EU Demands Central African Republic Boot Wagner Group Contractors Before Resuming Training Mission
20:03 GMT 04.02.2022 (Updated: 11:44 GMT 09.02.2023)
© AP Photo / Shakh AivazovServicemen from the Georgian Army's infantry battalion stand to attention during a farewell ceremony at Vaziani military base outside Tbilisi, Friday, June 6, 2014. According to Georgia's Defence Ministry, one company of the battalion will depart to join EUFOR-RCA European Union military peacekeeping operation in the Central African Republic.
© AP Photo / Shakh Aivazov
After canceling its military cooperation with the Central African Republic’s military in December, the European Union laid out the requirements for its return, including that Bangui cease cooperating with Wagner Group security contractors. However, the EU’s training mission has long been criticized as ineffective.
At a press conference on Thursday, Herve Blejean, head of the EU general staff, said that EU troops would not train Central African Armed Forces (FACA) that worked with Wagner Group, a Russian private military contractor (PMC) that hires out contractors as mercenary forces and is alleged to be employed by the CAR government.
"The first condition is to have the guarantee that the units that we are training are not employed by Wagner,” Blejean said. "The European Union can no longer afford to train units that are then employed by Wagner with all the allegations possible going around. It is the reputation and the defense of European values that are at stake.”
"I'm not talking about Russian instructors," Blejean added. "What bothers us are the mercenaries ... who do not respect the republican values championed" by CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadera.
The European Union Training Mission in the Central African Republic (EUTM RCA) ended its mission in Bangui in December, saying that with Wagner Group fighters being accused of human rights violations in the country, the liability for them had become too great. The EUTM RCA has trained about 3,400 members of the CAR military since its mission began in 2016.
In February 2021, the effectiveness of that mission was called into question in the European Parliament, with Spanish MEP Nart Javier saying that over the previous five years, “the EU has trained thousands of FACA soldiers who are not capable of fighting because the mission’s training mandate is not appropriate.”
“We make the policy here in Brussels, but it is Bangui that sees the deaths,” he said. “If we are going to do military training in Africa, then we should do it realistically and effectively.”
© MINUSCAA Patria Pasi armored personnel carrier stands guard as part of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA)
A Patria Pasi armored personnel carrier stands guard as part of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA)
Other peacekeeping forces and advisory groups have also been in the country for much of that time, including an 11,000-strong UN force, MINUSCA, and several hundred noncombat advisers sent by the Russian Ministry of Defense. A French training mission to the CAR, which is a former colony of Paris, ended in June 2021, with Paris complaining it had been edged out by the Russian advisers, who they accused of running a disinformation campaign against them in CAR.
Although Wagner Group is a private company and its activities are not the concern of the Russian government unless they are found to be breaking Russian law, Western nations have accused the group of being connected to the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin and of operating as an arm of Russian foreign policy, including in the CAR. In December, the EU sanctioned Wagner Group on this basis.
After British and French diplomats openly accused Moscow of using Wagner in this capacity in the CAR in June 2021, Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Anna Evstigneeva, accused them of “an anti-Russian political hit job,” pointing out that their evidence was based on rumors and anonymous sources.
More recently, Mali has been accused of seeking Wagner Group help against terrorist groups in the wake of a French withdrawal from there, as well. Both Bamako and Moscow have denied that such an arrangement exists, but affirmed that Mali has the right to cooperate with both governments and private companies as they see fit, without interference by others.
“The hysteria around the Russian PMC is another manifestation of double standards, because it is well known that the market for relevant services is monopolized by Western countries,” Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzya said at a UN Security Council meeting last month. "Criticism of such actions is hypocritical and disrespectful towards a sovereign state.”
Indeed, as Sputnik reported following a coup in Mali last May, US Africa Command has been deeply connected to a number of coups d’etat in Africa since its formation in 2008, and a similar connection exists with French military training, as well.
The EU’s second demand is that Bangui draws up a national defense plan. The country has been wracked by civil war since 2004, with different rebel groups trading control over the central government. Most recently, Bangui faced off against an alliance called the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), which united behind former President Francois Bozize after he was barred from running in the 2020-2021 elections due to an arrest warrant against him on numerous charges of assassination, torture, and other crimes.
The CPC has since fractured and Touadera’s government gained significant ground before Touadera declared a ceasefire in October, hoping to bring other groups to the negotiating table. However, violence has continued, including among former members of the CPC.