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Russian influence in Africa and the Middle East: winning bet or programmed stalemate ?

Alwihda Info | Par Angelo Giampiero - 21 Novembre 2019

In recent years, President Putin's Russia has been coming back on all fronts. From the Middle East to Africa, the Kremlin is increasingly becoming a key player in the crises that are shaking these regions. Highly visible in Syria and the Central African Republic, with troops of the Russian army deployed, Moscow maneuvers, trying to be less visible, using, in particular, the services of the Private Security Company Wagner Group, mercenaries.
However, the proliferation of testimonies and articles in the media, gives the Russian strategy the appearance of an open secret.
In fact, wherever Russia tries to regain its ascendancy, appear the trace of the Wagner Group, Russian-speaking men, and Russian financial investments, notably via various companies of Mr. YevgenyPrigozhin, a Russian businessman, close to the Kremlin.

Russian influence in Africa and the Middle East: winning bet or programmed stalemate? © DR
Russian influence in Africa and the Middle East: winning bet or programmed stalemate? © DR
An illusion of grandeur found again.

Russia is returning to the forefront, mainly in regions with high geostrategic capital gains, whether to secure communication or military control opportunities, or to seize essential mineral resources. In fact, the Kremlin dignitary, educated under the Soviet era, could, at the same time, hope to revive a moribund economy, and restore to his people, the illusion of a Russia new mistress of his destiny, in the foreground, dictating his wishes, by the force of mercenaries, and occasional alliances.

Yet, as attractive as it may seem to a Russian, regretting more and more the apparent power of the former Soviet Union, the current deployment of human and financial resources over a wide geographical area, in countries often with different interests, in a very short period of time, could lead the current Russian power to aggravate its internal economic and social situation. Unless this is a pretext for the current president, to finish his terms on a seemingly positive result, leaving his successors to manage the catastrophic consequences of his policy, that could be described as "megalomania".

Indeed, the financing of mercenaries, the maintenance of corruption in the host countries, the financing of the multiple intermediaries, the multiple agreements with the armed groups to access the mining resources, the resources extraction, the financing of the counter-measures of competitors, especially Chinese in Africa, all this, well before any return on investment, could defeat Russia.

A necessity for victory in the short term.

Currently, Russia, through its troops or the companies of Mr. Prigozhin, is visible, in particular, in Syria, CAR, Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Mozambique, and in the countries of the Sahel. While in the 1970s, the Soviet Union sent military advisers and used Cubans as mercenaries to support the revolutionary movements, Russia today must rely solely on the revenues of its mafia and a mercenary society to hope to develop a network of predation of strategic resources.

This first difference with the Soviet era, shows that, despite the scale of the resources deployed, Russia is alone and must reach its goals very quickly, at the risk of not being able to maintain a movement of conquest very long. Its financing capacity will dry up, the Russian elections will be a social coup for the current Kremlin team, the mercenaries will disband, and the heads of state and armed groups, currently financed by Moscow, will turn to other "donors".

The effort is so important that a shortness of breath could appear shortly. Already, in Syria, the movement has slowed down. The situation is like a status quo. Moscow seems to have let Turkey solve the Kurdish problem, to clear itself of failing to effectively support the restoration of the country's territorial integrity by Bashar Al Assad's troops. First confession of helplessness, once the minimum goal is reached with the installation of a base in regional support point.

Would Russia be an unreliable ally with objectives limited to its immediate interest and unable to go beyond? Is this then a reflection of greater financial, economic and political fragility? A giant with clay feet? Would not Russia have to create chaos where the situation was already difficult.

Consequences that can prove catastrophic.

Based on these observations, this proven fragility in the medium and long term could leave the host countries in a state of open civil war.

Indeed, the simultaneous use, in some countries like the CAR, of Russian official troops supporting the government on the one hand, and on the other, the Wagner Group supporting armed groups with its mercenaries, creates a power imbalance of forces, harmful to any crisis resolution, which Moscow has nothing to do, since its troops and mercenaries are part of the same strategic equation for the sole benefit of the Kremlin. These situations, which benefit punctually and financially host country leaders and leaders of armed groups, discredit the ruling elites. They could lead to chaos and major social crises, which would benefit local or transnational Islamist movements, either by gaining power or by taking advantage of the disintegration of states, to develop their systematic predatory actions.

Even if the chaos does not happen, the use of mercenaries has rarely facilitated the stabilization of a country. Indeed, assuming that mercenary is enriched by the destabilization of the states, the Wagner Group will have an interest in maintaining conflict situations to double its stake between income from the Kremlin and the contracts it will obtain by itself.

Already in Mozambique, such a situation is developing. To deal with an Islamist guerrilla war, the government appealed to the Russians and the Wagner Group. After a deployment in September, the mercenaries suffered a first failure by losing a dozen men in an ambush.

Elsewhere, in Libya, if the Kremlin decided to support Marshal Haftar by deploying the Wagner Group, he increased his footprint with fighter pilots and drones following the failure, perhaps desired by Moscow, of the Marshal Haftar's offensive towards Tripoli.

Finally, in the Sahel, the heavy losses suffered by Malian, Nigerian and Burkinabe troops in recent months, suggest that Islamist armed groups are strengthening. How? How could they, so quickly, regain power? What financial capabilities and intelligence do they have to carry out such heavy operations, almost every week, suffering substantial losses themselves? Do they benefit from special support? Should we think of a maneuver of influence from the Kremlin, relayed on the ground by the mercenaries of the Wagner Group?

This overview of the situation can be puzzling about the effectiveness and sustainability of Russian support for ongoing crises. Indeed, to the extent that the objectives are achieved quickly, Russia will derive an excellent benefit from it, without necessarily satisfying the stability needs of the host countries. On the other hand, if the adversity is stronger than expected, Russia does not seem to be able to last. Therefore, it would be limited to a lonely goal and a minimum benefit to save face and would withdraw immediately, leaving the host countries in the doldrums, devoid of viable social, political and economic solutions. For its part, Russia could face a major internal crisis, because the lack of sufficient return on investment could not be masked for a long time to a population, admittedly accustomed to the economic difficulties, but all the more disappointed that it would have believed in the mirage of a newfound grandeur and "tomorrows that sing".

But finally, what appears in these two hypotheses is that in no case do host countries find a solution to their political, economic and social problems thanks to the support of Moscow.

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