News Feb 13, 2024 11:54 AM EST

Blood Gold in Africa Funding Russians in Ukraine

By Patrick Mondaca

Despite unprecedented Western sanctions aimed at choking off Russia's ability to sustain its war in Ukraine, the Kremlin has still managed to extract and launder over $2.5 billion in gold from Africa into international markets since February 2022. And as demand for gold continues to rise and with prices projected to reach record highs again in 2024, Russia has little incentive to cease its illicit gold trade or its illegal invasion of Ukraine. As long as it can sustain its influx of African gold, Western sanctions will have little effect on curbing the Russian war chest.

Blood money
(Photo : Blood money) Blood money

But the Kremlin's strategic aims in Africa are not limited to exchanging weapons and gold between its own and Hemedti's mercenaries in Sudan. According to the Blood Gold Report, the Russian Federation has managed through its Wagner proxies to gain control of artisan gold mines and refineries in the Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan, and Mali by force or by securing security contracts with authoritarian regimes. Since 2017, Russia has also been in negotiations with Sudan for the establishment of a strategic naval base which would allow the Kremlin to station nuclear warships and project Russian naval power in the Red Sea.

While this ambition has been shelved for the time being as Sudan has devolved into an internal conflict between the SAF and RSF, the alleged August 2023 assassination of Wagner Group leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has presented the Kremlin with an opportunity to shift its power projection aims to its ground forces in Africa. Why stop at muscling in on the gold mining production and smuggling operations when Africa has so many other lucrative opportunities there for the plundering, right? The sanctions-circumventing blood gold smuggling thing has worked out pretty well as a stopgap to keep the Russian war machine afloat for the time being; but hey, a pariah state can't run on blood gold alone. There are also diamonds to be pillaged,  timber, vast reserves of nickel, cobalt, and uranium, and critical rare earth elements (REE) for the taking.

We can lay part of the blame on Prigozhin here. Had the late Wagner boss not embarked on that ill-timed, short-lived mutiny last June, he might not have been there for that Kremlin-orchestrated, accidentally intentional, midflight detonation of those grenades in his private aircraft while he was on it. He might have been around to protest the recent rebranding of Wagner Group and its incorporation into the newly created and aptly named Africa Corps, a 20,000 strong force intended to take over Wagner bases in Africa and bring them under the Russian Defense Ministry's command. He might have been around to point out to the Kremlin that this new Africa Corps bears the same name as Nazi Germany's World War II Afrika Korps- which doesn't exactly scream "brand refresh" for a mercenary group named by a former Russian military intelligence officer, Dmitry Utkin, with Nazi SS symbols tattooed on both sides of his neck.

Utkin, who won't be around to protest the Defense Ministry's seizing command of his group of Nazi-fetishizing, war crime-prone murderers either, met his fiery demise on the same aircraft as Prigozhin last August. The new Africa Corps will go on doing the Kremlin's bidding without them, tasked with maintaining existing resource plundering operations and expanding Russia's presence on the continent to Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The rules will be different now though for these Russian forces. No longer will their conduct-their atrocities-be mired or obscured by the murky ambiguities of the deniable plausibility the Russian state has long hid behind. Any crimes against humanity committed by Russia's Africa Corps; any war crimes perpetrated by Russia's Africa Corps; any rapes, torture, or summary executions carried out by Russia's Africa Corps will be wholly attributed to the Russian state.

"Never again" can the free world afford not to hold the war crimes of a violent non-state or quasi-state actor committed on behalf of a state accountable. To not do so is to be complicit.

Next up:

  •  Blood diamonds are a criminal regime's second best friend...
  • The questionable Gulf "allies" laundering the gold of Western rivals...
  • The questionable "allies" arming both sides of multiple conflicts...

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