A Russian Air Force An-124 transport aircraft has delivered an Mi-17 helicopter and other equipment to Mozambique as reports continue to indicate Russian military activity in the southern African country.
The Russian Air Force An-124 (registration RA-82038) landed at Nacala on 25 September and photos posted on social media show it unloading an Mi-17 helicopter in military camouflage. According to Flightradar24 data, the aircraft left Eastern Europe on 24 September and headed back on 26 September.
Russian military advisors have apparently been deployed to Mozambique since the end of August, with local media reporting that at least 160 Russian military personnel have been in Cabo Delgado since then to help neutralise attacks in the region.
However, last week the Russian embassy in Mozambique said the reports that Russian troops were operating in Cabo Delgado were false. Mozambique’s Deputy Minister of Defence, Patricio Jose, only told Lusa that Mozambique holds ‘consultations’ with several defence partners.
Russia and Mozambique enjoy close ties. For instance, in April Russia provided disaster relief to Mozambique in the wake of Cyclone Idai, and in August Mozambique announced that Russia had agreed to forgive 95% of its debt and would invest in Mozambique, including in an energy deal through Russian oil producer Rosneft. The company already has oil blocks at the Angoche and Zambezi deltas.
According to the Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor, in terms of military partnership, Russia and Mozambique signed a resolution allowing Russian military vessels to dock at Mozambican ports in late August and by mid-September reports began to emerge of Russian military equipment being present, including at Nacala Port, Nampula Province and in Mueda and Palma, Cabo Delgado Province—Palma is one of the areas most affected by the Ansar al-Sunna insurgency and is the base of Cabo Delgado’s offshore liquid natural gas operations.
“While reports of Russian military personnel cannot be independently verified, the security agreements do pave the way for the Russian military to train and advise Mozambican forces, and Russia has made similar moves into countless other African nations,” the Jamestown Foundation said on 20 September.
Whilst Russian soldiers may indeed be deployed to Russia, experts have not ruled out that personnel and equipment may be from a private military contractor. In November 2018 the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) reported that Mozambique’s government was handing over security responsibilities in Cabo Delgado to a private security company. “One security source said the L6G security company, owned by Erik Prince, founder of the notorious Blackwater US private security company, is promising to flatten al-Shabaab in three months. This is in exchange for a hefty slice of oil and gas revenues when those large reserves come on stream sometime after 2023. The equally controversial Russian private security company Wagner is bidding against L6G for the contract, the source said.”
In August this year, two unmarked Gazelle helicopters painted in military camouflage were spotted in Pemba, capital of the Cabo Delgado province. It is believed they were supplied from South Africa on a three-month trial by Durban-based Umbra Aviation.
Since 2017 there have been dozens of attacks in Mozambique, mainly focussed on the Cabo Delgado region, with hundreds killed. According to the Institute for Security Studies, the upsurge in brutal violence in northern Mozambique, including the beheadings of women and children, has sounded alarms that a violent jihadist movement like Boko Haram or al-Shabaab could be evolving. Those allegedly responsible for the attacks apparently call themselves Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama (often abbreviated to al-Sunnah).