti-American rhetoric and pointedly invited Moscow to “make a decisive thrust” and “use Sudan as Russia’s key to Africa”—de facto encouraging the Russian side to build two naval bases on Sudanese territory. All those themes were notably entertained during al-Bashir’s talks with Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, on November 23, 2017.[lv] The leader of Sudan also urged Russia to contain the US and “its destructive actions in the region that destroyed the Arab world […] Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.”[lvi] In 2018, al-Bashir visited the Russian Federation and brought to the attention of the leadership in Moscow ideas related to the potential creation of Russian naval-military bases in Sudan.[lvii] Interestingly, this meeting was also attended by Yevgeny Prigozhin.[lviii]

In this regard, an investigation published by the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) argued that not only had Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group been deployed in Sudan, they were subsequently transported from this country to the CAR by 18 Ural heavy trucks.[lix] In effect, the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) argued in a January 2019 report, Russian mercenaries from Wagner started to arrive to Sudan as early as December 2017, and their total number in 2018 grew to 300 militants. The SSU stated, “Sudan is primarily used [by Russia] as a base for transporting military personnel [apparently, mercenaries] and arms/weaponry to other African countries.”[lx]

In the meantime, authoritative Western information outlets have claimed that intelligence gathering, the protection of critically important infrastructure, and training of local military forces were not the only tasks allegedly performed by Wagner Group members deployed in Sudan. Namely, The Times asserted that the al-Bashir regime used mercenaries to violently suppress anti-governmental street protests that broke out in Sudan in late 2018.[lxi] The Russian side (which previously categorically denied the presence of any Russian military in the country) ultimately (on January 23, 2019) acknowledged the presence of “Russian security consultants in Sudan.” But according to the Russian officials, these “security consultants” were involved in “training of the local military […] and had nothing to do with Russian official, state-affiliated structures and institutions.”[lxii] It is rather interesting to note that, in his comments on the subject to journalists, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov both admitted the presence of Russian “instructors” and stated that “they have been working there [Sudan] for quite a while,” which he defined as an “absolutely legitimate mission […] on the basis of a bilateral agreement.”[lxiii]

On April 11, 2019, a coup carried out by Sudanese military and security services personnel toppled al-Bashir. This, however, does not mean that the country no longer has a place for Russian mercenaries. First, it is far from clear that the leadership change will translate into a drastic change to Sudan’s development trajectory (democratization); Khartoum’s international isolation is, therefore, likely to continue for the foreseeable future, leaving the new authorities with few options other than to maintain their cooperation with other undemocratic regimes. Second, taking into consideration developments in neighboring countries (and their growing interest in using the services offered by Russian PMCs), it is highly unlikely that the forces that toppled al-Bashir’s regime will pursue different policies.

The Central African Republic

Though one of the poorest (in terms of GDP per capita) and unstable countries in the world, this land-locked former French colony is strategically important from both geo-economic and geopolitical standpoints. The CAR is located in the “heart” of the African continent, positioned along a vital crossroad between the western and eastern parts of the continent. Moreover, the country is endowed with extremely valuable natural resources (diamonds, gold and uranium). However, due to a lack of state control over much of the territory, endemic corruption and the presence of extensive smuggling networks, the CAR’s abundant natural resources are misused. Additionally, since 2012, the country has been embroiled in an intense civil war (de facto started in 2004) that is being waged, among other forces, by religiously driven factions. As a result, as much as 80 percent of the country is virtually uncontrolled by the government. To make matters worse, the CAR has been a showcase for the ineffectiveness of international (French in particular) efforts to stop the violence and achieve stability.[lxiv]

The role Russia plays in this highly unstable African country deserves attention. First, Moscow managed to overcome international sanctions by circumventing an embargo that precluded other countries from selling weapons to the CAR, imposed by the United Nations in 2013. In 2017, Moscow succeeded in obtaining permission to start exporting arms to the country as a part of a peacekeeping initiative.[lxv] This step dramatically increased Russia’s popularity in the CAR. Second, unlike France (or any other Western power), the Russian government managed to bring two major competing CAR factions to the negotiation table (it would, of course, be rather premature to speak of a definitive agreement as of January 2020), which, according to Russian sources was premised on the highly compelling promise “to use tactics tested in Syria.”[lxvi] Third, according to Russian sources, and as corroborated by the CAR political leadership, Moscow sent a number of military advisors (officially, 175 men, whereas other sources point to 500) to the Central African Republic to train local military personnel. Apparently, at least some these trainers were members of an unspecified PMC.[lxvii]

Some evidence suggests that the training of local armed forces is by no means the only function performed by Russian (para)military personnel in central Africa. Another, much more sinister side of the coin became visible after dramatic events in the CAR that occurred on July 31, 2018, when Russian journalist Orkhan Dzhemal, film director Aleksandr Rostorguev, and cameraperson Kirill Radchenko were assassinated while pursuing a story there.[lxviii]

Interest in the CAR and the status of the Russian “instructors” sent to this country was sparked on May 7, 2018, when 18 large MAN trucks, including 3 armored Ural heavy trucks, crossed the state’s northeastern border from Sudan[lxix] (further details have remained unknown). To investigate the episode and the activities of Russian PMCs in the CAR more generally, including illegal arms/weaponry smuggling and activities of the mining company Lobaye Invest,[lxx] the group of Russian journalists headed to the CAR, where they were assassinated.

An investigation launched by local authorities concluded that Dzhemal, Rostorguev and Radchenko were attacked by one of the local gangs in a robbery attempt. However, Russian independent media and investigative platforms have largely rejected that opinion: the prevailing view holds that the journalists were assassinated by members of the Wagner Group (some sources name the PMC Patriot) to prevent them from uncovering the real mission(s) performed by the Russian military personnel in the CAR.[lxxi] At the same time, Moscow officials and sources close to the Kremlin attempted to pin the blame for the death of the Russian reporters on Mikhail Khodorkovsky (the former oligarch and Yukos head who now lives in exile for politically opposing Putin).[lxxii] Considering the dearth of concrete, publicly available evidence in this case, combined with the clear uncooperativeness of local law enforcement authorities, it will be extremely difficult (if at all possible) to ascertain the true reason behind the deaths of the trio of investigative journalists.

One interesting detail pertaining to Russian irregulars in the CAR became known after a media report identified a citizen of Kyrgyzstan in the rank and file of one Russian formation deployed to the country. Zhandybek Tyrgotov was recognized thanks to use of the SearchFace software. As unraveled by the report, he had served in the Kyrgyz National Guard, in charge of providing security for former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev until 2010; after the Kyrgyzstani leader was deposed by protests, Tyrgotov joined the French Legion. Importantly, during his service in the National Guard, Tyrgotov was sent abroad within the scope of various UN peacebuilding missions, as a representative of Kyrgyzstan.[lxxiii]

This revelation about a Kyrgyzstani national apparently serving abroad with a Russian PMC, shines a new light on a previously published (October 4, 2017) legislative proposal from the Russian Ministry of Defense that introduces a number of critical changes to the law “On the status of military personnel.”[lxxiv] Among other aspects, the document in question explicitly prohibits the use of social networks not only by Russian uniformed troops but also by “foreign citizens who intend to serve in the Russian army as contract soldiers.” Undoubtedly, “foreign citizens” is meant to refer to nationals from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)—the Moscow-led alliance of post-Soviet countries[lxxv] of which Kyrgyzstan is an integral part. At the same time, in light of the Tyrgotov case, the Russian defense ministry’s release of the proposed rule change suggests Moscow is also ready to employ foreign citizens (apparently, from the Commonwealth of Independent States and/or CSTO) in various illegal (as in the case of the CAR, bearing the traces of “hybridity”) missions abroad.

Russia’s involvement (both legal and illegal) in the CAR is driven in part by the fact that the local political leadership has little trust in the heretofore extended remedies to its domestic violence and instability offered by the West in general (the MINUSCA mission) and individual countries (such as the French-led Operation Sangaris) in particular. Quite telling, therefore, was the January 10, 2019, declaration of the CAR’s minister of national defense, Marie-Noëlle Koyara, regarding the possibility of a Russian military base to appear in the country.[lxxvi] This declaration alarmed Western policy makers, who claimed that the CAR is slipping out of France’s zone of influence. Yet, there is every reason to believe that this prospect should not be overrated. At the moment, Russia does not appear to be interested in creating permanent military facilities in the country (what would be a costly and hardly profitable enterprise). At the same time, the experience of the Cold War suggests the CAR leadership may be deliberately employing this rhetoric to gain additional bargaining power in its communications with Paris, which remains the main donor for the local economy and is unlikely to be replaced by Moscow in this capacity. At this juncture, it appears Russia will continue its current strategy—using “shadow” para-military personnel (a “hybrid” combination of legal military advisors and members of PMCs) to reap economic profits in the country.

The Democratic Republic of Congo

This second-largest country in Africa (after Algeria) occupies another strategically important position on the continent. But despite being one of the world’s biggest producers of various minerals and precious gems (the second-largest diamond-producing country in the world), the DRC’s political leadership has failed to convert this advantage into a source of sustainable economic growth. Endemic corruption, the civil war (started in 1996), a series of intermittent regional conflicts (usually driven by tribal or ethno-religious divisions) and surging pubic protests (started in 2015) effectively make this country one of the least stable and most dangerous places on Earth. These facts, however, have not discouraged Russia (and China) from showing increasing interest in the DRC. In March 2018, Russian sources (based on information obtained from “intelligence information coming from one African country”) claimed that “Russia started rendering financial support to militants in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Evidently, arms were reaching the DRC through Burundi. The sources further claimed that the weaponry was being transported to a group called Mai Mai Yakutumba (organized in 2007 by former army general and Burundian citizen William Amuri Yakutumba). Yakutumba is allegedly closely cooperating with Russians and has already received a number of grenade launchers, man-portable mortars, heavy machine guns as well as large amounts of ammunition. According to unconfirmed information, the militant group’s Burundian leader visited Russia in December 2016, and was allegedly involved in talks on transporting weapons to the CAR.[lxxvii]

It is also interesting to note that, on May 23, 2019, Foreign Minister Lavrov confirmed, “Russian military specialists are working in the republic [the DRC]”; whereas Russian Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Alexander Fomin (speaking about Lavrov’s statement) asserted that “Russian [military] specialists will be training local specialists… This is a new contract, but by and large this is a continuation of a nice story called military-technical cooperation.”[lxxviii] Multiple rumors circulate, however, that members of the Wagner Group may be involved, alongside the already mentioned “military instructors.” These rumors and other anecdotal evidence received fresh impetus after the October 12, 2019, crash of a private jet in the DRC that killed at least two Russian citizens. A journalist investigation had connected these two individuals to the Wagner Group and Prigozhin more specifically.[lxxix]

The ‘Non-Military’ Element: Madagascar, Mozambique, the CAR and the RSA

In the pre-1991 period, Soviet involvement in Africa was premised on two interrelated elements: (para)military support and non-military measures demarcated by Marxism-Leninism ideology. But with the post–Cold War “de-ideologization” of Russia’s foreign policy,[lxxx] the second element has undergone significant evolution. It is interesting to note that if during the Soviet era Moscow’s policy in the non-military realm was primarily driven by a desire to educate Africans and foster anti-colonial and anti-Western sentiments, today Russia has gone much further, combining the previous approach with some new elements, including, among other aspects, election manipulation (so-called “political technology”). It thus could be argued that Russia’s non-military involvement in Africa (in many ways still inseparable from the above-described para-military element) is premised on three essential pillars:

  1. Igniting tensions within the societies of selected African nations (an intra-African dimension), where one of the most vivid examples is in South Africa. In this regard, Kremlin-backed/sponsored media outlets purposefully inflame reciprocal hatreds among various ethnic groups in the RSA. Moscow’s first objective in this strategy is concerned with widening the rift between white and black populations on the basis of both pre-1994 (the era of the Apartheid) and post-2018 (so-called “expropriation of land without compensation” policy) developments. The second objective boils down to igniting tensions between two main groups of the RSA’s black population (locals versus migrants from neighboring, significantly less affluent countries).[lxxxi]
  2. Igniting tensions between Africa and the West. To achieve this, Russia actively employs anti-colonial and anti-racist rhetoric. On the one hand, Moscow routinely points out the Soviet Union’s/Russia’s non-involvement in the “barbaric practices exploited by the Western states in the age of colonialism.”[lxxxii] At the same time, Russian officials bring up distant historical examples and seek to project those onto contemporary developments. In this regard, one of the best (though, by no means the only) examples is Mozambique—a country that, aside from being rich in various minerals, is handsomely endowed with natural gas (16th in the world in terms of deposits). Russian relations with Mozambique reached a qualitatively new stage after President Filipe Nyusi met with Vladimir Putin in Moscow, on August 22, 2019. According to various sources, Russia sent military personnel to the country (between 160 and 200 elite forces) to help the government maintain control over the Cabo Delgado province (northern Mozambique), which was experiencing a surge of violent Islamic fundamentalism.[lxxxiii] Additionally, Moscow apparently began reigniting anti-Portuguese (Mozambique is a former colony of Portugal), anti-Italian and anti-US sentiments (oil/gas corporations from these countries would be the first to join what some sources call a “Mozambique natural gas rush”).[lxxxiv] Finally, the Russian military personnel deployed in Mozambique are in a position to use the model already successfully tested in Syria and some African countries (“protection for concessions” formula).
  3. A somewhat different, but by no means less important pattern involves PR actions and local political consultancy work. This branch of non-military involvement is apparently being carried out by companies/entities close to Prigozhin: according to some Russian sources, anywhere between 100 and 200 Russian political technologists (polittekhnologi) were hired to consult political regimes prior to elections in the CAR, the DRC, Sudan, Libya, Madagascar, Angola, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Zimbabwe (many of these countries have established military-technical cooperation with Russia and either have rumored or are openly hosting Russian “military advisors”). One investigative report has argued that, “currently, about 20 African countries are, to one extent or another, involved in these kinds of projects with Prigozhin-affiliated structures.”[lxxxv] In this context, Madagascar is a particularly telling example. There, the Russian side activated a number of informational/political tools, including:
  • Botnets (operated through the VKontakte popular social network);
  • Media and information outlets, including the Politika Segodnia platform, which is said to be closely liked to the Internet Research Agency (nicknamed “the Trolls from Olgino”), allegedly financed by Prigozhin; and
  • Political consultants (some of them said to have “Syrian experience”).[lxxxvi]

Russian investigative reports have claimed that these non-military elements are inseparable from military-related cooperation: for instance, activities of Russian political consultants and geologists (on the basis of an agreement between Russian and local authorities) were apparently secured by the presence of Wagner Group members “closely working with the FSB [Russian Federal Security Service] and GRU [Russian military intelligence]”[lxxxvii] As of December 2019, this information can be neither dismissed nor corroborated. That being said, so far, Russian involvement in elections in Madagascar has not been effective—none of the candidates who had used Russia’s “services” succeed in winning their races. Russian sources attribute this failure to the “low qualification of the employees [Russian consultants], many of whom have a ‘Nashi’[lxxxviii] background.”[lxxxix]

According to some leading and reputable Russian information agencies (such as Kommersant), Prigozhin-linked companies/entities were also involved in elections in Nigeria and South Africa.[xc] Nonetheless, Prigozhin may not be the only Kremlin-affiliated actor pursuing similar initiatives on the African continent: notably, Konstantin Malofeev[xci] announced he was establishing the International Agency of Sovereign Development,[xcii] which was expected to take part in the Russia-Africa (October 2019, Sochi) mega event as a “strategic partner.” According to Malofeev, “[The organization’s] main objective is to facilitate the process of economic reformation in such countries that are trying to rid themselves of economic and financial dependence on the Western world,” adding, “true sovereignty starts with economic sovereignty.”[xciii]


Russia’s activities in Africa today differ markedly from Soviet engagements on that continent during the Cold War; namely, “pragmatism” appears to play a far greater role in Moscow’s present-day Africa policy than it did prior to 1991. However, unlike its historical predecessor, Russia is unable to divert substantial economic resources to achieve its objectives in Africa, which compels Moscow to act asymmetrically. Russia is carefully “picking its battles” (limiting the number of clients it takes on at a given time); but at the same time, it is employing its competitive advantages vis-à-vis other global powers wisely. As such, Moscow is determined to convert Washington’s (temporary) weakening presence in the region to its advantage.[xciv] At this juncture, a truly critical aspect—with a potentially heavy impact on the balance of power on the continent—will be the relative ability of the Russian side to cooperate with China. This factor is already frequently present in Russia’s official discourse, though it may not be as steady or genuine as argued by the Russian side.

That being said, it needs to be reiterated that Russia has neither adequate economic potential, nor compelling “soft power” mechanisms to openly compete with more powerful international players, primarily China, the US and the EU (both as an entity and some individual member states). Therefore, Moscow’s strategy is based on tools and means previously tested in other regions. In this regard, it would be crucial to ascertain three essential factors: arms sales, “hybrid” security cooperation, and political/informational operations.

Regarding arms and weapons sales—a strategy initiated during the Soviet period—this now serves as a key factor in the contemporary Kremlin’s overtures to individual African states. Moreover, given the fact that Soviet-built weaponry (which requires qualified servicing that is still lacking in African countries) continues to comprise the backbone of some African armed forces, the maintenance/refitting/modernization of those arms naturally helps facilitate Russian cooperation with these regional states.[xcv]

The second pillar of Russia’s Africa strategy has been the “hybridization” of the “security export” mechanism. Examples of the CAR, the DRC and Sudan, in particular, have demonstrated the emergence of this blend of legal technical-military support (which includes sending limited numbers of uniformed military instructors) with services rendered by illegal formations—that is, Russian PMCs that de jure are forbidden by the Russian Penal Code. As noted above, many African countries may nonetheless welcome this type of cooperation for two main reasons: a) the African ruling elites’ fears of public protests, as well as b) surging Islamist radicalism and the inability of the local armed forces to effectively deal with this challenge. In effect, Russia’s ability to exploit both factors may play a crucial role in its competition with other global actors on the African continent.

Finally, the third part of Moscow’s Africa strategy encompasses a wide spectrum of various non-military mechanisms in the political and informational spheres. These include operating trolls/botnets on behalf of African clients, sending in political consultants (“political technologists”) and spreading media disinformation. Although, to date, these efforts have shown limited if any success, they may improve with experience and attain a qualitatively new form in the short to medium term.

An integrated and rational use of these three factors might grant Moscow greater latitude in its projects/initiatives in Africa and further expand Russian involvement across the continent, which, based on the most up-to-date observations, continues to experience visible growth.[xcvi]



[i] Arnaud Kalika, “Russia`s ‘Great Return’ to Africa?”, Russie.Nei.Visions, No. 114, Ifri, April 2019.

[ii] Yevgeny Kiselev, “Kak Petr I Madagaskar podchinit kotel,” Nezavisimoye Voyennoe Obozrenie, July 1, 2005,

[iii] “Komu i kak v Afrike pomogal SSSR,” Rambler, January 20, 2018,

[iv] Sergey Kolomnin, “Russkiy spetsnaz v Afrike,” Soyuz Veteranov Angoly, accessed October 22, 2019,

[v] Kolomnin, “Russkiy spetsnaz.”

[vi] “ ‘Afrikanskiy spetsnaz’: kak sovetskiye voyennye srazhalis v Afrike,“ Pikabu, accessed October 20, 2019,

[vii] “Angola: voyna, kotoroy ne bylo,” YouTube, February 15, 2015,

[viii] Sergey Kolomnin, “Sekrenaya missiya v Angole,” Voyenno-Promyshlenny Kuryer, May 17, 2006,

[ix] “Sekretnaya Afrika, Russkiy Mozambik. Film Alekseya Pobortseva iz tsikla ‘NTV-videnie,” YouTube, February 23, 2018,

[x] Gabriel García Márquez, “Cuba en Angola: Operacion Carlota,” Proceso, January 8, 1977.

[xi] Ilya Polonskiy, “Kubintsy na frontakh kholodnoy voyny. Gde I zachem voyevali soldaty Fidelya Kastro,” Voyennoye obozreniye,  June 19, 2018,

[xii] Sergey Sukhankin, “Russian Special Operations Forces: Image Versus Substance,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, 16 Issue: 43, March 27, 2019,

[xiii] Sergey Sukhankin, “Russian PMCs in the Syrian Civil War: From Slavonic Corps to Wagner Group and Beyond,” War by Other Means, The Jamestown Foundation, December 18, 2019,

[xiv] “Ruka Moskvy v Afrike. Chast 1,” YouTube, October 2, 2012,;

[xv] “Morskoy sbornik,” 1972. № 12, p. 17.

[xvi] Andrey Baklanov, “Rossiya-Afrika: srednesrochnyj plan deystviy,” Rossiya v globalnoy politike, August 10, 2018,–Afrika-srednesrochnyi-plan-deistvii-19702.

[xvii] Ibidem.

[xviii] “Ekonomicheskoe I tekhnicheskoe sotrudnichestvo SSSR so stranami Afriki. Dosye,”, April 25, 2016,

[xix] “Rossiyskie ekonomicheskie proekty v Afrike. Dosye,”, April 25, 2016,

[xx] Andrey Maslov, “Chto nuzhno Rossii v Afrike,” Strategiya Rossii, №3, March, 2007, .

[xxi] Anaïs Renevier, “Grandioznoe vozvrashchenie Rossii v Afriku,” Inosmi,  February 28, 2018,

[xxii] Olga Kulkova, “Povorot Rossii k Afrike: kakovy perspektivy?” Valday, March 5, 2018,

[xxiii] “ATOMEXPO 2017,” IX International Forum ATOMEXPO, accessed October 10, 2019,

[xxiv] Egor Sozaev-Guryev, Irena Shekoian, “Sokrovishcha Mnangagvy: rossiyskiy bisnes zhdut v Zimbabve,” Izvestiya, January 15, 2019,

[xxv] “Rossiya deystvuet v Afrike bolee pragmatichno, chem SSSR,” Novye Izvestiya, September 11, 2018,

[xxvi] Yuliya Nikitina, “ ‘I Afrika nam nuzhna’. Zachem Rossiya vozvrashchaetsya na Cherniy kontinent,”, August 1, 2018,

[xxvii] This title was first used in: Sergey Sukhankin, “‘Make Africa Safe’: Russia’s Competitive Advantage in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 16 Issue: 127, September 18, 2019,

[xxviii] “Afrika vo vneshneekonomicheskikh prioritetakh Rossii,” Afrika Active, August 24, 2017,

[xxix] Andrey Sushentsov, “ ‘Mezhdunarodnye ugrozy – 2018’. Ezhegodniy prognoz analiticheskogo agentstva ‘Vneshnyaya politika’, ” Valday, January 12, 2018,

[xxx] Sergey Sukhankin, “Russian PMCs in Yemen: Kremlin-Style ‘Security Export’ in Action?” Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 15 Issue: 144, October 12, 2018,

[xxxi] Laurent Ribadeau Duma, “France info (Frantsiya): Bolshoe vozvrashcheniye Rossii na afrikanskiy continent,” Inosmi, September 3, 2018,

[xxxii] “Bogdanov Mikhail Leonidovich Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, accessed October 10, 2019,

[xxxiii] “Mikhail Leonidovich Bogdanov,” Africa Active, August 23, 2017,

[xxxiv] “Bogdanov obsudil s poslom Gabona podgotovku k sammitu Rossiya-Afrika,”, July 25, 2019,; “Zamglavy MID Rossii Bogdanov obsudil s poslom Efiopii podgotovku k sammitu Rossiya-Afrika,”, August 16, 2019,; “Zamglavy MID RF Bogdanov obsudill s kollegoy iz Mozambika sammit ‘Rossiya-Afrika’,”, June 17, 2019,

[xxxv] “Rossiya ne ozhydaet polnoy otmeny oruzheynogo embargo embargo v otnoshenii CAR,”, September 9, 2019,

[xxxvi] “Sasapost (Еgipet): perviy rossiysko-africanskiy sammit. Kakovy plany russkogo medvedya v otnoshenii kontinenta?”Inosmi, September 8, 2019,

[xxxvii] “Russian Arms Exports to Africa, 2017,”, March 31, 2018,

[xxxviii] Alex Gorka, “Russia Makes Big Strides to Expand Arms Sales in Africa,” Strategic Culture Foundation, May 18, 2017,

[xxxix] “Defenders of Friendship-2016 joint Russian-Egyptian counter-terrorist exercise,” Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, accessed October 11, 2019,

[xl] This issue will be developed in the next segment of the paper.

[xli] McKenzie Templeton, “The Rise of Terrorist Groups in Sub-Saharan Africa,” The Borgen Magazine, May 19, 2014,

[xlii] “Nigeria Seeks Russia’s Cooperation In Fight Against Terrorism,” Sahara Reporters, August 24, 2017,

[xliii] The sea vessel Myre Seadiver was (along with the crew) detained by Nigeran authorities on suspicion of arms smuggling. For more information, see: Denis Korotkov, “Zalozhniki Nigerii zhdut komandos ot presidenta,”, February 25, 2013,

[xliv] Sergey Sukhankin, “From ‘Volunteers’ to Quasi-PMCs: Retracing the Footprints of Russian Irregulars in the Yugoslav Wars and Post-Soviet Conflicts,” War by Other Means, The Jamestown Foundation, June 25, 2019,

[xlv]“Rossiya vozvrashchayetsya v Afriku,” YouTube, February 1, 2019,

[xlvi] No concrete data exists on whether the Russian oligarch had personally visited those countries.

[xlvii] Irina Dolinina, Alesya Marokhovskaya, “Spetsy i spetsii,” Novaya Gazeta,  February 3, 2019,

[xlviii] Dolina and Marokhovskaya, “Spetsy i spetsii.”

[xlix] “Le Monde: “Ten’ Prigozhyna navisaet nad  Tsentralnoy Afrikoj,” RFI, December 16, 2018,

[l] Henry Meyer, Illy Arkhipov and Aina Rahagalala, “Putin’s Notorious ‘Chef’ Is Now Meddling Across Africa,” Bloomberg, November 19, 2018,

[li] Irina Dolinina, Alesya Marokhovskaya, “Spetsy i spetsii,” Novaya Gazeta, February 3, 2019,

[lii] Valentin Baryshnikov, Yelizaveta Mayetnaya, “ ‘Patriot’, ‘Wagner’ i dr. ‘Ofitserskoe sobranie’ trebuet u vlastey priznat ChVK,” Radio Svoboda, July 6, 2018,

[liii] “Rossiysko-Sudanskiye otnosheniya,” Ministerstvo Inostrannykh Del Rossiyskoy Federatsii, March 12, 2009,!OpenDocument.

[liv] “Budni Rossiyskoy ChVK v Sudane,”, December 13, 2017,

[lv] “President Sudana obsudil s Putinym I Shoygu sozdanie voyennoy bazy,”, November 25, 2017,

[lvi] Viktoriya Fedotova, “Rossiyskiy instructor otrugal sudanskogo soldata za zabytuyu kumbulyu,” Vzglyad, December 12, 2017,

[lvii] Andrey Ivanov, “Chto Kreml i rossiyskie nayemniki zabyli v Sudane,”, July 14, 2018,

[lviii] “Times: Rossiyskiye nayemniki v Sudane pomogayut podavlyat protesty,” Radio Svoboda, January 10, 2019,

[lix] “CIT: V Sudane neyemniki ispolzuyut ty zhe tekhniku, chto I v CAR,” Radio Svoboda, January 11, 2019,

 [lx] “Holova SBU Vasyl Hrytsak: pidrozdily rossiyskoi viyskovoi rozvidky rozganyayut demokratychni protesty v Sudani,”,  January 25, 2019,

[lxi] Jane Flanagan, “Russian mercenaries help put down Sudan protests,” The Times, January 10, 2019,

[lxii] “MID Rossii podtverdil prisutstviye rossiyskikh nayemnikov v Sudane,” Radio Svoboda, January 23,

[lxiii] Peskov: rossiyskiye instruktory rabotayut v Sudane ‘znachitelnoye vremya’,” Mediazona, January 28, 2019,

[lxiv] Andrew McGregor, “How Russia Is Displacing the French in the Struggle for Influence in the Central African Republic.” Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 15 Issue: 74, The Jamestown Foundation, May 15, 2018,

[lxv] Evgeniy Pudovkin, “Somneniya krupnogo kalibra: pomeshaet li Zapad peredache oruzhyya v CAR,” RBC, December 14, 2018,

[lxvi] Yevgeniy Krutikov, “Zachem Rossii nuzhna voyennaya baza v tsentre Afriki,” Vzglyad, January 11, 2019,

[lxvii] Par Rémy Ourdan, “Soldats, mercenaires et conseillers russes se multiplient dans la capitale centrafricaine,” Le Monde, April 23, 2018,

[lxviii] Lilya Yapparova, “Kto i zachem mog ubit zhurnalistov v CAR,” TV Rain, September 28, 2018,

[lxix] Mikhail Maglov, Timur Olevskiy, Dmitriy Treshchanin, “Chast 4. Taynoye zavoyevaniye Afriki,” Nastoyashchee Vremya, February 26, 2019,

[lxx] Anastasiya Kirilenko, “Krovavye almazy. Kto ubil rossiyskikh zhurnalistov v CAR I pri chem tut piterskiye siloviki I ‘povar Putina’,” The Insider, August 2, 2018,

[lxxi] Aleksey Naumov, Anastasiya Evtushenko, “Tri rossiyskikh zhurnalista pogibli v Afrike,”, July 31, 2019,

[lxxii] “Ubitye rossiyskiye zhurnalisty priyehali v CAR pod vidom turistov,”, August 1, 2018,

[lxxiii] Mikhail Maglov, Timur Olevskiy, Dmitriy Treshchanin, “Chast 4. Taynoye zavoyevaniye Afriki,” Nastoyashchee Vremya, February 26, 2019,

[lxxiv] Inna Sidorkova, “Minoborony vvedet zapret na foto  v internete po primeru FSB,” RBK, October 4, 2017,

[lxxv] Sergey Sukhankin, “Russia Bans Its Contract Soldiers From Online Social Networks, Prepares to Accept Foreign Citizens in the Army,” Commentaries, The Jamestown Foundation, October 20, 2017,

[lxxvi] “V CAR mozhet poyavitsya rossiyskaya voyennay baza” Business Online, January 10, 2019,

[lxxvii] “IS: Kakovy interesy Kremlya v Tcentralnoy Afrike?” Planeta, March 18, 2018,

[lxxviii] “Rossiyskiye voyennye spetsialisty otpravyatsya v Respubliku Kongo,” Novostnoy Front, May 23, 2019,

[lxxix] “Na bortu razbivshegosya v Kongo Аn-72 byli dvoye rossiyan,” Radio Svoboda, October 12, 2019,

[lxxx] Sergey Sukhankin, “The Western Alliance in the Face of the Russian (Dis)information Machine: Where Does Canada Stand?” SPP Research Paper, Volume 12:26 September 2019, The School of Public Policy,

[lxxxi] “Belyj krest Afriki,” Rossiya 24, December 22, 2018,; “Beliy krest friki 2,” Rossiya 24, June 1, 2019,; “Ostatsya v zhyvykh: kak v UAR chernye vyzhyvayut belykh,” Rossiya 24,  December 16, 2018,

[lxxxii] Edvard Chesnokov, “President Mozambika: Rossiya spisala 90% nashego dolga, my cenim takih partnerov,” Komsomolskaya Pravda, August 21,

[lxxxiii] Sergey Sukhankin, “Russia Prepares a Foothold in Mozambique: Risks and Opportunities,” Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 16 Issue: 142, The Jamestown Foundation, October 15, 2019,

[lxxxiv] José Milhazes, “Que fazem militares russos em Moçambique?” Observador, September 28, 2019,

[lxxxv] Olga Churakova, “V stranakh Afriki rabotayut do 200 polittekhnologov, svyazannykh s Prigozhynym,”, March 20, 2019,

[lxxxvi] Ilya Rozhdestvenskiy, Roman Badanin, “Shef I povar. Chast pervaya,” Proekt, March 13, 2019,

[lxxxvii] Ibidem.

[lxxxviii] A pro-Kremlin political youth movement in Russia, frequently accused of xenophobic rhetoric.

[lxxxix] Ilya Rozhdestvenskiy, Roman Badanin, “Shef I povar. Chast tretya,” Proekt, April 11, 2019,

[xc] Andrey Percev, “Rossiyskie polittechnologi izvedayut Afriku,” Kommersant, April 20, 2018,

[xci] Nicknamed the “Orthodox oligarch” Malofeev played an essential role in igniting and financing the first stage of the Ukrainian conflict. Igor “Strelkov” Girkin (who was serving as Malofeev’s head of security at the time) and a group of irregulars were notably sent to Crimea and Kyiv in early 2014 for the purpose of intelligence collection and reconnaissance. For more information see: Sergey Sukhankin, “Unleashing the PMCs and Irregulars in Ukraine: Crimea and Donbas,” In War by Other Means, The Jamestown Foundation, September 3, 2019,

[xcii] Sukhankin, “Unleashing the PMCs and Irregulars in Ukraine,” September 3, 2019.

[xciii] Yevgeniy Pudovkin, “Glazyev i Malofeev rekomendovali Afrike snizit zavisimost ot Zapada,” RBC, October 23, 2019,; Yevgeniy Pudovkin, “Investor Malofeyev poobeshchal afrikanskim stranam $2,5 mlrd,” RBC, October 24, 2019,

[xciv] Sergey Sukhankin, “The Kremlin’s Game in the CAR: What Does the Façade Conceal?” Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 16 Issue: 7, The Jamestown Foundation, January 23, 2019,

[xcv] Sergey Sukhankin, “‘Make Africa Safe’: Russia’s Competitive Advantage in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 16 Issue: 127, The Jamestown Foundation, September 18, 2019,

[xcvi] Sergey Sukhankin, “The Kremlin’s Two-Pronged Approach in Africa Ahead of the Russia-Africa Summit,” Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 16 Issue: 146, The Jamestown Foundation, October 22, 2019,; Sergey Sukhankin, “Russia Prepares a Foothold in Mozambique: Risks and Opportunities,” Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 16 Issue: 142, The Jamestown Foundation, October 15, 2019,