On 25 March, a military cooperation agreement between Russia and Madagascar came into force, following a visit in Russia of the Malagasy Minister of Defence, General Richard Rakotonirina, on 18 January.
While neither the visit nor the agreement was made public at first, it was communicated to the public by Russia in March. This agreement, designed to last for five years at least and comprising an automatic renewal clause, mentions arms supplies, collaboration in the development of military products, the training of military personnel and the maintenance of equipment. These elements are a realization of the orientations outlined in a first agreement on military cooperation, signed between the deputy chief of staff of the Russian armed forces and the Minister of Defence of Madagascar General Béni Xavier Rasolofonirina on 28 September 2018. This first protocol was quite general in scope, mentioning security cooperation in the field of law enforcement, the fight against terrorism and maritime piracy, and the supply of military equipment, without any further precision being given.
This treaty triggered tense debates on the island, the government claiming to stay “neutral” in the face of the global reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, abstaining from voting on the 2 March and 25 March UN Resolutions condemning Moscow. As stated by Prime Minister Christian Ntsay: “We Malagasy have chosen to work with all countries, be it from the West, or be it from Russia.” A position for which the Russian Ambassador in Madagascar warmly thanked the government during a visit to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 28 March.
Madagascar officials refused to confirm the information at first, but the Minister of Foreign Affairs Richard Randriamandranto ultimately acknowledged the agreement in an interview on 5 April. Deploring the public release of information about the agreement, “meant to stay classified” for reasons of national security, he however minimized its importance, saying military cooperation with Russia was “just one of the many defence ties with international partners”. His response was more confused when asked about rumours of activity from the Wagner group in Madagascar: “The Wagner group does not exist officially. To my knowledge, there is no activity from this group in Madagascar, be it officially or unofficially.”
The Madagascar-Russia relationship goes back several decades; in fact, the countries are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic ties this year. Several official visits marked recent years, notably with the invitation of the President of Madagascar Andry Rajoelina to the Russia-Africa summit of October 2019 in Sochi. Since 2020, four bilateral agreements were in preparation, notably in the fields of health and drinkable water, in addition to military cooperation. Defence ties had actually been on hold since the fall of the socialist Democratic Republic of Madagascar in 1992. The reactivation of these links, however, is not surprising in light of the many Soviet equipment of the Madagascar armed forces, be it in the land forces (BRDM-2 amphibious armoured scout car, PT-76 amphibious light tank, D-30 122 mm howitzer) or air forces (MiG-21 fighter jets, Antonov An-26 transport aircraft). On top of that, media reports now indicate that from 9 April, international flights will resume between Russia and 52 countries including Madagascar. Antananarivo may well refuse to acknowledge the existence of a peculiar relationship with Moscow, the fact remains that this level of proximity has not been seen since the end of the Warsaw Pact.
Written by ADIT – The Bulletin and republished with permission.