A Russian official who has been part of his country’s push to gain a foothold in the Central African Republic was wounded by a package bomb in the country’s capital, Bangui, on Friday, according to the Russian foreign ministry and state media.
The official, Dimitri Sytyi, was identified as the head of the local branch of the Russian House, the cultural arm of the Russian foreign ministry.
But earlier news reports have described Mr. Sytyi as an important figure in the local branch of the Wagner Group, Russia’s largest private military contractor and a major fighting force in the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.
The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that the attack on Mr. Sytyi was an attempt to derail bilateral relations, and called it a “terrorist act.”
The Wagner Group has in recent years been expanding its presence in several African countries, and has gained a particularly strong influence in the poor but mineral-rich Central African Republic. Wagner military operatives there have helped prop up the shaky government and established themselves in major mining towns, and have been accusedby United Nations experts of committing human rights abuses.
A Western official who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Mr. Sytyi took charge of all the nonmilitary activities of the Wagner Group in the African country last year, including misinformation operations and economic and mining activities.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch who heads the Wagner Group,accused France of being behind the bombing.
In a message posted on VK, a Russian social platform, Mr. Prigozhin asserted that the parcel opened on Friday was the second that Mr. Sytyi had received in six weeks. The first one contained a threat to Mr. Sytyi’s son, who lives in France, Mr. Prigozhin said.
Evgeny Primakov Jr., who heads the government agency overseeing the Russian Houses, wrote on Telegram that Mr. Sytyi is in critical condition in a hospital.
France deployed troops to the C.A.R. in 2013 after civil war broke out. But last year, Paris decided to pull out its forces. The last contingent of 47 troops left the country on Thursday, the French government said.
Wagner operatives have also been present in Libya, Mali, Mozambique and Sudan, among other African countries.
This week, at the U.S.-Africa summit in Washington, Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, accused the new military leaders of Burkina Faso, who seized power in a coup in October, of having signed a deal with the Wagner group.