'Blood gold,' diamonds behind Russian war effort

Gold-mining operations in Africa under the control of the paramilitary Wagner Group are funneling money to the Kremlin for the Russian war effort in Ukraine, according to a new report by watchdog organizations. "The Blood Gold Report," prepared by the Consumer Choice Center and Democracy 21, finds that Wagner has laundered some $2.5 billion in proceeds from its African operations since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, helping Moscow to ride out international sanctions.

In the Central African Republic, Wagner is said to have exclusive operational control over the country's largest gold mine at Ndassima in return for services in propping up the regime. In Sudan, Wagner dominates the unprocessed gold market through control of a major refinery. In Mali, Wagner's gains from gold mining are less direct; the ruling junta pays the mercenary company some $10 million per month, in large part from mineral leases. Canada’s Barrick Gold paid $206 million to the junta in the first half of 2023 alone. (NPR, Atlas News)

On Jan. 3, the European Union announced sanctions on Russia's state-owned diamond giant Alrosa and its CEO Pavel Alekseevich Marinychev. The EU said the company, which accounts for 90% of Russia's diamond production, "constitutes an important part of an economic sector that is providing substantial revenue to the government." Russian diamond exports totalled around $4 billion in 2022.

The notice states: "Alrosa is the largest diamond-mining company in the world. The diamond industry is strategically important for the economy of the Russian Federation, as it is the top non-energy export of the country... Alrosa also has a long-standing partnership with the Russian Armed Forces..."

The decision added Alrosa and its CEO to the list of sanctioned persons and entities that has been in place since March 2014, after the Russian invasion of Crimea. This constitutes the EU's twelfth sanction package against Russia since February 2022. The package includes a complete prohibition on the trade of diamonds from Russia, including both industrial and gemstone, natural and synthetic. (Kyiv Post, EUobserver, Jurist)