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Russia’s Plan of Expanding its Influence to Africa, Explained by Luke Harding
17 June, 2019

Russia has been actively pushing its influence down south to Africa, a recent Guardian investigation revealed. And Russian President Vladimir Putin’s close ally, Yevgeny Prigozhin, also known for funding the troll factory that allegedly helped Donald Trump win the 2016 election in the U.S., as well as the Wagner Group in Syria, is helping make this expansion happen.

“Essentially, what the Kremlin is offering – via Prigozhin’s people – is sort of a package, whereby existing rulers are helped to fix elections, to win elections, to discredit the opposition and to stay in power,” the author of the investigation, the Guardian journalist Luke Harding explains. “And in return, Russia is looking to sell arms, get mining concessions, gold, diamonds and so on.”

Harding says that after studying the documents that were leaked to the Guardian by London-based investigative unit Dossier Center funded by exiled Kremlin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky, he was surprised by the range of countries this Africa plan encompassed.

“Prigozhin’s operatives, his political technologists, his advisers, his soldiers are working in at least 13 different countries. In three countries in particular, they are very active the Central African Republic, Sudan (which has been the scene of a lot of violence in recent days), and Madagascar,” Harding said adding that the Kremlin is also “interested” in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Congo, “where military advisers are just arriving after a deal.”

“It’s a big footprint, which, to some extent, is reminiscent of the Soviet times, of the 1950s and 1960s, when the Soviet Kremlin was very keen to support liberation movements across Africa and in places like Angola and to try to, kind of, squash the imperialists: squash the Americans and their British allies.”

The Kremlin Playbook

Harding says that he found some of the compromising "Africa documents" he studied “crude.” For example, he says, there were documents instructing former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir – who was toppled by the country’s military in April, following months of anti-government protests, and is now under arrest – on how to deal with the protests that started in December.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with then-Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir during their meeting in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia, 23 November 2017. Photo: EPA-EFE/MICHAEL KLIMENTYEV  

“It really is the Kremlin playbook: it’s about smearing the opposition, saying that they are Western stooges, accusing them of being pro-gay rights or Zionist, and so on,” Harding says.

According to Harding, the Kremlin is even interested in “small, out-of the way places” in Africa, such as the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean.

“One of the [Comoros] islands is owned by France and these Prigozhin technologists were trying to steer up the sentiment against the French,” he says. “This is all set as part of the plan to kick out old imperial powers - the U.K., France, shower away the Americans and to actually try to be the kind of prevalent foreign partner across the continent.”

Children play a game of soccer on a street in Kliptown in Soweto, South Africa, 12 October 2007. Host continent Africa's road to the 2010 FIFA World Cup starts 14 October with one fixture between the Indian Ocean islands of Madagascar and Comoros. EPA/JON HRUSA

The journalist says that one area in Africa where Russia in the face of Prigozhin succeeded with their plans is the Central African Republic.

“This map that I’ve seen claims credit for getting rid of the foreign minister of the Central African Republic and other politicians, who quote-on-quote ‘were orientated towards France’, they’ve been pushed out,” Harding says.

The Central African Republic’s current national security advisor is Valery Zakharov, a former Russian intelligence official.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with President of the Central African Republic Faustin-Archange Touadera during their meeting in Saint Petersburg, Russia on May 23, 2018. The meeting was to discuss economic and humanitarian cooperation Photo: EPA-EFE/MICHAEL KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / KREMLIN POOL

“I think it’s, more or less, a semi-captured state by Russia and I think it’s being used or thought about strategically as a kind of bridge-head, a kind of jumping-off point for other countries, for Congo at the south, for Muslim north of Africa and so on,“ Harding says.

Similarities with Ukraine

The journalist, who wrote a number of books on Russian government, said the tactics used by the Kremlin in Africa are very similar to those used in Ukraine

“It’s very reminiscent of what was happening in Ukraine,” Harding says. “It isn’t the Russian Ministry of Defence doing this...it is mercenaries working for private military contractors, political technologists, working for obscure front companies… So it’s the state and it’s not the state.”

A Sudanese person (C) delivers a revolution themed slam performance during a cultural event at al- Mastaba space at the sit-in site near the military headquarters in Khartoum, Sudan on May 23, 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE/AMEL PAIN

He also adds that it might have been the situation in Ukraine that pushed Putin to try and get Africa under his control.

“After 2014 – after Crimea and the war in Donbas – there were sanctions against Moscow from America and the European Union. This really forced the Kremlin to kind of take a look around, to find new geo-political partners and to find new business deals,” the journalist says.

Harding describes Putin’s actions in Russia and abroad as “ruin philosophy.”

“[Their] logic is to carry on and do the same in a very opportunistic way. Very often it fails, it doesn’t work, it’s badly done, but sometimes it succeeds,” Harding explains.

The Ruin Philosophy Goes On

Russia’s future plans of strengthening the ties with Africa are borne out by the first ever Russia-Africa summit that is due to take place in the Russian city of Sochi in October. According to the organizers’ report, around 3,000 African businessmen are expected to attend it. The summit will also be attended by 50 African heads of state, Harding says.

Supporters of the Transitional Military Council rally in front of the Presidential Palace in Khartoum, Sudan on May 31, 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE/MARWAN ALI

Harding also argues that we can expect similar Russian operations to keep happening in Africa.

There’s kind of a criminal energy, dynamism about these people, which means that we can expect similar operations and see Russia pushing, pushing, pushing in Africa, taking advantage of weak states, of corrupt leaders, of corrupt people in business and trying to, kind of, rebuild Russia as a global power,” he says.

He adds that Russia doesn’t really have the “global power” status but creating an impression that it does “works well with an unhappy domestic population and works well abroad in projecting power and influence to the Americans and to other ‘enemies’.”

/By Maria Romanenko