Charming various African leaders, Russia has been making new, and rekindling old, friendships on the continent since the start of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Although seen by many as a last-ditch attempt to maintaining a semblance of clout on the international stage, such dismissive attitudes towards Russia’s potential to inflict damage on the borders of the EU, especially in the midst of the war in Ukraine, should not be overlooked. The on-going crisis in Niger is a stark example.
Russia’s close relationship with certain African states came into the spotlight through the unexpected, and rather doomed, attempt by African leaders to propose a path to peace between the Kremlin and Ukraine. And while reports of further peace talks involving African leaders surfaced after their trips to Kyiv and Moscow, little has come of their attempts to date.
Examining Africa’s efforts to bring about peace talks, it is easy to associate them with Russia’s prolific diplomatic missions to the continent since launching the full-scale Ukraine invasion. However, the Kremlin has been a long-time player on the African continent and its efforts may well hide a deep and more sinister truth – one of establishing dominance in the African energy sector and setting up systems to create waves of mass migration on European borders.
It has been argued that the Wagner group, and by extension the Kremlin, have been involved in the creation of a migration crisis that hit easternmost EU members hardest following the 2020 disastrous presidential elections in Belarus. That saw the country fully become an authoritarian dictatorship. And while it is documented that the influx of African and middle eastern migrants to Belarus, together with facilitation of illegal border crossings into the EU, were conducted by the Belarusian usurper, Alexander Lukashenko, there is no reason to think that Wagner, or another of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s cronies cannot recreate the same on Europe’s southern borders. They could do this by creating conditions that would not require plane loads of migrants to be purposely flown to Minsk, but appear as natural migration caused by cataclysmic events, such as war and famine.
Just as Putin promises to deliver free grain to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic and Eritrea, incidentally just a week Russia destroyed tens of thousands of tons of grain in a single missile strike on the civilian installations of the Odesa port, we should take a closer look at the countries that Russia has promised freebies to.
The Central African Republic has long been in the crosshairs of the Kremlin and is a known Wagner operations base. Never too far from human rights violations, Wagner has also been involved in Somalia. Similarly, Russia has also had a longstanding relationship with Zimbabwe, with Wagner Chief Yevgeny Prigozhin utilizing his resources in exchange for future political favors, among other dealings.
While Burkina Faso is yet to be a known area of large-scale Wagner deployment, it has certainly been touted as one, and considering the country’s close ties with Moscow, the African state has the potential to welcome Russia’s mercenaries in droves.
Eritrea, much akin to Russia’s puppet state of Belarus, has few friends to speak off, making Putin a natural ally. In turn, Mali, after the French retreat, was gladly gobbled up by Russia and Wagner, bringing death and destruction.
With the prominence of Russia and the Wagner group in Africa, it is of no surprise that the Kremlin is behind the turmoil that swept Niger, a country bordering the Wagner-filled Burkina Faso, Mali, Algeria and Libya. And with Prigozhin playing the age-old Russian line of standing up to western colonialism and offering a helping hand to Niger’s coup leaders – a line so readily accepted and touted by Wagner’s own puppets in the region – it may just be a matter of time before the Kremlin’s shadow army enters the state.
The Russian hold on Africa is growing ever stronger, propping up coup leaders, dictators and unsavory characters who do not have the interests of their people at heart, yet we should not see it as a simple takeover. While the Kremlin holds sway with the current rulers by propping them up on Wagner muscles, Putin can easily turn on his cronies for greater gains.
Having created puppets, the Kremlin can easily cut strings to achieve a greater goal of destabilizing the democratic world and bringing calamitous consequences for both Africa and Europe. It takes but a simple change of allegiance, in return for the all-important promises of continued natural resource rights and access that Russia currently enjoys, to fling Wagner’s guns behind a new up-and-coming warlord in any and all of the African states they are present in.
Europe has already witnessed mass migration from Africa following the start of uprisings and wars in North Africa, in Syria and Sudan. Able to create chaos, devastation, and ultimately famine in central Africa, while still controlling the governments in migrant smuggling routes of the Mediterranean, Russia’s ability to wage war with the world on yet another front should not be underestimated.
Shocked by the devastation caused by the Russian forces in Ukraine, and preoccupied with finding means to support the defenders of aggression, the Western world has to see the whole chessboard, paying full attention to the Kremlin’s pawns on the apparent periphery of the main battle lines.
The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.
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