BANGUI, Central African Republic — Just a stone’s throw from President Faustin-Archange Touadera’s offices in the hills to the east of this city sits a new monument: four life-sized Russian soldiers cast in bronze, three toting AK-47s and one peering with binoculars into the distance, protecting a mother and a toddler who crouch behind them. Bouquets of fresh flowers rest at its base, a supposed tribute to the Wagner Group mercenaries whom Touadera contracted as insurgents closed in on the capital shortly before Christmas 2020.

Over coffee, Central Africans, including human rights activists, told me separately that their memories of the 2013 rebel sack of the city were still raw. It was for that reason that Central Africans had real gratitude both to the Rwandans, who deployed to prevent a repeat of the anti-Tutsi genocide, and "the Russians."

Today, few Central Africans have anything positive to say about the Russians. They accuse the Wagner Group of summary executions, rape, and other abuses. Human rights investigators and diplomats affirm the claims. Wagner also undermines stability and the country’s future in other ways. The European Union suspended its multimillion-dollar training mission for the Central African army after learning that Wagner was poaching its trained soldiers. The group’s confiscation of mines and its looting of Central Africa’s mineral resources further undercut stability, while its targeting of specific ethnic groups and Muslims exacerbates the country’s chances at reconciliation.

The Central African Republic is not alone.

In February 2022, Mali expelled the French ambassador and French forces helping secure the country and replaced them with the Wagner Group. As state authority teeters across the Sahel, business has never been better for the Kremlin-backed paramilitary. It is against this backdrop that, last month, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) introduced H.R. 7311, the "Countering Malign Activities in Africa Act." The concept is simple: Call upon the State Department to report on growing Russian influence on the continent and seek to identify and then sanction those governments or individuals that contract with Russian paramilitaries. The House of Representatives passed the bill overwhelmingly, and the Senate is set to do so as well.

Meeks is right to demand that the Secretary of State identify a strategy to counter Russian influence, but the most well-meaning State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programs will be insufficient.

African governments, many with limited capacity and blighted by dysfunctional corruption, contract the Wagner Group to secure them in the face of insurgency. Mozambique, for example, invited the Wagner Group into its northern Cabo Delgado province when groups affiliated with the Islamic State rampaged through the province in August 2020. The Wagner Group failed there, however, and withdrew. It is the Wagner Group’s biggest failure.

To develop an effective strategy, therefore, requires understanding of what worked in that southern African country. The Wagner Group profits from chaos and thus has an incentive to extend low-intensity conflicts into perpetuity. What turned Cabo Delgado around was Rwanda’s military deployment. The same is true in Bangui. While the Wagner Group acts lawlessly upcountry in the Central African Republic, Rwandan forces secure the airport, presidential compound, and other key infrastructure in and around the capital. Russian influence has declined, commerce grows, and religious and ethnic tensions subside.

Wagner thrives because evaporating French influence creates a vacuum. Moscow exploits that vacuum as Russian President Vladimir Putin plays a zero-sum game. Sanctioning those who turn to Wagner will fail if Washington provides no alternative.

To beat Putin at his game will require military force on a scale and for a duration Americans reject. U.N. peacekeeping missions are nonstarters, as they monitor rather than fight. Washington should instead support and subsidize those African countries like Rwanda willing to put lives on the line.

Meeks deserves praise, but acknowledging the problem is only half the battle. Congressional reports and soft power alone will not roll back Russian influence. It is time to replicate African solutions that work.

Michael Rubin (@mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential. He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.