The Russian government announced it was sending an additional 600 military instructors to the Central African Republic (C.A.R.) to train the army, police, and national gendarmerie, Russia’s foreign ministry said over the weekend. This comes despite a UN report, released last week, accusing Russian Wagner Group mercenaries, and the Central African troops they are advising, of targeting civilians with excessive force and indiscriminate killings, occupying schools, and conducting large-scale looting.

Russia denied any wrongdoing on the part of the mercenaries, stating it was in the best interest of the rebel groups, who are trying to overthrow the government, to spread these falsehoods. 

“Russian military advisers could not and did not take part in the killings or robberies. This is yet another lie,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said to the media in response to the UN report.

Russia Increases its Presence in the Central African Republic Amid UN Outcry
A member of the close protection unit of Central African Republic President Touadera. The unit is composed of Russian private security company operatives (AFP)

The Russian government reported to the UN Security Council the arrival of the additional 600 military advisers and contractors although it omitted the exact date that the instructors arrived. 

The Russians and French both have jockeyed for influence in the embattled but mineral-rich country.

Russia Has Displaced France in the Country

The French have accused the Russian government of being behind the deluge of anti-French disinformation that blames France for all of C.A.R.’s ills and touts Russian influence. The disinformation spread on social media and emanated from Russia. It resulted in the French suspending operations in C.A.R. as well as $12.1 million in aid to the Central African military.

C.A.R. was a French colony. It has been beset by problems and since 2013 has been fighting an insurgency.

Initially, the French stopped the insurgency. But as they withdrew the majority of their troops, then-president Faustin-Archange Touadéra turned to Moscow for military help.

The Russians sent 175 Wagner instructors to the country in 2018. Soon afterward, the Wagner men were accused of the death of three Moscow journalists who were digging up information on the Russian mercs. 

C.A.R. further agreed to give Moscow massive gold and diamond mining rights.

Another 300 Wagner troops were sent into the country prior to the presidential elections last fall. Illustrating the growing Russian influence, the Russians are now part of the C.A.R. presidential security detail. Further, a former Russian military intelligence officer, Valery Zakharov, has been installed as the national security adviser to President Touadéra.

Wagner Has a History of Human Rights Abuses and Crimes

Since the Russian involvement in the country, reports have been filtering out of abuses against citizens. Included in the UN report was the story of Mahamat Nour Mamadou, a market trader. In January 2019, Mamadou was held for five days in Bambari by Wagner mercenaries. They cut off one of his fingers on suspicion of his being a member of a rebel group.

In another incident, Russians and C.A.R. troops killed at least six civilians during an operation against Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) rebels at a mosque.

“[C.A.R.] soldiers and Russian instructors targeted the mosque despite the known presence of civilians and without respect for the religious nature of the building. According to eyewitnesses… no efforts were made to distinguish between civilians and fighters,” the UN report mentioned. 

Allegations against Wagner mercenaries are nothing new. Several have been charged with killing civilians in Syria using a sledgehammer. The gruesome act was captured on video.

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The Fight Against the Rebels Continues

Russians, French, and UN peacekeeping troops have been trying to thwart the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) rebels, who are also accused of human rights violations.

Prior to this latest surge of Russian instructors, Moscow claimed to only have 532 Russian advisers in the country. However, UN investigators believe that the number is significantly higher, with some estimates as high as 2,100.

“The goals of achieving a lasting settlement and ensuring security in the country cannot be met without effective support for the C.A.R. authorities in enhancing the combat capabilities of the national armed forces and law enforcement agencies,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. It added that Russians will not be involved in combat operations.

“The Russian specialists will continue their work based on the needs of the official authorities of the C.A.R., taking into account C.A.R.’s leadership as well as the ongoing clashes between regular C.A.R. troops and militants,” the foreign ministry added.

Meanwhile, the fighting against the CPC rebels continues. On Wednesday, CPC rebels killed seven people in attacks on checkpoints and army outposts in the eastern city of Alindao.