What Wagner’s post-Prigozhin future looks like on the ground in the Central African Republic | Brasarr

What Wagner's post-Prigozhin future looks like on the ground in the Central African Republic

Bangui, Central African Republic

On his last trip to Central African Republic (CAR) last month, the former Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin visited la Maison Russe, or the Russian House, a cultural center near the Russian embassy in the capital, where he posed for selfies with his lieutenants and locals.

The institute and its diverse activities are stark examples of how the mercenary group has become a stand-in for the Russian state in the country and a symbol of the challenges that await the president. Vladimir Putin as he tries to withdraw control.


The Russian flag flying outside la Maison Russe, or the Russian House, a cultural center in Bangui.

Since Prigozhin coup attempt in June and subsequently died in a plane crash outside Moscow, just two months later, Russia has been engaged in a high-stakes battle to centralize its empire on the African continent, which includes thousands of fighters, a wide range of corporate holdings and several soft power initiatives like this one.

As the Kremlin tries to wrap its arms around Wagner’s sprawling commercial network, it remains unclear what’s next for the group. But signs of what the future may hold in CAR, one of the organization’s first client states and its laboratory on the continent, are beginning to emerge in Bangui. Here, Russia appears to be consolidating Wagner’s operations while continuing to exert its influence. The message that Moscow wants to send seems to be: it is business as usual.

Russia’s dominance is visible everywhere. At roadside bars, locals sip Africa Ti L’Or beer and Wa-Na-Wa vodka made by a company associated with Wagner. Meanwhile, Russian-donated fighter jets whistle on excursions overhead.

At the cultural center, a Russian tricolor flag flies overhead. Outside, a carousel topped with an onion dome spins in the yard.

“Maison Russe is the nerve center for all of Wagner’s activities in the Central African Republic,” Nathalia Dukhan, a senior researcher at The Sentry, an American nonprofit that has monitored Wagner across the country, told CNN.

According to The Sentry, the center is home to a wide range of operations linked to Wagner’s business endeavors – the group uses it to sell gold and diamonds and entertain VIPs. It holds events designed to “spread Russian culture while promoting a pro-Moscow view of international relations,” Dukhan said.

Mercenaries from the Wagner Group have been operating in CAR since at least 2018, protecting President Faustin-Archange Touadera and training army recruits. Wagner troops have fought against rebels in the country’s civil conflict, which has lasted more than a decade, while expanding Russia’s reach in the mineral-rich nation. Wagner has secured a number of generous mining concessions in the country to look for diamonds and gold and is heavily involved in the timber industry.


Masked Wagner mercenaries outside a grocery store in the capital.

All Eyes on Wagner, an open source initiative tracking the group, said the Russian House is incorporated as a company in Bangui, yet has no ties to the Rossotrudnichestvo agency, the Russian state agency that coordinates cultural institutes worldwide.

“Maison Russe… is a prime example of how the Wagner group has been a substitute for the Russian state,” All Eyes on Wagner told CNN. It added that it serves both Wagner’s and Russia’s interests: “Promoting Wagner’s beer through exclusive events, screening Wagner films, hosting Prigozhin and inviting Russian MoD delegations to lecture on Russian-car-military cooperation.”

The center has long been headed by Dmitry Syty, a former Prigozhin deputy who has played “a leading role” in the CAR for Wagner, according to the European Council.

But Syty, which is sanctioned by the EU and the US “for serious human rights violations”, and survived an attempted murder in December 2022, may have been replaced.

Local media recently reported that a new director had taken over at the Russian house, referring to her as Nafisa. She was pictured in photographs of Prigozhin on her last visit to CAR, but there is no evidence that she had any association with Wagner before April.

Access to the Russian House is extremely limited. No Western journalists have been allowed in, and CNN’s requests to film at the center were repeatedly refused by the supposed new director. When a CNN team visited the site using a hidden camera, she introduced herself as Nafisa Kiryanova.

All eyes on Wagner/Twitter

Anfisa Alexandrovna Kiryanova (right) appears in the background of a photo of Prigozhin outside the Russian House last month.

Drawing on social media accounts and other linked profiles, CNN has discovered that she also goes by another name: Anfisa Alexandrovna Kiryanova. A YouTube channel linked to Kiryanova reveals that as recently as nine months ago, she shared video reviews of cosmetics. On a resume shared online, she claims to have worked as a translator and attended the Sorbonne in Paris and Moscow State Linguistic University.

Dressed in local clothes and silver high heels, she gave CNN a brief tour of the institute. Russian language classes were held in three tents outside the centre, while Russian films were shown in a cinema room.

A masked man who appeared to be a Wagner mercenary walked past the tents to a parking lot behind. Kiryanova would not confirm who he was or show CNN the restricted area where he was headed.

When CNN pressed Kiryanova about her appearance in the background of photographs taken of Prigozhin at the center, she was evasive, asking: “Oh my God, can you show me that?” After being shown the pictures, she reluctantly admitted, “Okay, yes, it’s good.”

Speaking about Prigozhin’s visit and Wagner’s future in the CAR, Kiryanova said his death meant nothing to Russia’s mission in the country.

“Does it change anything if, I don’t know, the president of your country dies? Does that mean your country ceases to exist?… The mission continues to be, the Russian cultural mission continues to be,” she said .

When asked who was overseeing the center now, Kiryanova said that Syty was “responsible for the head of the entire mission, and he drives some other directions.”

Syty and Wagner’s security adviser to President Touadera, Vitali Perfilev, who is also sanctioned by the US and the EU, are among Wagner’s old guard still on the ground in CAR at the end of last week. A diplomatic official, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity, said the two men had returned to Moscow and returned, suggesting they had signed new contracts with Russia’s Defense Ministry.

Both have retreated into the shadows in recent months, declining CNN’s repeated requests for interviews.

The diplomatic official said Wagner left a lasting mark on CAR with only about 1,000 mercenaries on the ground. Now Russia is embarking on a concerted reorganization in an attempt to lower Wagner’s operating costs in the CAR, the official said. This effort is two-pronged: forcing fighters to sign new contracts and withdrawing them to concentrate control in major population centers.

In July and August, Ilyushin IL-76 transport planes rotated weekly to take fighters back to Moscow to sign contracts, the official said, adding that an estimated 150 have not returned.

There are clear signs of a reconcentration of troops across the capital.

Wagner mercenaries drive around Bangui in unmarked pickup trucks painted a green or sand color. They are out on the streets shopping in convenience stores, wearing balaclavas to pick up cookies, bananas and bottles of Coca-Cola. The Wagner protocol dictates that they must always cover their faces – even in situations such as to search for shoes at a flea market.

Despite the failed Wagner mutiny and Prigozhin’s subsequent death thousands of kilometers to the north, little has changed for CAR’s relationship with Russia, according to Fidèle Gouandjika, a senior adviser to President Touadera.

CNN met with Gouandjika at his mansion in the capital. He was tall and gray and wore a T-shirt with the message “Je suis Wagner” – “I am Wagner” in French – and claimed it was given to him by Prigozhin himself. “He was my friend, he was my best friend in front of all Central African people,” he said of the late mercenary.

Sebastian Shukla/CNN

Fidèle Gouandjika, a senior adviser to President Touadera, outside his mansion in Bangui.

“The Russians gave us peace,” he said, adding: “we are very happy that in a short time, one year, Mr. Yevgeny Prigozhin pushed out the rebels, and our country is occupied by our army 100%.”

Gouandjika claimed that Putin spoke to Touadera recently and assured him that: “‘Everything will be like yesterday. It will be better tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. So we have no regrets.'”

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