Wagner Group, stand on tensions between DRC and Rwanda : Exclusive interview with Russian Ambassador to Rwanda

By Théophile Niyitegeka
On 4 April 2023 at 11:19

The relations between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been strained for some time now. The DRC has accused Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebel group during their conflict with the Congolese Army towards the end of 2021. Rwanda has denied these allegations and instead blamed the DRC for failing to address its internal issues and using the conflict as an excuse to delay elections.

Additionally, Rwanda has accused the DRC of collaborating with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a terrorist group responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

This coalition has led to several provocations, including shelling of Rwandan territory and Congolese soldiers storming Rwanda with rapid fire.

The DRC has also violated Rwanda’s airspace with fighter jets. Despite regional efforts to resolve the conflict, the DRC has repeatedly resorted to war.

During an exclusive interview with IGIHE, the Russian Ambassador to Rwanda, Karen Chalyan has shared his views on the situation, including alleged presence of Wagner Group in DRC and his country’s involvement in various activities across Africa.


IGIHE: The resumption of fighting between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the M23 rebel group has left many civilians dead and others displaced. What do you think is the root cause of the clashes?

Amb.Karen Chalyan: As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia is deeply concerned by the situation in the east of the DRC.

Decades of instability in that area, which are a consequence of the colonial past, are exacerbated by the tragedy of many years of civil strife as well as the selfish and greedy behavior of transnational economic actors who for all practical purposes act as agents of neocolonial oppression.

The only remedy is the strengthening of the institutions of state in the DRC for the benefit of the population as a whole, irrespective of ethnicity or creed.

In your opinion, what would be a durable solution?

Force alone cannot ensure stability. There needs to be dialogue, as well as the introduction of effective confidence-building measures. We must all keep working to come up with political and non-violent solutions for eastern DRC.

Once found, these will allow for a comprehensive cessation of hostilities and create practical conditions for lasting stability. In the long run, everyone will benefit.

Constructive interaction at the regional level is key to resolving the existing security problems. We welcome the commitment of all states in the region to overcome tensions in the east and launch new settlement mechanisms.

We appreciate the mediation efforts of President Lourenco of Angola and former President Kenyatta of Kenya, as well as those of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. We are closely monitoring the Nairobi process, and welcome the establishment of the EAC Regional Force. These decisions need to be implemented with the support of the global community.

This combination of efforts and initiatives is meant to be mutually complementary and serve the goal of bringing peace and socio-economic development to all those who live in the Great Lakes Region. Russia is ready to do its part to achieve quality results.

It has been reported that the DRC sought support from the Wagner Group. Is it true they are present in DRC?

I wish I had Rwf1,000 for every time I have had to answer this question. Then, instead of doing international relations, I would be a very rich man spending his days in the world’s fanciest casinos.

Let me once again say that there are no Wagner personnel in the DRC. And, to preempt a possible further question, no agents of the Russian Government are involved in any advisory capacity in eastern DRC, much less doing any fighting.

Do you have an idea on possible origins of these individuals?

I have been told that there have been sightings in the east of foreigners in uniform, and someone somewhere may have heard Russian coming from the general direction of some of them. I have no idea who these personnel are, how many they are, and where they came from. I have heard that some of them may be from Ukraine and Georgia.

Let me remind you that the Russian language is lingua–franca for hundreds of millions of people. To try to present all speakers of Russian in this world as some kind of extended arm of Moscow would be a variation of hate speech similar to insisting that all Kinyarwanda speakers are agents of Kigali.

What is your perception of the image of Wagner Group?

I see that the Wagner mystique has even reached IGIHE. Personally, I find it amusing that the myth created by the Western media of an ever-present, omnipotent and all-powerful Wagner has permeated popular imagination to such an extent.

This is a classic case study of the folly of believing self-generated propaganda. In fact, Wagner is simply a volunteer formation, albeit with strictly enforced military and personal discipline.

We frequently hear about Russians being involved in various activities across Africa? Is there a specific reason behind this?

Russians have been “involved” in Africa for a very long time, in my own case since 1975. In the days of the Soviet Union, many thousands of us assisted the nations of this continent in their national-liberation struggle and in strengthening the new counties’ defence and economic capabilities, that is their independence and sovereignty. We continue to do the same today.

Accusing Russia of having dark and nefarious designs on Africa has always been a fashion in the West. These days it is a growing trend in quarters that have in the past several years experienced political setbacks in the Central African Republic, Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso, countries that all possess a common characteristic, the wonderful French language.

The best French of all, of course, is spoken by those who having failed in their grand ambitions in Africa and politely been requested to cease and desist in the further pursuit of same, have for some strange reason decided that Africans’ disappointment with their policies and practical actions is somehow the Russians’ fault.

So once you establish where anti-Russian criticism comes from, a great many things become clear. What distinguishes our actions from what many others do in Africa is that we never go where we are not invited.

Russian Ambassador to Rwanda, Karen Chalyan during an interview with IGIHE last year.