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Russian Mercenaries and the European timber rush: A threat to stability and the environment

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The European Union’s insatiable appetite for timber is unwittingly fueling local instability in one of the world’s most vulnerable nations and providing support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. An in-depth investigation by Earthsight reveals that European timber imports from the Central African Republic (CAR) are tainted by ties to Russian mercenaries and shadowy logging contractors.

The logging company in question is allegedly controlled by Russia’s notorious Wagner mercenary group, known for its close ties to President Vladimir Putin and its involvement in conflicts across Africa, Ukraine, and beyond. Earthsight has uncovered shipment records that offer the first concrete evidence of Wagner-linked timber being transported to two European Union nations, France and Denmark.

This revelation implicates a company listed on London’s AIM stock exchange, which paradoxically participated in a national delegation at the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow. The private army, Wagner, and its founder, a key Putin ally, face Western sanctions for their involvement in human rights abuses in war-torn countries, including the CAR and Ukraine. France’s parliament recently declared the private army a terrorist organization, with Britain reportedly poised to follow suit.

Despite these sanctions and growing international scrutiny, timber linked to the Wagner militia continued to flow into Europe via Cameroon. This alarming discovery raises urgent questions for officials tasked with enforcing Russia-related sanctions and timber import regulations.

Europe’s growing trade in questionable CAR timber also underscores the challenges faced by the EU’s incoming ban on deforestation-linked goods. The Central African Republic is home to vast rainforests within the Congo Basin, a critical region for carbon sequestration. Deforestation is a leading contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, making oversight of the timber trade even more critical in the fight against climate change.

The situation highlights the complexities of the timber trade, where profits often fuel conflict and environmental degradation in some of the world’s most fragile regions. The need for robust oversight, transparency, and adherence to international sanctions has never been more apparent, particularly as the EU prepares to tighten regulations on deforestation-linked products.

The Wagner Group’s involvement in the CAR’s timber trade exemplifies how international conflicts and environmental exploitation can be intrinsically linked. As the world watches the European Union’s response to this revelation, it underscores the importance of responsible and ethical trade practices in a globalized economy.

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