04/29/2023, 09.15
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Russian Africa as seen from Khartoum

by Stefano Caprio

Agreements for a base on the Red Sea, arms supplies to both contenders, Wagner Company business: in the war in Sudan, Moscow consolidates its penetration in the continent. Which also has the face of Metropolitan Leonid, the "cook of Kirill".

As we approach the spring thaw, and the fateful May Victory celebrations, the wait for the final solution to the conflict in Ukraine is increasingly taking on the character of the cheering of crowds in major sporting competitions. Offensive and counter-offensive now look like semi-finals and cup finals, with market negotiations on the two teams' new signings, missiles and tanks from countries where war is a centuries-old tradition.

And while the fans' anxiety grows more and more feverish between Kiev, Moscow and Bakhmut, attention is distracted by another event of great dramatic magnitude, at other latitudes, but still related to 'war sports': the civil war in Sudan, in which Russia's team, excluded from all championships and the Olympics, is once again raging, but evidently able to find itself alone on so many playing fields on the international stage.

The Russian national war team is reproduced in the many variants of the Wagner company, the team capable of performing on all continents, aspiring with its chef-coach Prigožin to the title of world champion in the fraternal struggle between East and West, but also between North and South. Assembled with exponents of all criminal species, Wagner is inspired by the mythical gangs of the Don Cossacks, progenitors of all Ukraine's conflicts.

In Russia, the mercenary sport has taken such root that every week a new Čvk (Častnaja voennaja kompanija, 'private war company') is born, some of regional or republican formation, others financed by state or private companies, so much so that the Wagner not only has to fight the external enemy, but sometimes shoots at imitators, who try to take territorial and informational dominance away from it.

The first news about the Wagner company even preceded the start of the 'hybrid' conflict with Ukraine in 2014; in that same year, the second civil war had also broken out in Libya, where rival governments and gangs had been confronting each other since the fall of Gaddafi in 2011.

The Russians saw in this circumstance an excellent opportunity to insert itself in the Mediterranean games, an ancient passion of the imperial and Bolshevik armies, but also a great training ground to train its teams of assailants, and a good pretext to take back at least part of that Africa so dear to the Soviets, and then ended up as food for the Chinese.

In the last week, the fury of the contenders in Sudan has already caused half a thousand deaths, terrorising the population and the foreign communities on the ground, now fleeing in disarray by all means. Between the generals of the Sudanese regular armies and the 'Rapid Support Forces' (Rsf) who do not want to subjugate themselves to the army, the bloody banquet seems to be just the thing for the Kremlin's cook's habits.

The evacuation of Western diplomats from Khartoum is leaving a vacuum, into which Russia is throwing itself with all its eagerness to fill every country with the specialities of the 'Russian world', as Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto also noted.

What are Russia's real interests in Sudan? Only two months ago, the local military agreed to the construction of a base for the Russian fleet in the Red Sea, a crucial junction in many directions, where at least four large warships and around three hundred soldiers from all armies could be accommodated.

The control of the Suez Canal, and the opening to the Indian Ocean, would make it somehow a 'Russian Sea': not just an African enclave, therefore, but one of the best chances to really become a world superpower again. In return, the Russians have pledged to supply Sudan with arms and military technology, as is evident from the negotiations conducted in Moscow by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, a Sudanese general and politician from the Mehriya tribe in Darfur, vice-chairman of the Sovereign Transitional Council after the 2019 coup, and a member of the civil-military Transitional Sovereignty Council.

It is precisely Dagalo who now leads the opposition of the Rapid Support Forces to the national army, and it was Foreign Minister Lavrov who had come to Sudan to inspire him, returning the visit on 9 February. Moreover, as the New York Times states, the general had flown to Moscow with a plane overflowing with gold bars, also satisfying Russia's hunger for alternative resources in these times of sanctions, and gold mining in Sudan is another not insignificant reason for meddling in the conflict. And it is here that the figure of Prigožin stands out very clearly.

The founder of Wagner had already agreed a few years ago on the exploitation of the deposits in Sudan, to be entrusted to his company 'M Invest', which then ended up under American sanctions, which is why the gold operations were taken over directly by Wagner, officially in charge of the 'supervision' of the sites.

According to the Russian political scientist and Africanist Andrej Rudyk, interviewed by Currentime, Dagalo's visit to Moscow precisely in the most violent phase of the conflict in Ukraine 'demonstrates the extent of the Kremlin's military and para-military plans', which in any case is not limited to supporting the RFS, but also maintains relations for military supplies with the opponents of the Provisional Council led by Abdel Fattah Burhan, to whom fighter planes and helicopters have been delivered in the past. Neither the US or France, nor any other actor on the international scene are able to control, let alone limit, Russia's large war market in Sudan, and several other African countries.

In addition to the valuable materials, Russia also benefits politically by adding favourable or neutral votes of African countries to the UN assemblies, where it currently holds the presidency of the Security Council, thus weakening the 'Western' front and demonstrating Moscow's centrality in a 'multipolar' world vision.

Moreover, according to recent data, 24% of the import of cereals and 20% of hydrocarbons of the whole of Africa, whose population is progressively approaching one and a half billion inhabitants, comes from the Russian Federation, starting with Algeria, one of the most 'friendly' countries for the Kremlin.

Meanwhile in the background, of course, are the shadows of the confrontation with the 'big brother of Beijing', which has inherited much of the Soviet business in the Dark Continent.

Finally, Russian interest in Africa has also taken on the solemn and 'metaphysical' character of religion for a couple of years now, with the establishment of the African Exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchate, headed by Metropolitan Leonid.

A native of Stavropol (near today's war zones), 55 years old, born Leonid Gorbačev (one of the few to retain his civil name in the monastic office), he is also called the 'patriarch of all Africa', taking on the exarchal office also the diocese of Klin in the Moscow province, where he celebrates in the Church of All Saints in Kuliški, the seat of the African Exarchate.

Before the end of the USSR, he served in the Red Army, discharging himself with the rank of major and then dedicating himself to ecclesiastical life, as happened to many Soviet soldiers left jobless and homeless.

Leonid had the advantage of not having a dependent family, and devoted himself to the spiritual fusion of Church and army, becoming one of the founders in 1997 of the Synodal Department for the collaboration between the two institutions that guard the patriotic spirit, in what some call the 'Atomic Orthodoxy'.

Since then, he has mainly carried out his ministry as a chaplain and spiritual leader of the army, first in the UN peacekeeping forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina, then in various other areas, before being appointed head of the Russian mission in Jerusalem, patriarchal delegate for Armenia, Russian bishop for Argentina and Latin America and representative of the Russian Church in Cairo, at the Greek Patriarchate of Alexandria, which he has now supplanted as a 'schismatic' for its support of Ukrainian autocephaly.

Not to be outdone, Leonid also chairs the Patriarchal Commission for dialogue with the Malankar Church of India.

Today, the Russian exarchate in Africa registers new seats and parishes without interruption, divided into two large dioceses in the North (31 states) and in the South of the continent (23 states), with more than a hundred African priests already inserted and 're-educated' in the structures of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Leonid's warlike-spiritual skills allowed the Church to dovetail perfectly with Wagner's tactics, so much so that many likened his figure to that of Prigožin himself, earning him the title of 'Kirill's cook'.

Moreover, in Argentina he had also founded his own company, not military but welfare, the "Moral" (Mecenas Orthodoxos Rusos en America Latina), which was accused of taking part in drug trafficking when they found a suitcase with almost 400 kg of cocaine at the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires, after which Leonid was transferred to another location.

Now the financing of the Russian-African dioceses is entrusted to his initiatives as an Orthodox 'patron', and as Leonid says, to the generous support of 'men of faith who are not indifferent to the fate of the Church', without any official names of these sponsors being mentioned so far.

A few suitcases of Sudanese gold bars can certainly help the military and pastoral conquest of Africa, and attract the attention of African priests and faithful, and of the entire world, for the only universal 'authentic' Orthodoxy, the Kremlin Patriarchate.


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