1. Russia has deployed over 300 regular military forces and hardware to the Central African Republic (CAR) in December, according to Russia’s foreign ministry. CAR officials have confirmed this information. They have stated that President Faustin Toaudera, who was running for re-election, requested Russia’s military assistance to prevent election violence.
ELECTIONS UNDER THREAT OF VIOLENCE
2. In late November 2020, rebel forces launched an offensive against the capital city of Bangui, threatening the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in CAR. President Toaudera has accused the opposition of working with the rebels and preparing a coup against his government. The opposition denies these allegations and accuses Toaudera of inviting the Russian military to reinforce his position.
3. Presidential and parliamentary elections took place on 27 December amidst violence and widespread reports of irregularities. On January 3rd, the CAR electoral commission announced Toaudera’s victory.
RUSSIAN AIRLIFT OPERATIONS TO CAR
4. First signs of an increased Russian military presence appeared on social media between 16 and 19 December. Locals shared photos of Russian cargo planes at Bangui Airport. Preliminary OSINT indicates that the following assets airlifted Russian soldiers and equipment to CAR:
- 2x Ilyushin Il-76 (RF-tail numbers unclear)
- 1x Antonov An-124 (RF-82034), which delivered two Mi-8AMTsh helicopters (AFIC/NATO Reporting name: Hip)
- 1x Ilyushin Il-76 (RF-76771)
- 1x Ilyushin Il-76 (RF-86901)
- 1x Ilyushin Il-76TD (EX-76003). Operated by FLY SKY AIRLINES LLC, flight EX-76003 hauled Toyota Land Cruisers and equipment identified as the Turkish-made Otokar Cobra armored personnel carrier (APC).
- 1x Ilyushin Il-76 [RF-86901]
*Flight log is preliminary and is limited to December 2020, landing dates can be inaccurate, and the list incomplete.
5. Observed activities of the Russian reinforcements are:
- Aerial patrol over Bangui. Multiple Social media intelligence (SOCMINT) sources indicate that the two Hi-8s conducted overwatch.
- Internal foreign defense. Russian forces, likely special operations forces, military intelligence and private contractors, conducted joint operations with the CAR military in the Bangui area of operations. Images show Russian soldiers manning checkpoints, patrolling the periphery, and clearing villages around the capital. (evidence 1; evidence 2).
- Enhanced VIP protection. Social media photos show armed men in military fatigues consistent with Russian special forces (Spetsnaz) guarding CAR President Toaudera during campaign rallies.
- Public Relations (PR). Russian-supplied BRDM-2 amphibious armored vehicles, branded with the Russian-CAR friendship stickers, featured in campaign rallies and parades (video evidence starts at 3:05). The same vehicles were then observed in combat and patrol. Russian and CAR forces have reportedly already lost one BRDM-2 in fights with rebel forces.
It appears the Central African Republic’s military has already lost one of the BRDM-2 vehicles delivered by Russia as well as a truck to the rebels. 45/https://t.co/giFeD7DObJ pic.twitter.com/SyXBqbYZ9R
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) December 23, 2020
PRE-EXISTING RUSSIAN ASSETS
6. Russia’s latest military deployment expands its previously discrete presence in CAR. At least two Kremlin-sponsored private military corporations (PMCs), namely Vagner and Sewa Security Services, have been present in the country since 2017 when Russia and CAR signed a security agreement.
7. As a T-Intelligence assessment found in 2018, “the Russian-CAR security accord mainly seems to serve as a front for advancing the commercial interests of Putin’s oligarchic circle on the mineral market in Africa.” Our OSINT investigation identified “Lobaye Invest” as the leading Russian company profiting from diamond extractions in CAR. In 2020, the U.S. Department of Treasury put Lobaye Invest and owner Yevgeny Prigozhin, who also reportedly heads Vagner, under economic sanctions.
8. Vagner contractors carry out a number of missions, primarily site and external security for diamond mining operations. While one of the world’s poorest countries, CAR is rich in mineral resources such as gold, (gem-quality) diamonds, and uranium. In 2019, The Africa Report published an extensive inquiry into the network of Russian companies profiting from CAR’s diamond exploitations contracts
9. “Sewa Security Services” is another Russian private military corporation (PMC) operating in CAR under the 2017 security accord. Sewa is primarily engaged in VIP protection. Throughout the years, press and social media photos have shown Sewa operatives and other contractors guarding CAR political figures, including President Toudega.
10. Important: It is likely that “Sewa Security Services” is Vagner’s cover name and company under which the PMC operates in CAR.
11. Vagner and/or Sewa are also engaged in capacity building for the CAR military and, to a lesser extent, foreign internal defense. The Berengo estate, 35 km southwest of Bangui, is operational command and headquarters of the Russian contractors in CAR.
12. It is evident that Russia’s troop deployment aimed to strengthen President Touadera’s position ahead of elections. The Kremlin’s investments in diamond drilling in CAR depend on the stability of Touadera’s presidency.
13. Apart from local rebels, Russia’s main adversary in CAR is France. Under President Macron, France has worked to rebuild influence in Francophone Africa, which directly threatens the Kremlin’s interests in CAR. To protect its investments, Russia will double down on CAR, increase troop numbers (regular and irregular) and throw more assets into the fight.
editing by Gecko