“Americans say they fight for democracy… Russians fight for justice.” That’s the theme of The Tourist, a propaganda film funded, filmed, and starring members of the Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group. 

The Tourist tells the story of a group of young Russian military advisors (Wagner mercenaries) sent to the Central African Republic (CAR) on the eve of presidential elections. Following a violent rebellion, they defend locals against groups of murderous rebels.

The Film Does Not Mention any of Wagner’s Human Rights Violations

Conspicuously absent in the film was mention of a plethora of war crime charges and human rights abuses that have been leveled at Wagner mercenaries since they’ve arrived in CAR.

According to a March report by a group of independent UN experts, Russian Wagner mercenaries have committed human rights abuses in CAR while fighting alongside government forces. 

The alleged violations include mass summary executions, arbitrary detentions, torture during interrogation, and the forced displacement of the civilian population, about 240,000 of whom have fled their homes because of fighting in recent weeks. Radio France Internationale (RFI) published a major investigation based on the UN documents about the activities of Wagner mercenaries in the CAR. The journalists reported that “Russian military instructors” were carrying out extrajudicial killings, gang rapes, and lootings.

However, throughout the film, Russian mercenaries are portrayed as kind and generous. Simultaneously, the film frequently takes digs at French and other Western advisors, portraying them as spreading instability and chaos in the region.

“Americans say they fight for democracy… Russians fight for justice,” says one of the film’s protagonists as Russian inspectors prepare to protect a local village. The film’s trailer can be watched here.

The film’s director, Andrey Shcherbinin — who uses the pseudonym Andrey Batov — tried to paint a picture of the benevolence of the Wagner mercenaries. Although Shcherbinin only spent a few days in the CAR, he sounded the Russian point of view. 

In a media interview, Shcherbinin said he’s concerned about the future that awaits Central African children. “Nature can’t stand a vacuum. If we’re not in the CAR, others will be. I saw them there. These are absolutely materialistic people, pursuing their own interests. They don’t care deeply about Africa or about these children,” Shcherbinin said. “When the local population sees a white man and hears [him] speaking French, you can see the distaste on their faces. But as soon as they hear Russian, they begin to smile, they come over and greet [you],” he added.

Prigozhin’s Propaganda Film

According to sources quoted by The Moscow Times, Prigozhin is most likely the money behind The Tourist.

“No one else would want to finance such a film,” a film industry insider said to The Moscow Times

The film was produced by a relatively unknown studio based in St.Petersburg registered under the brand “Paritet Film.” Russian public records show that Prigozhin’s wife, Lyubov Prigozhina is the owner of another business that was previously registered under the name “Paritet” in St. Petersburg.

Wagner mercenaries atrocities
A screenshot from a social media video appears to show members of Wagner Group killing a man in Syria. They are accused of more violations in the CAR.

The film was shown on Russian television and to nearly 10,000 locals in the CAR in the Barthélemy Boganda Stadium located in CAR’s capital of Bangui. A report by a Prigozhin media outlet claimed that 70,000 people crowded to see the film in the stadium that holds 50,000. 

Many members of the film’s cast, have recently been involved in other films financed by Prigozhin. The extras are all reportedly Wagner mercenaries. The actor portraying the head of the Russian advisors bears a strong resemblance to 

Other cast and crew members including two producers and the head screenwriter worked for a Prigozhin-financed film about one of his key advisors. And the film’s cast has conducted extensive interviews with the Federal News Agency (FAN) — a media outlet, which Prigozhin heads.

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Vladimir Petrov, one of the principal actors in the film said in an interview with FAN that the actors received training and help from “Russian professionals on the ground.”

Russia’s Increasing Influence in the African Nation

The opening credits of the film, which was filmed in March and April 2021 in CAR, say it was inspired by the 300 Russian military instructors serving in the resource-rich country in support of President Faustin-Archange Touadera’s regime, which Russia has openly backed since 2018.

Although the film says that only 300 Wagner mercenaries are stationed in the CAR most military analysts believe that Wagner has more than 1,000 men in the country. Additionally, Sewa Security Services, another Russian private military contractor, reportedly hosts 1,000 more mercenaries. And those numbers are rising. The CAR notified the UN Security Council that the country is set to bring in 600 new Russian instructors.

The Russian influence in the CAR has grown to such an extent that Russian mercenaries are part of the president’s security detail and a former Russian intelligence officer, Valery Zakharov, is the president’s national security adviser. 

Prigozhin reportedly told the Russian media outlet Meduza that Russian mercs in the CAR “deserve fame and respect. They are Russian and we are proud of them.” Reportedly, this action film was an attempt by Prigozhin to boost recruiting efforts for Wagner which is having issues with garnering the best recruits. 

Prigozhin, the catering magnate known as “Putin’s Chef,” has consistently denied having any ties to Wagner. He is facing sanctions for interfering with the U.S. presidential elections.