Russia’s Secret Recruits Allegedly Abandoned, Starving, and Missing in Action

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ABUJA, Nigeria - Russia's notorious Wagner group has left dozens of former Central African Republic (CAR) rebels in Ukraine's Donbass region after recruiting them for Vladimir Putin's war, two former CAR fighters told The Daily Beast .
The CAR sources, who were recruited by Wagner after leaving the rebel group Union for Peace (UPC) last December, said many of the approximately 100 former UPC fighters currently in Ukraine are out of contact with Wagner lost after the group trained and flew them to the Donbass region about eight months ago.
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"Some of our colleagues called us [on the phone] to tell us that the Russian soldiers who took them to eastern Ukraine sent them to a certain city and let them fight alone," said Ali, who was not part of the group Group sent to Ukraine, The Daily Beast said. "As we speak, they have not been paid for months and cannot even support themselves." (The Daily Beast changed the names of the Black Russians in the story to protect them from possible retaliation.)
Some former UPC recruits, often dubbed "Black Russians" by many in the CAR, are now having to "steal from civilians" to survive the hardship in Ukraine, according to Ali.
In February, the same month Russia invaded Ukraine, more than 200 former UPC rebels traveled to Moscow for military training that was originally scheduled to last for weeks at a Wagner camp, senior CAR military officials said in March spoke to The Daily Beast. Only half returned to the country that month, while the rest stayed in Russia to be deployed in Ukraine.
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"By mid-March, [the Black Russians] were all in eastern Ukraine fighting for Russia," Hassan, who - like Ali - was not among the Black Russians sent to Ukraine but had been in touch with some of his colleagues there, said The Daily Beast. “But our people are now saying that they were left alone by their [Russian] commanders. Nobody cares about them.”
According to Hassan, who said he spoke to three of his colleagues this November and all feared for their lives, the situation for Black Russians in Ukraine is "terrible". "They told me they don't even have ammo to fight with," Hassan said. "Some of them haven't been seen by their colleagues for months."
Before joining Wagner, the rebels were part of a coalition of fighters from major rebel groups formed in 2020 to disrupt a Central African general election.
Last December, hundreds of UPC rebels, whose leader Ali Darassa was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) about a year ago, began surrendering to the Central African Republic government. Both the government and the Wagner group offered incentives for the rebels to leave the UPC, including promises that the fighters would work closely with CAR troops and Wagner mercenaries to fight other rebels. Fighters like Ali and Hassan - both in their 30s - switched sides hoping they would be well taken care of. But like their colleagues who are currently in Ukraine, they are not faring much better at home.
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According to Ali and Hassan, the Black Russians received no payment for most of the year from Wagner or the Central African Republic government, which had promised to give them monthly stipends. Nonetheless, they continue to work closely with Wagner to combat rebel groups in the country, united under the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), seeking to overthrow President Faustin-Archange Touadéra's government.
"It's very difficult to work with the Russians because they don't trust any of us," Hassan said. "Often they let us roam the country with them without telling us exactly where we're going."
What is most worrying for Ali and Hassan, however, is the fact that dozens of their colleagues in CAR have repeatedly disappeared over the past few months.
"For the past two months, up to 50 of our colleagues have mysteriously disappeared," Ali said. "Nobody knows where they are and the Russians don't answer questions about their whereabouts."
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There are suspicions among Black Russians in the Central African Republic that their missing colleagues may have been sent to Ukraine to fight for Russia, but "no one is sure," Ali said.
"There are also a few people who suspect they were sent on a dangerous mission domestically or abroad and got killed," Ali said. "No one may ever know the truth because these Russians do everything in secret."
Fearing they too might be missing, Ali and Hassan decided - just last week - to back down from Wagner. You are not the only ones. According to both men, up to 30 former UPC rebels recently left the group. A local newspaper even put the number of Black Russians who have parted ways with Wagner at 40.
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Neither the government of the Central African Republic nor Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close friend of Putin who heads the Wagner group, have responded to emails from The Daily Beast seeking comment on Ali and Hassan's allegations. Emails to the CAR's government spokesman and to Concord Management, a company majority-owned by Prigozhin, went unanswered.
A significant number of Black Russians continue to work with the Wagner group, despite allegations of ill-treatment and mysterious disappearances. But for those fed up with the excesses of the organization, what better time to say goodbye.
"If we didn't go, one day people would also say that we are missed," Hassan said. "With these Russians anything is possible."
Read more at The Daily Beast.
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Wladimir Putin
President of Russia
Ali Darassa
Nigerian military personnel

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