Russia has delivered ten BRDM-2 armoured vehicles to the Central African Republic (CAR), with another ten expected to be delivered soon.
The first batch arrived in Bangui on 15 October aboard a Russian Air Force An-124-100 airlifter. They were received by the CAR’s defence minister, minister of internal affairs, military representatives and the Russian ambassador. Ahead of the delivery, President Faustin Archange Touadera went on “a private visit” on 6 October to Moscow where he held talks with officials including Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Russian Ambassador to the CAR, Vladimir Titorenko, told RIA Novosti that another ten would be arriving on 21 October.
“The ambassador and the minister of defence exchanged speeches in which they reaffirmed the desire for further strategic partnership in all areas, including the further development of military cooperation. Russia’s strategic goal in the CAR is to establish full central government control over the entire territory of the country and strengthen the armed forces,” Titorenko told RIA Novosti.
CAR military personnel are currently being trained to operate the new vehicles.
The UN mission in the CAR (MINUSCA) welcomed the arrival of the vehicles, saying it would bolster the response capacity of the CAR’s armed forces and would help strengthen security during December’s election period.
Russia has been deepening its military cooperation with the Central African Republic for a number of years, donating small arms to the country’s military and holding diplomatic talks as it seeks to strengthen its influence on the continent.
The Central African Republic has been struggling with serious turmoil, civil war and brutal regime shifts in the past decade. Following conflict between government forces and the Seleka rebel coalition in 2012-2013, an arms embargo was implemented by the UN in December 2013.
Elections held in March 2016 established a new constitution and brought President Touadera to power. He made reconciliation, disarmament and demobilization of non-governmental armed forces his priorities. But these groups remain active, causing much violence across the country and making the redeployment of governmental authority a very difficult task.
Unrest in the CAR has given Russia the opportunity to extend its influence in Central Africa. In October 2017, Lavrov and Touadera met in met in Sochi, Russia. An official press release following the meeting stated that the two officials had reaffirmed their countries’ resolve to build up partnerships in the political, trade and economic areas, including mineral resource exploitation, the energy area and the delivery of Russian industrial equipment.
In December 2017 Russia obtained a derogation from the arms embargo, with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) agreeing to its request to donate light weaponry, including 900 pistols, 5 200 assault rifles and 270 rocket-launchers, to around 1 300 regular troops that have been trained by the EU military training mission in the Central African Republic (EUTM RCA).
This delivery appears to have been the first step of an enhanced Russian military presence in the country, which is traditionally a French armed forces’ area of influence. Indeed, hundreds of Russian private military contractors are believed to have entered the country.
During an October 2019 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Touadera said Russia had provided enormous military assistance to the Central African Republic, contributing to training soldiers, gendarmerie and police and modernising the army.
“We hope that Russia will continue to train our personnel, train officers for our army, including at Russian military academies. We also expect our Russian partners to supply us with lethal weapons with a calibre of over 14.5 mm, as well as armoured personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles, mortars and other artillery weapons, which will help us strengthen our defence and security forces. We asked the Russian Defence Ministry to train four helicopter pilots and helicopter maintenance specialists,” Touadera said during the meeting with Putin.