Russia is in a precarious position in its competition with the West. Its economy is struggling under the pressure of international sanctions, leaving it with limited resources to meet its grand ambitions. Nevertheless, Russian foreign policy remains intent on reasserting itself as a global power. To do so, Russia is turning to some old friends as well as looking to make new ones.
Africa is a prospective region that Russia is now looking to reassert its influence on the global stage. In this pivot back to Africa Russia is utilizing the same hybrid warfare style of using PMCs to secure territory and prop up favored regimes as it has done so in countries like Syria. The Central African Republic (CAR) is where one of the first and most successful of these Russian operations in Africa has taken place. Since 2018, over 400 Russian PMCs have been stationed in the CAR. The PMCs have trained thousands of the CARs troops on how to use Russian-supplied arms and have assisted the CAR's military in maintaining the precarious state of security in the country. The Russian PMCs have become so integrated into the security of the CAR that they now act as the personal security detail for the country’s president, and his national security advisor has even been replaced by a former Soviet intelligence official. Russian PMCs have also mediated several peace talks between rebel group leaders and the CAR’s government which helped lead to the 2019 Khartoum Peace Agreement that has brought much-needed stability to the country.
Of course, this assistance has not been without reciprocation. In return for the PMCs stabilizing the security situation and propping up the president’s authority, the CAR has granted Russia several liberties. Russian mining companies have been granted exclusive access to some of the country’s gold and diamond mines. It should not be too much of a surprise to hear that these companies are directly linked to Yevgeney Prigozhin, a major backer of the Russian PMC group Wagner that is believed to be the primary company operating within the CAR. Russia has also been granted the rights to operate an airfield in the northeastern Ouadda region.
Through its use of PMCs Russia has been able to secure political influence and valuable natural resources in the CAR without having to send so much as a single official representative. The success that Russia has achieved in the CAR could act as a blueprint for how it may try to make inroads into other African nations.