On October 19th, Russia announced that it’s planning to send additional military equipment to the Central African Republic (CAR) in addition to 60 more instructors to train the country’s soldiers.
MSM described the move as Russia’s “most significant military foray in Africa in decades.”
The equipment and instructors come in addition to Russia’s deployment of 175 trainers to CAR forces and donation of hundreds of weapons earlier in 2018. The move followed an exemption from a United Nations arms embargo that would allow external forces to bolster the CAR government’s fight against militia groups waging an insurgency.
On October 22nd, The Russian President’s Special Representative for the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, addressed the issue of scope and timeline to the operations in CAR. “When we have the opportunity, we always respond to requests. I am talking about cooperation in the sphere of security. So, I am not ruling that out [sending additional military instructors to the Central African Republic]. If there is a need for more, there will be more,” he said.
Russia initially sent advisors to CAR in March at the request of the CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. The country has been in a crisis since 2013, when the Islamist Seleka coalition from the north of the country took over the capital Bangui and toppled then-President Francois Bozize.
According to Reuters’ “diplomatic and security sources” many of the Russians in CAR are private security contractors engaged in multiple roles such as “mediating negotiations among armed groups, securing mining projects and advising CAR’s president.”
Reuters reported that the numbers of Russian contracts in CAR is up to speculation, between 250 and 1,000, further reiterating that the Russian Foreign Ministry has not directly responded to questions relating to private security contractors.
Russia, however, noted that its efforts in CAR are coordinated with the UN and it operates within its approved obligations: “There is an agreed framework, some restrictions, but we act in accordance with our obligations,” the deputy foreign minister explained. The 60 additional instructors will coordinate with UN forces that are already present in the country.
MSM began actively speculating about Russia’s role in the CAR after three individuals posing as journalists were killed in July. They were supposedly investigating actions in CAR by the fabled “Wagner Group.”
The investigation was funded by exiled Russian ex-oil tycoon Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Both CAR authorities and Moscow have labeled the killings a robbery, but Khodorkovsky claimed this argument “does not stand up to scrutiny.”
It should be noted Russia and CAR signed an additional military cooperation agreement on August 21st. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and his CAR counterpart Marie-Noelle Koyara signed the document on the sidelines of Army-2018 defense expo outside Moscow.
The deployment of more instructors and the donations more than likely are a result of this cooperation agreement.
Russian security efforts in the CAR have faced a wave of criticism from the mainstream media and Western diplomats as well as Chinese economic projects face on a costant basis. Considering the current high lievel of the Chinese-Russian cooperation in multiple spheres, experts say that Beijing and Moscow are coordinating their activity in the region. This activity is considered by the US and its European allies as a threat to their influence in Africa.
Some Western media already called the current situation, which became widely known for the international media due to the CAR incident, a “Cold War in Africa”.