The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations called on Russia to stop violence by “mercenaries working as an arm of Russia’s Ministry of Defense” in the gold- and diamond-rich country Central African Republic (CAR) and hold accountable those responsible. The Kremlin described the accusations in the U.N. report as a “lie.”
Franco-Russo Competition In The Central African Republic Doesn’t Have To Be Zero-Sum
23 JUNE 2021
France seems to regard its competition with Russia in the Central African Republic as a zero-sum game, but it doesn’t have to be like that since both Great Powers can contribute in their own way to that country’s development.
The French Foreign Minister dramatically claimed last week that “In the Central African Republic, there is a form of a seizure of power, and in particular of military power, by Russian mercenaries.” This came shortly after Paris suspended military and budgetary support to Bangui in response to accusations that the Central African Republic’s (CAR) government was complicit in an information warfare campaign against France that allegedly also involves Russia. That decision was preceded by French President Macron provocatively describing his CAR counterpart as a so-called “hostage” of Russian private military contractors (PMCs). These developments strongly suggest that France views its competition with Russia there as a zero-sum game, but it doesn’t have to be like that since both Great Powers can contribute in their own way to that country’s development.
For those readers who haven’t closely followed events in the CAR over the past few years, Russia has recently emerged as a major force there after providing military assistance to Bangui in full compliance with relevant UNSC Resolutions on the matter. I hyperlinked to 18 of my prior pieces over the years about this dimension of Moscow’s geostrategic “balancing” act in my article two months ago asking “Is Khodorkovsky Behind The Claims Of Russian Death Squads In The Central African Republic?” The one from June 2019 about how “Russia’s ‘Pivot To Africa’ Encroaches On France’s Traditional ‘Sphere Of Influence’” is the most topical to this particular analysis. It described how Russia’s “military diplomacy” through arms sales and PMC deployments in the name of “Democratic Security” (counter-Hybrid War tactics and strategies) is increasing its appeal throughout Africa.
This model was first practiced in the CAR where it’s currently being perfected. France practically abandoned its resource-rich but chronically impoverished former colony due to its seemingly intractable civil war, which created the opportunity for Russia to come to its assistance a couple of years ago and surprisingly make progress on stabilizing parts of the country. France fears the growing attractiveness of Russia’s “Democratic Security” model in its African “sphere of influence” since Moscow has proven that it’s more than capable of replacing some of the security assistance that Paris used to provide to its partners. The crucial difference between the two, however, is that Russia doesn’t make political demands of those countries. Nevertheless, there do seem to be some quid pro quos involved such as obtaining preferential access to certain resources.
Even so, Russia’s “Democratic Security” model is very flexible and tailored to meet the needs of its many partners across the continent. Moscow also has an interest in comprehensively strengthening ties with those countries too beyond the military and resource spheres in order to cultivate reliable allies. This is evidenced by its investments in the CAR’s social sphere and the emphasis on improving people-to-people ties. Russia knows that it can’t rely on inter-elite relationships indefinitely if it seriously aspires to become a meaningful geopolitical “balancing” force in Africa, hence its focus on improving the lives of its partners’ people for soft power’s sake. France has mostly neglected to do this since it took its partners for granted by doing for decades exactly what it dishonestly accuses Russia of nowadays, which is simply relying on elite patronage networks.
This explains why France is so furious with Russia’s strategic inroads in the CAR. The Eurasian Great Power is handling its African outreaches a lot better than the Western European one which has a centuries-long “sphere of influence” there stretching back to the colonial era. France will have to step its game up if it doesn’t want to lose more hearts and minds to Russia’s much more pragmatic approach across this strategic space. Alas, instead of learning these long-overdue lessons, France decided to punish the CAR by suspending military and budgetary assistance, which is speculated to have prompted a change in government there after the Prime Minister was replaced with someone who media reports claim is more acceptable to Paris. This observation can be seen as a pragmatic move on Bangui’s part since it doesn’t consider Franco-Russo competition to be a zero-sum game.
Ideally, France and Russia would contribute in their own way to developing and stabilizing their shared partner. For instance, France is still an impressive economic force to be reckoned with there, while Russia is the country’s newest and most reliable security provider. The legacy of French influence won’t be erased anytime soon so it’s fitting for the two countries to repair their relations, though not at the expense of Russian-CAR relations like some in Paris might hope. Russia doesn’t impose any ultimatums on its partners nor does it ever pressure them to reduce their ties with others so France should hopefully learn from this pragmatic policy if it truly aspires to retain and even expand its influence there. Punishing the CAR is counterproductive and confirms that Paris is behaving in a very condescending manner which implies a hierarchy between the two.
France will inevitably have to incorporate Russia into its newfound “Lead From Behind” stratagem across its “sphere of influence” that I wrote about last week when describing the evolution of its Operation Barkhane in the Sahel. The Western European Great Power’s prior model of hegemonic dominance over its partners is coming to an end as the world transitions to multipolarity. The ongoing New Cold War between the US and China is compelling the Global South countries in which they compete to actively search for third-party “balancing” forces like Russia. Their traditional partners, in this case France, don’t sufficiently meet their increasingly independent strategic needs. France still has a chance to retain its “sphere of influence”, but it must lean to “share” it with others like Russia otherwise it’ll lose its influence a lot faster than if it doesn’t.
Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) have called on the United Nations and African Union to investigate an incident at a border post in which at least six Chadian soldiers were killed by Central African troops. The incident threatens to escalate tensions between the two countries since Chad participated in African efforts to stabilise CAR in 2013, which has been wracked by rebel insurgencies ever since.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with his counterpart from Sierra Leone to discuss fight against terrorism in the Sahel-Sahara region, West Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Central African Republic, as well as efforts to prevent the spread of dangerous infectious diseases, including the novel coronavirus.
Russia recently sent an additional 300 military advisors to support President Touadéra of the Central Africa Republic as part of a deepening relationship. For Russia, the CAR primarily provides it with an opportunity to present itself as an important international actor in Africa. For Russia, the CAR may simply provide a relatively low-cost opportunity to reposition itself globally by gaining influence in a country whose politics centres on concessionary politics and opportunistic power grabs.
Russia has sent an extra 300 military instructors to the Central African Republic at the request of the country’s leadership to help counter a surge in violence by rebel groups ahead of Sunday’s election. The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that the opposition and armed groups were trying to destabilise the situation with the help of external forces.
Russia Is Reportedly Preparing To Defend The Central African Republic From A Coup
21 DECEMBER 2020
The Agence France Presse’s report on Monday citing Central African Republic spokesman Ange Maxim Kazagui’s claim that Russia “sent several hundred soldiers and heavy weapons” to stave off an impending armed coup attempt in the landlocked country is likely true since it aligns with Moscow’s “Democratic Security” interests in Africa.
The news just broke earlier on Monday that Russia “sent several hundred soldiers and heavy weapons” to the Central African Republic to stave off animpending armed coup attemptthere according to spokesman Ange Maxim Kazagui as cited by theAgence France Presse(AFP). The Kremlin has yet to confirm this report at the time of writing though President Putin’s spokesman Peskov voiced “deep concern” about the latest events there on the same day. Nevertheless, it’s likely that this actually did happen since it aligns with Moscow’s “Democratic Security” interests in Africa that I previously elaborated upon.
In the specific context of the Central African Republic, Russia was invited by its UN-recognized government to provide much-needed security assistance in stabilizing the country after its most recent civil war threatened to reachgenocidal proportions. Moscow has since become Bangui’s indispensable security partner, hence why it reportedly rushed to its aid to prevent the impending armed coup attempt that the government there warned about over the weekend.
Russia isn’t alone in its commitment to the Central African Republic’s stability since the previously mentioned spokesman is also quoted as saying that several hundred Rwandan troops were dispatched as well and are already “on the ground and have started fighting.” I wrote back in June 2018 following Foreign Minister Lavrov’s successful trip to Rwanda that month that “Rwanda Is Poised To Play In Irreplaceable Role In Russia’s ‘Pivot To Africa’”, explaining that Moscow appreciates the fact that Kigali is a Central African military superpower despite serious controversies over its role in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) infamous wars.
It’s unclear at this time whether the Russians and Rwandans are coordinating with one another or operating separately, but it wouldn’t be surprising if there’s at least some communication between their military representatives in this respect considering the fact that they share the same goal of defending the Central African Republic’s internationally recognized government from an impending armed coup attempt. If successful, then Russia will likely leverage its “military diplomacy” to expand relations with Rwanda, which is one of Africa’srapidly emerging tech and investment hubs, thus complementing Kigali’s Great Power “balancing” act.
As it stands, it’s too early to tell how far Russia’s reported intervention might go. There are just too many variables at play, including whether or not Russian and/or Rwandan troops will launch offensive operations against the rebels (be it independently or jointly). Moreover, the US might politicize the crisis by fearmongering about what it might dishonestly misportray as a “Russian invasion of Africa” in order to push for another round of sanctions against the Eurasian Great Power, perhaps in partnership with former colonial power France. In any case, it’s optimistically predicted that Russian forces will at least successfully defend the capital from capture.
Russia is planning to step up its military cooperation with African countries as part of its new Africa strategy, including building bases in six countries, namely the Central African Republic, Egypt, Eritrea, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Sudan. Moreover, Russia’s army is partially secretly and partially officially training soldiers from those countries.