France is increasingly impatient at the growing influence of Russia in the Central African Republic, denouncing “opportunistic initiatives” in this country and “veiled ambitions” on the African continent.
“All international efforts are welcome to secure the Central African Republic (CAR) but it must be done (…) in accordance with the mediation of the African Union,” said Monday the French Minister of Armies, Florence Parly, at the Dakar Forum on Peace and Security in Africa.
“And all the other initiatives that are opportunistic and often interested initiatives do not seem to me to contribute to a positive resolution of the security situation in this country,” she added, in a thinly veiled allusion to Moscow. “Any interested manipulation of opportunist power would be inept, unworthy”.
All-out Russia in the Central African Republic
Russia has invested all over the place in this former French colony, particularly in the formation of the army and diplomacy with armed groups. Since the beginning of 2018, she has sent five military officers and 170 civilian instructors (mercenaries, according to some experts) and delivered weapons to the national army after obtaining an exemption from the UN embargo.
Symbol of this presence increasingly visible, Russians now ensure the security of Central African President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. At the same time, anti-French rhetoric has seized the local media.
“France is still here”
Moscow has also engaged in mediation between armed groups, parallel to, if not rival, that of the African Union, with a meeting at the end of August in Khartoum. The head of the French diplomacy, Jean-Yves Le Drian, had already sent a message of firmness Friday in Bangui by announcing an aid of 24 million euros and deliveries of weapons to the CAR.
“France has been present at difficult times (…) Some of our soldiers have paid with their lives this participation in the defense of Central African integrity and we are still there,” he said with reference to the operation Sangaris (2013-2016) to put an end to clashes between armed groups.
Two years after the end of Sangaris, almost the entire country still lives under the guise of armed groups, in a country of 4.5 million inhabitants ranked among the poorest in the world but rich in diamonds, gold and uranium.
Since the arrival of Russian instructors, several companies run by Russians have also emerged in Bangui, including mining research. ” The only thing that should concern those who want to take care of the Central African Republic is (…) the security of this country and its development, and not to potentially use the difficulties of this people and this country to establish itself in a continent where there would be veiled ambitions , “added the French Minister of Foreign Affairs.
“Those who have other thoughts, those who have other agendas will have to pay the price,” he warned. After a rather dubious period of observation about the rise of Russia in this country and its possible return to force on the African continent as in the time of the USSR, Paris changed its tone at the end of the summer.
“The French have moved to a more offensive rhetoric because the Russians are going very quickly there,” says Thierry Vircoulon, researcher at the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri).
Paris first wanted to turn the page of operation Sangaris, which had proved very heavy for the French army, passing the baton to the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (Minusca, 13,000 peacekeepers). But the results are not at the rendezvous.
“It’s the contradiction, on the one hand we disengage and on the other we are not happy when someone comes. It must be said that with the Russians, it is rather a + hostile OPA + “, says the Ifri expert. “Paris takes it badly. It is not that he wants to continue to manage the Central African Republic. He wants this to be managed by others (European Union, AU, UN …) in a sort of delegated management and the Russians sabotage this plan, “said Thierry Vircoulon.