If you are in the mood for a good yarn, you’ll find writer Dionne Searcey weaves a sizzler of a spicy tale of Russian intrigue and skullduggery in her New York Times story “Gems, Warlords and Mercenaries: Russia’s Playbook in Central African Republic.” The sexy-sleazy thriller to come from Hollywood will begin something like this, if I may take a poke at Searcey’s opening:
“The dealer pulled back a shiny pink curtain and sprinkled the contents of two white envelopes across his desk: sparkling diamonds, more than 100 of them reflected in the cold blue eyes of the world’s most powerful man, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.”
Okay, Russia’s president was not there, in person, taking the diamonds, but according to the New York Times author, Russian spies, mercenaries, and social media gurus are down in Africa trying to wrest control of the Central African Republic. Yes, the world’s most famous newspaper has found another way to insist Putin and Russia kept Hillary Clinton out of the White House. I won’t gift Searcey with repeating how Putin took over Facebook with Yevgeny V. Prigozhin wrenching hands and Tweeting instructions to armies of Russian internet trolls.
Before I continue though, doesn’t Russia have more diamonds than anybody on Earth? Yes, the Aikhal mine located in Sakha (Yakutia) is estimated to contain more than 175.56 million carats of the shiny stones. Oh, and there’s the third biggest reserve on Earth, the Udachny diamond mine, also in Yakutia. Sorry, the 4th biggest is in Russia too, the Nyurba mine. And the Mir and Lomonosov round out the top 10. I guess Vladimir decided his Facebook adviser and cyber genius needed some R&R in deepest and darkest Africa. Back on track…
The “non-story” pecked out on Dionne Searcey’s keyboard does have the truth of this African excursion by all of Putin’s men. And I quote:
“The Central African government has welcomed the Russians, betting that stability will enable it to sell more diamonds legally and use the money to rebuild the nation.”
Of course, the purpose of Ms. Searcey’s story is to paint Russia in the same gooey thick fog a Sherlock Holmes mystery does Moriarity. Western officials – yes, yes, yes, wait for it – say:
“Russian operatives have even partnered with murderous rebels to obtain diamonds in areas where the trade is outlawed, cashing in on the very lawlessness they have been brought in to end.”
All that’s missing from the story is Tom Cruise and the Impossible Missions Force wearing Putin disguises, stealing retinal scans, and heisting all the diamonds to pay for truth, justice, and the American way. Okay, Rambo Last Blood II can be about this too. Somebody must stop Vladimir Putin’s Spectre-like web intent on global domination.
That’s the way the New York Times frames most Africa these days. The land of opportunity for the Anglo-European imperialists has been hijacked by Moscow and Beijing.
Somewhere I saw something, where was it? Oh, yes. The Digital National Security Archive (DNSA) has this report – CIA Covert Operations III: From Kennedy to Nixon, 1961-1974. It was in the work of Pulitzer-nominated author John Prados I ran across where the CIA sought approval for money to bribe African dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic back in the day. But we all know the United States has been the superhero of clandestine operations since before the Second World War.
Also, USAID is in the Central African Republic right alongside Russia, building roads and handing out jelly beans. America is providing “advanced monitoring techniques,” helping reform natural resource policies, AND sharing the benefits of forest resources! In other words, pretty much everything the New York Times is accusing Russia of.
Take the fact the Pentagon admits there are about 100 American Special Operations troops are helping to coordinate the hunt for Joseph Kony, the Ugandan leader of a brutal guerrilla group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army. This is the same “brutal” group Dionne Searcey says Russian mercs are playing footsies with. But the United States is unequaled at playing ball with whoever suits the needs of Washington. Take a look at the mission of the new Commander of US Africa Command (USAFRICOM), General Stephen J. Townsend.
When questioned by the Senate Armed Services Committee at his command confirmation hearings, the Army general laid out how the United States’ strategy against Russia should be carried out. When asked if he viewed Russia’s activities on the continent of Africa as a threat or challenge to US national security interests? This was his reply, please pay close attention:
“Yes. Russia’s current activities challenge U.S. national security interests in the USAFRICOM AOR. Russian military and security advisers currently do not pose a direct military threat to U.S. personnel, though Russia’s military and security presence across Africa poses a foreign intelligence threat. Russia’s pursuit of a persistent military presence and use of mercenaries in Libya, Central African Republic, and Sudan have the potential to destabilize already vulnerable security environments and threaten U.S. and western progress in these regions. Over time, Russian investments could complicate U.S. military and economic access.”
This was in February of this year. Please note I bolded the part about Russian investment in the country standing in the way of US economic and military access.
The New York Times story does not say whether or not Dionne Searcey was actually in the Central African Republic, or if she was doing Skype calls with illicit diamond dealers, warlords, and ruthless Russian mercenaries. Ashley Gilbertson for took pictures of the African diamond merchant for The New York Times story, the image credits show this. However, it’s a bit funny to me that the General in command of all America’s forces in Africa, and this New York Times reporter, seem to be on the same page? It’s also interesting that another journalist on a similar story, CNN’s Clarissa Ward, was accused of offering $100 dollars to anyone who would say bad things about Russia.
An AP story before The New York Times piece broke, takes the CNN reporter’s side in her claims Russian mercenaries tried were intimidating her and that only CNN’s notoriety saved her from an uncertain fate. CNN ran the story – of the story – of the story Ward was creating about Putin’s private army in Africa. And the correspondent looked for the world like the reincarnated Mata Hari. Who can forget how CNN hired al-Qaeda “media man” Bilal Abdul Kareem to gain access to extremist rebel “heroes on the ground” in Syria for Ward’s undercover piece back which won a Peabody Award. Anyway, Ward’s story was probably a major source for the Dionne Searcey at the NYTs, but this matters less than the truth of detente these days. The Cold War is back.
I told you this would be a good yarn.
However the story disseminated, Searcey does a stellar job of smearing blood and muck all over Russian aid to the country. And of course, it leaves out the United States’ role. As for whether or not these writers are working for the CIA or not, that’s “need-to-know,” I am sure. Clarissa War seems too mean and nasty even for the CIA. I am recalling how she tried to defame the brave correspondent Max Blumenthal when he dropped the dime on the Washington narrative from Aleppo. And how Ward is accusing other people of defaming her?
Look. Russia is in Africa like every other major power on this planet. Everybody should know the Great Game is afoot still. It’s not genius stuff, you know? What pushed me to jump on this story was how alleged news is now indistinguishable from propaganda. Except that most propagandists cannot color their stories with 007 James bond tuxedoes, Land Rover chases in open pit diamond mines and red lipstick on a cocktail napkin with 100 shiny cut diamonds on it.
If only Radio Free Europe – Radio Liberty had my skill. Yeah, that one was before the others.
Phil Butler, is a policy investigator and analyst, a political scientist and expert on Eastern Europe, he’s an author of the recent bestseller “Putin’s Praetorians” and other books. He writes exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”