The continent of Africa is currently facing a myriad of issues and conflicts. Numerous military juntas are emerging across West Africa, regional tensions between various states are near high, and the growing migrant crisis in Italy is gaining global attention.
Behind the ongoing regional issues—the hallmarks of Russia’s security services and disinformation campaign correlate with the current tensions. Moscow sees the African continent as a new base of operations—particularly as the ongoing drift between African nations and Western Europe has occurred.
Ripe for destabilization and hybrid warfare, the Kremlin looks to enact new plans to evade sanctions, enrich themselves with African minerals, and fuel a migrant crisis into Europe to help prop up pro-Russian parties.
Planting the Seeds with Wagner
Through the proxy mercenary organization, the Wagner Group, Russia has enriched and entrenched itself in Africa through illicit activities.
Wagner, then led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, partnered with military dictatorships, such as the ones in Sudan and the rival government in Libya under Haftar. The group also helped prop up military juntas in Mali, Burkina Faso, and recently, Niger.
In return for helping to fight terrorist organizations and quell civilian dissidents, the mercenaries have unvetted access to natural resources that ultimately help finance the Kremlin on the black market, giving Moscow an avenue to evade global sanctions.
In the backdrop of Prigozhin’s assassination and Wagner’s leadership decapitation by Putin, the GRU looks to take over the group’s operations. The GRU, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, helped stoke the flames of war in Ukraine in 2014 and will look to provoke further military juntas along the Central African belt, where resources are the richest.
Stirring up Conflicts and Provoking Migration into Europe
A central strategy in Russian hybrid warfare in Africa is to play into the emotions of Africans still disenfranchised by neocolonial policies with Western Europe. Unbeknownst to them, Moscow is quietly conducting neocolonial actions in Africa and Ukraine with annexations and rejections of Ukrainian statehood.
Besides propping up military juntas, Moscow looks to exacerbate further governments close to combustion. Nigeria, for example, is increasingly worried about destabilization reaching their country from the Russian-influenced council in Niger.
Italy faces an enormous surge in migrants, many from pro-Russian states and their African-propped-up juntas. Migrants from Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Guinea, and Mali have fled en masse and reached Europe’s shores, causing an internal dispute over quotas in the European Union.
Putin’s End Goal with Hybrid Warfare in Africa
The Kremlin is enacting several primary end goals with hybrid warfare on the African continent. The first objective is for Moscow’s establishment of a new alternative “security guarantor” for various African juntas through PMCs and the GRU. By conducting “security,” African nations are expected to give quotas on natural resources and access to crucial strategic military bases as Russia looks to replace the West on the continent.
The second goal is to provoke regional war. Backing the Rapid Support Forces in Sudan has led to a Russian-backed genocide in Darfur and renewed civil war. A mass evacuation of foreign nationals ensued, and Sudan’s situation remains tense.
Likewise, the Russian-backed military juntas are heading for a military showdown in West Africa with the French and American-backed ECOWAS organization. Most Russian-backed juntas have a sizable Muslim population (Mali, CAR, Niger, Burkina Faso), whereas most ECOWAS are Christian with a sizable Muslim minority. Ethnic and religious tensions could exacerbate if ECOWAS were to go to war with the juntas, leading to Russia’s true end goal—global destabilization.
The correlation between illegal mass migration into Europe and Russian interference in European elections cannot be underestimated. By instigating coups and propping up brutal juntas that cause migrations in Africa, Moscow hopes to overflow the European social services and cause internal conflicts over the migrant crisis, as we currently see amongst the EU members today.
In the end, Putin looks to help install and prop up pro-Russian parties in Europe who will hide behind the guise of anti-immigration, which Moscow will ultimately cause in Africa. The Kremlin is aware it can no longer achieve military objectives in Ukraine unless the West rescinds aid to Kyiv. Their biggest hope is through the upcoming elections in Europe and North America.
Russia’s hybrid warfare in Africa can no longer be underestimated. As the world ignored Putin’s hybrid warfare in the South Caucasus that ultimately led to ethnic cleansing, the international community must put a firm red line in the African continent and other regions or face an even greater wave of mass migration and destabilization.
[Photo by Corbeau News Centrafrique, via Wikimedia Commons]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Julian McBride is a forensic anthropologist and independent journalist born in New York. He is the founder and director of the Reflections of War Initiative (ROW), an anthropological NGO which aims to tell the stories of the victims of war through art therapy. As a former Marine, he uses this technique not only to help heal PTSD but also to share people’s stories through art, which conveys “the message of the brutality of war better than most news organizations.”