How did Russia manage to get a foothold in the Central African Republic, a former French colony, where the influence of official Paris is still very great?
Over the past 20 years, 70% of the territory of the CAR has been controlled by rebel groups defending the interests of Christians (90% of the population) and Muslims (10% compactly living in the north). According to UN estimates, Muslims are objectively a discriminated marginal group that has problems with access to health care, education and administrative services (for example, issuing identity documents). However, both sides resorted to such brutal repression that the UN even expressed concerns regarding the escalation of the conflict in the CAR into genocide.
In turn, the CAR authorities control 30% of the country’s territory. Even with the help of the UN peacekeeping contingent and soldiers from Rwanda, it was not possible to expand its influence beyond these limits and achieve the disarmament of the rebels. Since part of the population did not agree with the legitimacy of the new Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s term, the civil war resumed in January 2021. But at this stage, the CAR president could rely on a new player – Russia, which provides mercenaries, military equipment, weapons, ammunition and loans. The Wagner Group is responsible for the protection of Faustin-Archange Touadéra, trains local soldiers and takes part in hostilities on the side of the government.
By way of a thank, Faustin-Archange Touadéra has granted the Russians several licenses for the development of gold and diamond deposits. V. Zakharov created at least two companies ensuring the interests of Russians in the CAR – mining Lobaye Invest and security Sewa Security Services.
Gradually, the connection between the Central African Republic and the Russian Federation is only getting stronger. So, at the end of April this year, Faustin-Archange Touadéra appealed to the Russian Embassy in the Central African Republic with a request to organize the supply of 5 thousand doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine to Bangui for employees of his office and ministries against coronavirus.
As a result, Moscow has gained tremendous influence on the life of the country – it can intensify the escalation of the internal conflict, it can keep the situation at the level of a manageable conflict, and it can help to reach a compromise. At the same time, the situation in which the country does not have a strong central government and stability is beneficial for the Russian Federation, since it can sell its services at a high price. In addition to access to gold and diamonds, the Russian Federation hopes to sign an agreement with the CAR on the mutually beneficial development of natural resources.
Now, if the government in Bangui controlled the situation in the country, competition and investment would arise in the economy. In such conditions, the CAR could more freely choose its allies and economic partners, and not gift concessions for the extraction of gold and diamonds. But when African politicians accused Russia of profiting from the conflict in the Central African Republic, the Kremlin said that it had nothing to do with it and that it was only about individual Russians providing instructor services.
The UN peacekeeping contingent, in the first time after the arrival of the Russians in the CAR (in January 2018), also hoped to establish cooperation with them in stabilizing the situation in the country. However, the UN blue berets very quickly became convinced that Russian mercenaries were only interested in protecting diamond mines and demonstrating the effectiveness of security services (for potential clients).
As a result, the current situation in the CAR is characterized by the weak state power, fragmentation, the growing influence of military commanders and rebel groups, unemployment, waves of refugees, the failure of the UN peacekeeping operation, permanent looting of the country and, in general, the continuing collapse of the state. And this is precisely the environment where Russia feels itself very comfortable.
Currently, several forces continue their activities on the territory of the CAR: government troops defending F.A. Touadéra; Christian militants opposed to the head of state (supporting ex-President François Bozizé or other opposition figures); Muslim rebels; neighboring African countries (Chad supports the rebels, while Rwanda - the authorities); the UN peacekeeping contingent; Russia; France. Naturally, France is trying to maintain its dominant influence in the region, but the Russian Federation and the PRC refuse to accept its historically established zone of influence and in every possible way oust it not only from the CAR, but also from Equatorial Africa in general.
For Discovery and Animal Planet viewers, Equatorial Africa is associated with majestic rainforests, savannas and jungles with their wildlife, national parks and nature reserves, where you can watch predators in their natural habitat. And big dealers from the Russian Federation and the PRC see this region as an opportunity to enrich themselves through the mineral-resource extraction: the CAR – diamonds, gold, graphite, uranium; Chad – oil; the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) – diamonds, gold, oil, uranium, copper, silver, tin; the Republic of the Congo – oil, gold, zinc; South Sudan – oil; Sudan – gold. But, if Beijing and Chinese businessmen are content with cynical pumping of African bowels into their wallets, then this is not enough for Moscow and its PMCs as they are trying to influence the policy of the African continent.
Although the Russian Federation failed to use the civil war in Libya for its own purposes and gain a foothold there (Moscow banked on the now almost defeated army of Khalifa Haftar), the Wagner Group created two bases in southern Libya, which became an outpost for Russians to penetrate into Central Africa.
So, on April 11 this year, after intensive training at these bases under the guidance of Russian instructors, the fighters of The Front for Change and Concord (FACT) rebel group moved to Chad and resumed fighting. The army of H. Haftar and the Wagner Group provided the Chadian rebels with weapons and equipment, as well as reinforcements in the form of a 2,000-strong contingent of mercenaries. Without going into details, it should be stated that the war in Chad is very closely linked to a number of major conflicts on the continent. Thus, one can be sure that Russia is trying not only to gain access to the natural resources of Chad, but also to increase its influence over the entire region of Central Africa.
Also an ambitious project of the Kremlin is the creation of a point for the material and technical support of the Russian Navy on the shores of the Red Sea in Port Sudan. While negotiations between the authorities of the Russian Federation and Sudan on this issue continue, the Wagner Group is training soldiers of the local army, and as a reward it received a concession for gold mining.
By forcing the French presence out of Central Africa, Russia is not only establishing itself in this region, but also striving to significantly weaken the role of France as one of the leaders of the EU. Artificially increasing the migration and terrorist risks emanating from Africa for France, the Russian Federation seeks to weaken the position of liberal forces in France and bring right-wing populists and Eurosceptics headed by Marine Le Pen to power. Such an option would not only complicate the political situation in France itself, but would also destabilize the entire EU.
In general, the Russian Federation would not have had a chance to gain a foothold in Central Africa, provided there was fair competition with France, China and other countries. But Russians are good at maneuvering in chaos! Therefore, until the UN, the African Union, the G20 and the EU help stabilize the situation in this region, the Russian Federation and its PMCs will continue to play their destructive role, widening the spiral of violence more and more.