Russia's notorious mercenary army, the Wagner Group, is plundering Africa's natural resources to help pay for Moscow's war machine in Ukraine, the Middle East and beyond, the US ambassador to the UN said on Thursday.
Wagner is widely believed to be tied to the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin, though Moscow denies any involvement.
The shadowy private military contractor operates in dozens of nations, including Syria and Ukraine, and trains local troops across several African hotspots including the Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield accused Wagner of taking advantage of countries it works in and using “ill-gotten gains” to help power Russia's military operations.
“We know these ill-gotten gains are used to fund Moscow's war machine in Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine,” she told the UN Security Council.
“Rather than being a transparent partner and improving security, Wagner exploits client states who pay for their heavy-handed security services in gold, diamond, timber and other natural resources … This is part of the Wagner Group's business model.”
She was speaking at a session led by Gabon’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Michael Adamo, dedicated to “strengthening the fight against the financing of armed groups and terrorists through the illicit trafficking of natural resources”.
Ms Thomas-Greenfield cited a “common interest” in ensuring that African wealth is not stolen and redirected for illicit purposes.
But Russia's ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia accused the US of “anti-Russian rage”.
“African states are not our clients, they are our partners. I would like to recall here, by the way, that in Syria, the US, under the cover of counter-terrorism, was stealing Syrian oil,” Mr Nebenzia said.
India's Minister of State for External Affairs Vellamvelly Muraleedharan said groups linked to ISIS and Al Qaeda in Africa are embedding themselves in domestic conflicts, attempting to influence and control the political agenda.
“What we need is a zero-tolerance policy,” Mr Muraleedharan said.
Sheikh Shakhbout bin Nahyan, UAE Minister of State, said the illegal exploitation of natural resources has become an “artery” for terrorists and criminal actors.
“They are turning these resources into a curse,” he said, noting that there is an “undeniable correlation” between the illegal exploitation of resources, climate change and the spread of terrorism.
“As we have seen in the Sahel, the regions that are most vulnerable to climate change tend to also be the most vulnerable to the scourge of terrorism,” Sheikh Shakhbout told the council.
The exploitation of natural resources has fuelled at least 18 violent conflicts since 1990, the UN reported.
Kenya’s UN ambassador Martin Kimani urged the Security Council to dismantle terrorism networks in Africa, saying they pose a “dire” threat in far too many countries.
“The protection of peace and security in Africa is impossible if the continent's natural resources as not reclaimed for the people,” said Mr Kimani.
“It is time that Africa's natural resources fully benefit the African people.”
The UN Development Programme said that Africa is home to about 30 per cent of the world’s mineral reserves, 8 per cent of the world’s natural gas and 12 per cent of the world’s oil reserves. It also has the world's largest deposits of cobalt, diamonds, platinum and uranium.