Dmitry Sytii under US sanctions for links to mercenary group founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is close to Vladimir Putin.
A Russian businessman believed to be a close ally of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group founder, has been taken to hospital in Central African Republic (CAR) after an “assassination attempt”, the RIA Novosti news agency has reported, citing the local Russian embassy.
Dmitry Sytii, who officially works as head of the “Russian House” culture centre in CAR’s capital, Bangui, had sanctions imposed on him by the US in September 2020 for his alleged links to Wagner Group, a private military group that has deployed more than 1,000 fighters in the unstable country to fight rebels.
The Russian embassy in Bangui did not immediately comment on the circumstances of the alleged assassination attempt.
Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch under US sanctions who has led Russia’s recent push into Africa, said in a statement published on Friday that Sytii received a mailed parcel containing an explosive that detonated in his hands.
“At the moment, the life of Dmitry Sytii hangs in balance. Russian doctors are doing everything possible in the Bangui hospital to save him,” Prigozhin said in a statement posted by his catering company, Concord, that described Sytii as a “Patriot of Russia and Central African Republic”.
Prigozhin, without providing evidence, claimed that the assassination attack was coordinated from France. “I have already contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation so that it initiates the procedure for declaring France a state sponsor of terrorism, as well as conducting a thorough investigation of the terrorist methods of France and its western allies – the United States and others.”
The French foreign ministry in a statement denied any involvement.
Western officials say that Prigozhin and his companies are the spearhead of an ambitious – if opportunistic – effort by Russia to extend its influence in more than a dozen African states, often at the expense of France.
Paris has struggled to maintain its influence in CAR, a former French colony, since President Faustin-Archange Touadéra opted to hire Wagner to repel a rebel advance in 2018. The last French troops left CAR days ago.
France has also lost out to Russia in Mali, where Wagner fighters have now been deployed against Islamist extremists. A large French military force there has also been withdrawn.
Prigozhin has repeatedly accused the west of exploiting Africa and using underhand methods on the continent to maintain its control. A troll farm linked to the businessman has been accused of running disinformation campaigns attacking the west to prepare public opinion for Russian interventions. On at least one occasion, Wagner operatives have been discovered manufacturing evidence of French atrocities.
In Mali and in CAR, the Wagner Group has been paid in cash and with concessions over gold and diamond mining. Dozens of companies associated with Prigozhin and his subordinates are involved in the extraction of valuable metals and gems across a swath of west, central and east Africa.
When imposing sanctions on Sytii in 2020, the US said he was the founder of the Prigozhin-linked mining company Lobaye Invest, which operates in CAR and elsewhere. An agreement with successive regimes in Sudan to extract and export gold there is thought to have proved very lucrative.
Last year a UN working group said it was “deeply disturbed” by the connections between the Russian mercenaries, Lobaye and alleged human rights violations in CAR, include mass summary executions, arbitrary detention, torture during interrogation and the forced displacement of the civilian population.
The US has accused Russia of exploiting natural resources in CAR and a number of other African countries to help fund Moscow’s war in Ukraine, a charge has Russia rejected as “anti-Russian rage”.
In CAR, however, there are signs that relations between the Wagner Group and the administration of Touadéra are fraying.
A series of bloody raids on artisanal mines in the lawless border zones between Sudan and CAR, previously reported by the Guardian, has been seen as evidence of how the Wagner Group has been forced to plunder the region’s valuable gold trade to make up a shortfall in cashflow.
The Wagner Group has played a key role in fighting Ukraine, and Prigozhin, once a secretive businessman, has emerged as one of Russia’s most visible pro-war figures.
The conflict has come at the same time as a series of military coups in the strategically important Sahel has opened the way for deeper Russian involvement there.
The Ghanaian president, Nana Akufo-Addo, said on Thursday’s that neighbouring Burkina Faso had “reached an arrangement” with Wagner.
“Burkina Faso has now entered into an arrangement to go along with Mali in employing the Wagner forces there and I believe a mine in the southern part of Burkina has been allocated to them as a form of payment for their service,” Nana Akufo-Addo said. “To have them operating on our northern border is particularly distressing for us in Ghana.”
The Wagner Group has also been linked to atrocities in Mali, where its fighters were alleged to have been involved in massacres of hundreds of civilians earlier this year.
Source : The Guardian