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Kremlin to continue $1 Billion ‘Blood Timber’ racket following Wagner transition

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Russia is set to maintain its grip on the lucrative “blood timber” racket, valued at a staggering $1 billion, despite a recent transition in leadership within the Wagner Group. Russian President Vladimir Putin has reassured that it will be “business as usual” as Russia tightens its hold on the Central African Republic (CAR), following the assassination of Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin.

As previously reported by Wood Central, companies linked to the Wagner Group have been deeply involved in gold, timber, and beer brewing operations in CAR. These operations have been instrumental in supporting the CAR’s efforts to combat a rebel insurgency in recent years.

Wagner forces have profited immensely from timber sourced from concessions, including an astonishing 186,596 hectares of some of the world’s rarest forests. This timber is then sold through African forest markets, and various reports have linked it to equipment purchased for Wagner’s military operations.

CNN recently revealed that Russian nationals have been using a residence known as Maison Russe, or the Russian House, to centralize their African operations. This facility houses thousands of fighters and serves as a hub for various business ventures, including the sale of timber, gold, and diamonds.

Nathalia Dukhan, a senior investigator at The Sentry, a US nonprofit that monitors Wagner’s activities, described Maison Russe as the “nerve center of all of Wagner’s activities in the Central African Republic.” In addition to business operations, it hosts events aimed at promoting Russian culture and projecting a pro-Moscow image in international relations.

This expansion of operations by Russia, while maintaining its influence, underscores Moscow’s message that it’s “business as usual.” All Eyes on Wagner noted that the Russian House is “incorporated as a business in Bangui,” but it has no official ties to the Rossotrudnichestvo agency, which coordinates Russian cultural institutes worldwide.

According to an All Eyes on Wagner report, the forestry business associated with Wagner yields substantial profits. The report estimated that if 30% of the concession is exploited, the revenue potential could reach $890 million on international markets, a significant sum that could funnel money back to a sanctioned Russia.

Recent changes in leadership within the Russian House have not disrupted the mission. Dimitry Syty, the former Wagner deputy sanctioned by the EU and the US for human rights abuses, has been replaced by a figure known as “Nafisa,” later identified as Anfisa Alexandrovna Kiryanova. Kiryanova stated that Prigozhin’s death had no impact on Russia’s mission in CAR, emphasizing the continuity of the Russian cultural mission.

Kiryanova also revealed that Mr. Syty still played a pivotal role in overseeing the mission, despite recent changes. A diplomatic source, speaking anonymously to CNN, indicated that Mr. Syty and Wagner’s security advisor to CAR President Touadera, Vitali Perfilev, have returned to Moscow and signed new contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defence.

Despite the upheaval caused by the Wagner Group’s recent mutiny, CAR’s relationship with Russia remains largely unchanged. Fidèle Gouandjika, a senior adviser to President Touadera, expressed gratitude for Russia’s role in maintaining peace in CAR, even wearing a T-shirt that read “Je suis Wagner” (“I am Wagner”) given to him by Prigozhin himself. Gouandjika emphasized that Prigozhin’s efforts had driven out rebels and restored full control to the country’s army.

According to Gouandjika, Putin recently assured Touadera that “everything will be like yesterday. It will be better tomorrow and after tomorrow. So we have no regrets.”

Meanwhile, reports continue to reveal that conflict timber linked to Russia’s various conflicts, including the war in Ukraine, is infiltrating global timber markets. Customs data has exposed new routes through China, Turkey, and other countries, with traders using false certifications to mask the timber’s origins and circumvent sanctions.

Over 100,000 tonnes of lumber, connected to one of Russia’s biggest illegal timber scandals, have entered EU countries, despite sanctions. This lucrative trade is benefiting individuals with close ties to the Kremlin, including Wagner mercenaries and oligarchs who own Russia’s largest timber companies.

In the midst of these revelations, Russia’s exploitation of CAR’s resources, including timber, gold, and diamonds, continues to raise international concerns. As Russia maintains its grip on these illicit ventures, questions remain about the impact on global markets and the role of international institutions in addressing these activities.

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