Congolese student fights with pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine | Russia

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FThe struggle alongside pro-Russian separatists in Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine was not mentioned in Luhansk University brochures when Jean Claude Sangwa, a 27-year-old student from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, settled in the separatist region last time. year to study economics.

But when the leader of the self-proclaimed Kremlin-controlled People’s Republic of Luhansk announced a full military mobilization of the region on February 19, Sangwa, along with two friends and comrades from the DRC and Central African Republic, decided to join the militia. local. and take up arms against Ukraine.

“I joined because war came to our republic. What should I have done? I am a man and I have to fight,” Sangwa said in broken Russian. “The whole world is fighting against Russia,” he added when asked why he decided to join the militia.

Sangwa moved to Russia two years ago to study in Rostov, a city near the Ukrainian border, then moved to Luhansk, which was captured by Russian military-backed separatists in 2014.

There is a long tradition of Africans studying in Russia, ever since the Soviet Union began offering scholarships to African students in newly independent socialist and communist states in the postcolonial period.

Between the late 1950s and 1990s, approximately 400,000 Africans studied in the Soviet Union. While the numbers drastically decreased after the fall of communism, Vladimir Putin recently said that more than 17,000 Africans are currently enrolled in Russian universities.

Shortly after joining the Lugansk Militia, Sangwa was sent into combat and spent two months fighting. Meanwhile, many of his African friends assumed he was dead and posted farewell messages on his social media accounts.

Three days into the war, on February 27, Sangwa’s photo was uploaded by Find Your Own, a Telegram channel created by Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs to identify captured and killed soldiers. The message said Sangwa was killed by Ukrainian forces alongside another African soldier.

“The Ukrainian enemy found my military ID and said I was dead. I am alive as you can see,” Sangwa said. He is currently back patrolling the streets of Luhansk as a member of the militia.

Pro-Russian forces walk past a destroyed residential building in Popasna, Luhansk, in May. Photograph: Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters

There is no evidence that apart from Sangwa and his two friends, other African soldiers were sent to Ukraine. But while Sangwa’s story is unusual, his pro-Moscow sentiments and views on who is responsible for the war are common in large parts of Africa.

“Granted, the West likes to think that sanctions have isolated Russia in the world,” said Paul Stronski, senior fellow and Russia specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “And they have done so with regard to the transatlantic community and wealthy Asian nations. But in the eyes of the rest of the world, and particularly the African continent, Russia is not so isolated.

For many years, Stronski said, Moscow has cultivated ties with African leaders, and in 2019 Putin hosted the first Russia-Africa summit, attended by leaders from 43 African countries.

“Many on the African continent now believe that the conflict is driven by NATO expansion, by reckless Western policies,” Stronski said.

According to Stronski, part of Africa’s support for Russia can be explained by anti-Western sentiments stemming from the legacy of European colonialism. Russia has been accused of amplifying these grievances through disinformation campaigns on the continent.

“In Africa, the West has also been accused of double standards, caring more about Ukraine and its refugees than about other tragedies unfolding in Africa and around the world,” Stronski added.

Some of Putin’s most enthusiastic supporters since the start of the war have been pan-Africanists – proponents of the doctrine of African unity and anti-imperialism.

Putin “just wants his country back,” said Kémi Séba, a prominent Franco-Beninese pan-Africanist, in early March. “He doesn’t have the blood of slavery and colonization on his hands. He’s not my messiah, but I prefer him to all western presidents.

Similarly, a Nigerian community leader in Moscow told the Guardian that most Nigerians are pro-Russia. “The question is complicated, but the West pushed Russia to do it,” he said.

A pro-Russian rally in Bangui, Central <a class=African Republic, in March” src=”https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/90647a5ac347d7957184fb274e8185db43d3cd65/0_0_6000_3600/master/6000.jpg?width=445&quality=45&auto=format&fit=max&dpr=2&s=42d70c9846b920d15d543f36e07205d2″ height=”3600″ width=”6000″ loading=”lazy” class=”dcr-1989ovb”/>
A pro-Russian rally in Bangui, Central African Republic, in March. Photograph: Carol Valade/AFP/Getty Images

Beyond questions of morality, Russia has gained a foothold in Africa by developing defensive alliances, supplying arms to authoritarian rulers without conditions, and presenting itself as an ally against armed insurgents.

Several African leaders, including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, have openly said they believe Western efforts to expand NATO contributed to the war.

Even though African countries are likely to be disproportionately affected by the looming global food crisis due to their heavy reliance on Russian and Ukrainian wheat, some African leaders have blamed the food shortages and rising prices on the west, reproducing the stories of Russia.

During a meeting with Putin in Sochi on Friday, Senegalese President Macky Sall, the current chair of the African Union, blamed EU sanctions on Russian banks and products for aggravating the problem, and refrained from criticizing Russia’s actions, including its blockade of Ukrainian ports.

Despite its political influence in parts of Africa, Moscow has yet to indicate its intention to recruit soldiers from the continent or other places to bolster its forces, although reports have emerged that Russia is facing a shortage of infantry.

Kremlin officials were quick to play down reports that several hundred men from Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, had gathered outside the Russian embassy in April hoping to fight in Ukraine.

Nonetheless, pro-Kremlin voices welcomed Sangwa’s presence in Luhansk as a sign of Russia’s growing military ties with Africa.

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On May 31, Telegram channel WarGonzo, run by popular Russian propagandist Semen Pegov, posted a video of Sangwa in full military gear patrolling Luhansk.

“It’s not just our guys from Wagner in Congo,” Pegov said, referring to the notorious Kremlin-linked private military group that has backed authoritarian leaders in Mali, the Central African Republic and the country of origin. Sangwa, DRC. “Now our guys from Congo are also in Luhansk.”

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