A Russian businessman with close ties to Vladimir Putin criticized former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir for failing to follow Russian advice on how to crack down on the country's pro-democracy uprising, it has emerged.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is believed to run the Wagner group, a military contractor involved in Russia's war in Syria, wrote to Mr Bashir to complain that he had ignored Russian advice to paint protesters as "pro-Israel," "pro-LGBT", and "anti-Islam" in a bid to discredit them.
Mr Prigozhin complained of a “lack of activity” by the Sudanese government and its “extremely cautious position”, the Guardian reported, citing a letter obtained by the Dossier Centre, an investigative unit funded by the exiled Russian oligarch and Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovksy.
The letter was among a tranche of documents obtained by the Dossier Centre that show plans to expand Russian influence in 13 countries across the continent, including by challenging former colonial powers such as Britain and France, the paper said.
The revelations are the clearest evidence yet of the scope of Russia's growing ambitions in Africa and Mr Progozhin's shadowy role in Kremlin strategy there.
The Daily Telegraph reported in March that companies linked to Mr Prigozhin, a restaurateur from St Petersburg who is sometimes referred to "Putin's chef", had developed business interests in several African countries including Libya, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar, over the past two years.
"They're doing training with the police, also police special forces and also the army. They are not doing military actions of their own," a former Wagner mercenary said of the CAR and Sudan contracts at the time.
In July last year three Russian journalists investigating Wagner's involvement in the CAR were murdered on a road outside Bangui, the capital city.
Mr Prigozhin, who was sanctioned by the United States after his online troll factory interfered in the 2016 election, has not commented on the reports.
But he is known to have taken a personal interest in Russia's African foreign policy. He attended a meeting between Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defence minister, and General Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army, in November last year.
Gen Haftar launched an assault on Tripoli, the seat of the UN-backed government of national accord, in April this year.
An investigation by the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta published earlier this year found that a private jet linked to Mr Prigozhin flew to Africa frequently in 2018.
Mr Prigozhin himself reportedly visited Sudan in April 2018.
Russian military involvement in Sudan first came to light in December 2017, when a pro-Kremlin journalist tweeted footage of what he said were Russian military instructors training Sudanese troops.
That was followed by a series of cooperation deals, including a broad military training and assistance program and a March 2018 agreement for Russia to build nuclear power stations.
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed in January this year that private Russian companies were involved in training the Sudanese military.
But Russia's role was drawn into sharper focus when a hike in bread prices and a currency crisis that emptied bank machines spark nationwide anti-government protests December.
Several protesters reported seeing Russian-speaking men in military trucks on the streets of Khartoum.
It was later reported that a consultancy linked to Mr Prigozhin had drawn up advice for Mr Bashir's government, which included planting rainbow flags among the demonstrators to suggest they were pro-LGBT.
The relationship between Moscow and Khartoum does not appear to have been affected by Mr Bashir's overthrow in a military coup.
Last month the Russian government published the text of a seven-year agreement setting out areas for defense cooperation, including information sharing, joint training and maritime search and rescue activities, and visits by warships.