Russia’s showing us it has the capability to multitask. New reports show how Russia’s Wagner mercenary group is committing violence and extortion against Africans who are part of the diamond-extraction industry.

The Wagner Group is a Russian private military company (PMC) with ties to President Vladimir Putin. It has been accused of involvement in several controversial operations, including the siege of an airport in Donetsk, Ukraine, and the deployment of mercenaries to Syria. In recent years, Wagner Group fighters have been active in Africa, where they have been accused of committing human rights abuses against local civilians.

Wagner has reportedly established a shell company in the Central African Republic (CAR) to acquire and sell diamonds. After facing multiple international sanctions, Wagner’s desperate acts may have been pushed by Moscow’s urgent need for cash. In an investigative report conducted by the European Investigative Collaborations and All Eyes On Wagner project and the Dossier Centre, it was discovered that Wagner Group is forcing the country’s poorest to mine and collect diamonds while getting the worst treatment and little to no pay.

The Wagner Group are forcing African miners and collectors to turn over their gems or sell them exclusively to a shell company called Diamville. Diamville trades in diamonds that violate the rules of the Kimberley Process, and it is possible that this company is being used by the Wagner Group to launder illicit diamonds.

Wagner’s shell company, Diamville, is in violation of the rules of the Kimberley Process. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) was established in 2003 to prevent “conflict diamonds” from entering the mainstream diamond market. The scheme seeks to ensure that all rough diamonds are tracked from the mine to the retail jewelry store, and it does this through a system of certifications and controls. To be certified as “conflict-free,” diamonds must come from sources not involved in armed conflict and meet specific other requirements, such as being exported from participating countries through authorized channels.

The Kimberley Process is administered by the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in cooperation with the World Diamond Council (WDC), which represents the global diamond industry. The scheme has been criticized for its shortcomings, including failing to address the diamond industry’s human rights abuses. Nevertheless, it remains the only mechanism to prevent diamonds from funding armed conflict.

Since its inception, the Kimberley Process has helped to reduce the flow of conflict diamonds into global markets. In 2013, De Beers reported that conflict diamonds accounted for less than 1% of all diamonds traded. However, there are some concerns that the Wagner Group may use the Kimberley Process to legitimize its trade in illicit diamonds.

The allegations against the Wagner Group and Diamville highlight some of the shortcomings of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. While it is effective at preventing conflict diamonds from entering global markets, it does not do enough to protect workers in Africa from human rights abuses.

“Wherever there are mines and diggers, these people [linked to Wagner] are there, armed. When someone [a gold or diamond miner] comes across something good, they go to that person. … There have even been assassinations like that, to take other people’s merchandise,” the report cites industry insiders in CAR.

Prigozhin, one of the authors of the report, told Washington Post that their data is “unsubstantiated by Western propaganda.”

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“We have already presented our reports, which state that Russian instructors and other citizens of the Russian Federation have never carried out the above activities, namely, they have never been engaged in the sale of diamonds from conflict zones outside the norms of the Kimberley Process and have not participated in massacres and attacks on civilians.”

CAR Continues to be Exploited

CAR is one of the world’s poorest and most fragile countries, with a history of successive military coups, uprisings, and violent, often sectarian, a conflict that has killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. According to the United Nations, half of the country’s nearly 5 million people did not get enough to eat this year, while more than half required humanitarian assistance.

However, CAR is also rich in diamonds and gold. Over the years, the country’s leaders have plundered its natural wealth to benefit themselves, and the illegal sale of diamonds has financed armed groups.

In 2017, President Faustin-Archange Touadéra turned to Russia to help stabilize a country riven by conflict. Moscow initially supplied weapons and sent military instructors to help Touadéra’s government fight the various armed groups operating in the country. However, Russia has also been seeking to gain control over CAR’s mineral resources, including its diamonds.

This has led to concerns that Russia is using its involvement in CAR to gain influence over the country and exploit its natural resources. These concerns are particularly worrying given that CAR is already a precarious and fragile state.

Critics charge that this arrangement benefits Russia more than CAR. The Russian companies can operate essentially free from government oversight and are not required to share their profits with the CAR government. In addition, many of the jobs created by Russian businesses go to Russians rather than locals.

Supporters of Russia’s intervention in CAR argue it is better than nothing. They say Russia is providing much-needed training and equipment to CAR’s military, which could help stabilize the country. They also note that Russia has been willing to invest in CAR’s infrastructure, including its roads and airports.