Russia’s government denied it has any troops in Mozambique after reports that a Russian soldier was killed in the gas-rich southeast African country.
“There are no Russian soldiers in Mozambique,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday in Moscow.
A Russian died Oct. 6 in Mocimboa da Praia, a coastal town in the northernmost Cabo Delgado province, according to Jasmine Opperman, an expert on terrorism in Africa who has been monitoring an Islamic State-linked insurgency in Mozambique. She didn’t say where she got the information, which she posted on her Twitter account on Monday.
Mocimboa da Praia was where the attacks first started in October 2017. The insurgency in Cabo Delgado has led to hundreds of deaths over the past two years. Islamic State has claimed involvement in about a dozen clashes since June.
Mozambique’s defense ministry said Wednesday that security forces destroyed an insurgent base in the Mbau region and killed a large number of fighters earlier this week.
The government is under pressure to contain the escalating violence that could threaten about $50 billion worth of liquefied natural gas projects by energy majors Exxon Mobil and Total. Mozambique will hold general elections on Oct. 15.
Portuguese news agency Lusa reported on Oct. 4 that Mozambique received military equipment from Russia to help battle the insurgents. The support will assist Mozambique in defending its population, the agency cited Foreign Minister Jose Pacheco as saying.
The nation’s armed forces killed 9 insurgents on Oct. 5 in an area about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Mocimboa da Praia, the Defense Ministry said in a statement Monday.
In August, Mozambique and Russia signed agreements for the mutual protection of classified information, as well as cooperation between the two countries’ interior ministries.
State-owned Rosneft Oil Co., already a shareholder in oil and gas exploration blocks Exxon owns off Mozambique’s central coast, also signed a deal with its Mozambican counterpart. The agreement gave Rosneft “the right to study available geological data on a number of onshore and offshore blocks in Mozambique” and the opportunity to exploit them in the future.
“Russia’s interest is to create stability so that economic benefits can be derived from the oil and gas industry,” Opperman told reporters in Johannesburg on Oct. 4. “What we’re seeing is a typical Russian strategy of influence – getting your soft power into place and then sending in your hard power, and in that I include Wagner.” Wagner is a Russian military contractor that deploys mercenaries in several countries, including the Central African Republic.
Russia has a long history of supporting Mozambique’s ruling party, including the war for independence from Portugal in 1975 and the 16-year civil war that followed.