The US is concerned by Russia’s growing presence in African countries, said General Thomas Waldhauser, commander of the US Africa Command, during hearings of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“In the Central African Republic (CAR), Russia has consolidated its influence through expanded military collaboration, including arms shipments, and in exchange it gains access to markets and mineral rights in the country,” the general said.
Waldhauser also noted that the US has reason to believe there are 175 “trainers” in the CAR from the Russian private military company known as the Wagner Group. The American general expressed concern that their presence may spread to other African countries.
“Foreign actors in the CAR, such as Russia, undermine security and go against the US’s interests,” he observed.
According to reports in the Russian media, as of October 2018, there were 175 Russian military instructors in the CAR to train the local military, with an additional 60 en route. The reports did not specify which organization the instructors belonged to.
In 2013, the UN Security Council placed an embargo on arms shipments to the CAR in order to prevent a new round of armed conflict in the republic. In December 2017, Russia obtained approval to send a batch of weapons to the country. The firearms and ammunition were sent free-of-charge to the CAR in January-February 2018. In October 2018, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Moscow had asked the UN Security Council for permission to send the CAR another batch of military equipment.
At the end of July 2018, three Russian journalists were killed in the CAR, where they been sent by the Investigation Control Center to make a film about the Wagner Group’s activity in the country. Military correspondent Orkhan Dzhemal, cameraman Kirill Radchenko and filmmaker Alexander Rastorguev were shot on the side of the road by unknown persons. The investigation into their deaths is still underway.
In January, The Times reported that mercenaries from the Wagner Group are also active in Sudan, supporting the country’s president, who is facing the largest protests in his 30-year reign. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova admitted that “members of Russian private security firms” are active in Sudan, but denied that they have any connection to the Russian government.