Leaked documents reveal Russian effort to exert influence in Africa
Exclusive: Kremlin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin leading push to turn continent into strategic hub, documents show
Russia is seeking to bolster its presence in at least 13 countries across Africa by building relations with existing rulers, striking military deals, and grooming a new generation of “leaders” and undercover “agents”, leaked documents reveal.
The mission to increase Russian influence on the continent is being led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman based in St Petersburg who is a close ally of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. One aim is to “strong-arm” the US and the former colonial powers the UK and France out of the region. Another is to see off “pro-western” uprisings, the documents say.
In 2018 the US special counsel Robert Mueller indicted Prigozhin, who is known as “Putin’s chef” because of his Kremlin catering contracts. According to Mueller, his troll factory ran an extensive social media campaign in 2016 to help elect Donald Trump. The Wagner group – a private military contractor linked to Prigozhin – has supplied mercenaries to fight in Ukraine and Syria.
The documents show the scale of Prigozhin-linked recent operations in Africa, and Moscow’s ambition to turn the region into a strategic hub. Multiple firms linked to the oligarch, including Wagner, are known by employees as the “Company”. Its activities are coordinated with senior officials inside Russia’s foreign and defence ministries, the documents suggest.
Putin showed little interest in Africa in the 2000s. But western sanctions imposed in 2014 over the annexation of Crimea have driven Moscow to seek new geopolitical friends and business opportunities.
Russia has a military presence and peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic. CAR is described as “strategically important” and a “buffer zone between the Muslim north and Christian south”. It allows Moscow to expand “across the continent”, and Russian companies to strike lucrative mineral deals, the documents say.
On 24 May the Kremlin announced it was dispatching a team of army specialists to the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press spokesman, they will service Russian-made military equipment. So far Moscow has signed military cooperation deals with about 20 African states.
Five days later the Kremlin said it would host the first ever Russia-Africa summit in October in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Putin and Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, will chair the event. About 50 African leaders are due to attend. The aim is to foster political, economic and cultural cooperation.
Prigozhin has been approached for comment. He has previously denied any links to the troll factory and has said of Wagner that it does not exist. Putin has previously said that entities linked to Prigozhin do not constitute the Russian state.
A map from December 2018 seen by the Guardian shows the level of cooperation between the “Company” and African governments, country by country. Symbols indicate military, political and economic ties, police training, media and humanitarian projects, and “rivalry with France”. Five is the highest level; one is the lowest.
The closest relations are with CAR, Sudan and Madagascar – all put at five. Libya, Zimbabwe and South Africa are listed as four, according to the map, with South Sudan at three, and DRC, Chad and Zambia at two.
Other documents cite Uganda, Equatorial Guinea and Mali as “countries where we plan to work”. Libya and Ethiopia are flagged as nations “where cooperation is possible”. The Kremlin has recently stepped up its ground operation in Libya. Last November the Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar travelled to Moscow and met the defence minister, Sergei Shoigu. Prigozhin was spotted at the talks. Egypt is described as “traditionally supportive”.