Russia is deepening its military cooperation with the Central African Republic, donating small arms to the country’s military and holding diplomatic talks with its leader as it seeks to strengthen its influence on the continent.
The Central African Republic (CAR) 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 Faustin Archange Touadéra 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, Russian Foreign Minister Sergueï Lavrov and Faustin Archange Touadéra 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.
Over the last few months, Russia did become increasingly active in the country. In December 2017 it obtained a derogation from the arms embargo, with the Security Council (UNSC) agreeing to its request to deliver 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).
According to a diplomatic source from French network RFI Afrique, these arms were a donation. The delivery was widely regarded as a “responsible” move by UNSC members, as the weapons would help CAR’s legitimate institutions reclaim authority over the territory – that is if they do not fall straight into the hands of trafficking networks. 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 Europe 1 reported that 175 Russian troops had entered the country, sometimes unofficially, under the coverage of private companies’ personal .
This new military cooperation with the CAR is part of a broad Russian strategy to rebuild ties with Africa by building on the USSR’s former bastions, according to Arnaud Dubien, researcher at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affaires (IRIS). This generally involves some degree of weapons trade: according to SIPRI, Africa is Russia’s second largest market for weapons sales with 16% of Russian armament exportations (after Asia and Oceania with 68%).
Written by ADIT – The Bulletin and republished with permission.