In Chad, the arrival of a Russian influencer on election day fuels speculation

Monday May 6, when Chadians were called to the polls to elect their president, N’Djamena received a visit from a sinister character. Under sanctions from the United States and the European Union, Maksim Shugaley is known as the director of the Foundation for the Protection of National Values, a Russian think tank formerly linked to the Wagner Group and its late leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Despite the death of the latter in August 2023 and the resumption of its activities by the Kremlin, Russian influence operations continue to run at full speed on the African continent where Chad appears to be a priority target of Russian expansionism .

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Mr. Shugaley presents himself as a sociologist, specialist in political influence campaigns in Africa. In 2021, the results of one of his studies were posted in 4x3s in the streets of Bangui, the Central African capital. We could read that more than 90% of Central Africans would support the Russian presence in their country as well as the action of President Faustin Archange Touadéra. A few months later, he reappeared in the city’s largest stadium to promote the film Tourista feature film glorifying Russian paramilitaries, produced by a company linked to Wagner.

Seen subsequently in Mali, just before the arrival of Russian paramilitaries, and in Sudan, here is Maksim Shugaley in Chad again, for the second time, he says, cap with the image of the presidential candidate Mahamat Idriss Déby screwed on the head and a shirt flocked with Russian and Chadian flags in his hands.

“I conducted a study of public opinion”

Mr. Shugaley poses all smiles for the photo which he will publish a few hours later on his Telegram channel accompanied by a message: “Voting in the Chadian presidential election is over. The winner is obvious. I had the honor of observing the work of Mahamat Déby’s campaign management. »

The photo, spotted by French researcher specializing in Russia Colin Gérard, was taken in the premises of the New Generation support office, an organization which campaigns in favor of candidate Mahamat Idriss Déby by mobilizing hundreds of supporters during its meetings. Its honorary president did not respond to multiple calls from World.

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“Our visit to Chad lasted five days, explains Maksim Shugaley to World. The authorities of the country were kind enough to give me the opportunity to satisfy my scientific interest. I was able to meet representatives of the government and those of the opposition, as well as the citizens of the country. I conducted a study of public opinion, the results of which I will present a little later. » The government did not wish to react; Prime Minister and candidate Succès Masra, for his part, claims to have never met Mr. Shugaley.

A few days earlier, on another Russian Telegram channel dedicated to Africa, blogger Viktor Lukovenko, also linked to Wagner’s influential organs, announced the arrival of Russian political scientists and sociologists in Chad. At the same time, the Chadian capital was buzzing with rumors of the arrival of Russian soldiers, without being confirmed so far.

Maksim Shugaley attacks the West

In the much-discussed photo, another man appears, identified by Colin Gérard as Samir Seïfan, also a member of the Foundation for the Protection of National Values, with whom Mr. Chougalei was imprisoned in Libya after being accused of attempted murder. electoral interference in 2019, following a meeting with Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, one of Muammar Gaddafi’s sons. In Russia, two feature films were devoted to this episode before Yevgeny Prigozhin himself intervened for their release.

In the rest of his message, Mr. Shugaley attacks the Western powers: “The United States tried to interfere in the election [tchadienne], but they failed. According to some reports, the United States plans to work to destabilize the situation in the country after the election. They don’t like the French in Chad. They believe that the French authorities plundered the country for many years and prevented it from developing. Chad definitely needs new international partners. »

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A call to get closer to Russia, which is already intervening through its paramilitaries in four countries bordering Chad: the Central African Republic, Libya, Sudan and Niger. Enough to give a cold sweat to Western chancelleries, of which N’Djamena is the last ally in the Sahel.

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The Chadian authorities know how to take advantage of this position and do not hesitate to raise the specter of Russia to obtain concessions from the West, while diversifying their security partnerships (United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Hungary, etc.).

Chad is a source of interest for Moscow

Regarding Mr. Shugaley’s visit, as with the transition president’s visit to Moscow in January, a source close to the government spoke on condition of anonymity of “insignificant event. Why do we never comment on the arrival of a Turk or a Chinese?, she pretends to wonder. Westerners are obsessed with Russia to the point of forgetting that we have an army powerful enough to not need to resort to paramilitaries..

In N’Djamena, the results of the first round of the presidential election are awaited in a climate of suspicion mixed with excitement. Supporters of each side claim victory on social media and suspect the other of being supported by foreign powers. Could this context be taken advantage of by influence operators?

Due to its position and its ambiguous relationship with the former colonial power, Chad is a source of interest for Moscow. “The potential of relations between Russia and Chad is much higher than the level at which they are today,” responds Sibyllin Maksim Shugaley when asked about the future of this cooperation, before adding that he plans to “return to Chad very soon for the inauguration of the new president”.

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