Wagner Group Armored Column Spotted in Central African Republic

Wagner Group Armored Column Spotted in Central African Republic

A six-ton “Wagner Wagnon” was photographed as it rumbled through a village near Bangui, the CAR’s capital city.

Similar vehicles have been spotted in Libya, Syria, and other areas where Wagner Group mercenaries are known to be active. Evro Polis, a Russian company, developed and built these vehicles. They are basically a combination of a Humvee and an armored personnel carrier. Wagner Wagons are modular and heavily armored. Although the details are sketchy, Wagner Group mercenaries apparently supported government forces in a New Years Eve gunbattle which, according to government sources, was a “crushing defeat” for militants.

A few days earlier, CAR President Faustin-Arrange Touadera publicly thanked Russian military advisers for their “contribution to the victory over the bandit formations that tried to disrupt democratic elections and seize power in the country.”

The Wagner Group

The mysterious Wagner Group is a mercenary organization with ties to Russia. Moscow insists that the group is independent. But the evidence suggests that these mercenaries have close ties to the Kremlin.

Former Soviet Army officer Dmitriy Valeryevich Utkin probably founded the Wagner Group around 2010. Utkin supposedly chose the name as a shout-out to Richard Wagner, one of Adolf Hitler’s favorite composers.

Officially, private military organizations are illegal in Russia, as they once were in the United States. So, the Wagner Group is most likely a pseudo-private group which is unofficially under the supervision of the Russian Defense Ministry.

Wagner Group mercenaries first appeared in the Ukraine in 2014. They have been seen in several global hotspots, most notably the Central African Republic and over a dozen other African countries, since then.

In 2016, Utkin was at the Kremlin when he was named a Hero of the Russian Federation and given the Order of Courage. The other three recipients had close ties to Utkin and other mercenary groups. Officials refused to say exactly why Utkin and his colleagues received these high awards.

No one is sure how many mercenaries are in the Wagner Group. New recruits go dark. They cannot use the internet or social media. They may only use Wagner Group-issued mobile phones, which are presumably bugged. Furthermore, new recruits cannot reveal their location to anyone, even family members. New recruits must also sign a 10-year confidentiality agreement.

Is There a Difference Between Mercenaries and Private Military Contractors?

Absolutely. As mentioned, private military contractors were illegal in the United States from 1896 until 1978. Today, they exist under very tight regulations. The Wagner Group, on the other hand, has almost no official oversight.

The missions of contractors and mercenaries are different as well. Contractors may only engage in defensive operations. They escort supply convoys, maintain checkpoints, and perform other such duties. Furthermore, as the name implies, contractors are subject to the terms of written contracts. Mercenaries have no such restrictions. They can operate any way in any place at any time.

Finally, the motivation is different. Contractors work for specific divisions of the U.S. government, mostly the DoD or State Department. Mercenaries work for the highest bidder.

The Central African Republic

Since it broke free from France in 1960, the Central African Republic has consistently been one of the richest countries in the world, and also one of the poorest ones. This economic instability has created political instability, as outlined below.

Like many nations in this area, the CAR has abundant natural resources. Its hills and mountains are full of oil, gold, diamonds, uranium, and other incredibly valuable substances. Yet it is among the ten poorest countries in the world, in terms of GDP. The CAR is a very unhealthy place as well. It has the lowest Human Development Index in the world.

In 2003, strongman François Bozizé suspended the CAR’s constitution. This move sparked the so-called Bush War. The country divided largely along ethnic and religious lines. Internal chaos and war displaced about a quarter of a million people. No one is sure how many died.

The rebels forced Bozizé into exile in 2013. But fighting continued to escalate. In 2015, Muslim rebel groups formed the breakaway Republic of Logone.

It appears that Russia is trying to take advantage of the chaos and expand its influence in the CAR. The country’s vast natural resources are too tempting to resist.

Contractors in AFRICOM

The U.S. Army’s Africa command is in a difficult position in places like the CAR. Its government is at least semi-democratic. There is no evidence of widespread electoral fraud. Furthermore, the CAR’s highest court blocked Bozizé’s comeback attempt, ruling that he did not meet the “good morality” test for office. However, the CAR is very strategic, both geographically and economically. Russian influence there could have dire consequences.

Contractors are tailor made for situations like this one. Contractors are used to missions with strict operational guidelines. They are able to blend in better than regular servicemembers. And, they give AFRICOM deniability.

When contractors are put in harm’s way like this, they often get hurt. The underlying injury could be either of the following:

  • Trauma Injury: Combat wounds and falls are the most common types of overseas trauma injuries.  These victims must often be airlifted to facilities in Europe or the Middle East. So, by the time they receive the treatment they need, they are usually in dire straits.
  • Occupational Disease: As mentioned, the CAR is a very unhealthy place. These issues are especially a problem in the coronavirus era. Frequently, these contractors have no idea they are sick until after they return home.

Defense Base Act benefits in these situations include lost wage replacement and medical bill payment. Most victims receive two-thirds of their average weekly wage for the duration of their temporary disabilities. The medical bill payment benefit usually applies to all reasonably necessary medical and related expenses.

For more information about available DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.