In early March, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine entered its third week, a Russian diplomat nearly 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) away in the Central African Republic paid an unusual visit to the head of this country’s top court. His message was blunt: The country’s pro-Kremlin president must remain in office, indefinitely.

To do this, the diplomat, Yevgeny Migunov, the second secretary at the Russian Embassy, argued that the court should abolish the constitutional restriction limiting a president to two terms. He insisted that President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, who is in his second term and surrounds himself with Russian mercenaries, should stay on, for the good of the country.

"I was absolutely astonished,” recalled Danièle Darlan, 70, then the court’s president, describing for the first time the meeting on March 7. "I warned them that our instability stemmed from presidents wanting to make their rule eternal.”