Central African Republic - Russia Relations
Russia is emerging as a new player in the New Scramble for Africa. Nowhere is Russia’s recent entry more pronounced than in the CAR. Russia’s involvement in the country began in December 2017 when a team of military instructors and 170 “civilian advisers” arrived in Bangui to train the country’s army and presidential guard. Nine weapons shipments had arrived in the CAR capital since through September 2018. It is not evident that Russia has any particular interest in CAR, but to the extent that other states, such as France, have an interest in CAR, a Russian presence in CAR provides an opportunity to annoy or felicitate other interested states.
Private military contractors from Russia have, in recent years, stepped into a pivotal role in central Africa, including in the CAR and neighboring Sudan. Working closely with local governments, PMCs are providing security, gathering intelligence and training local armies. In the CAR, they’re advising the president. Moscow has downplayed the groups’ roles and insists that they act independently of the Kremlin’s wishes. But the contractors have close ties to Russia’s military apparatus, and their presence helps Moscow achieve its strategic goals, from acquiring needed resources to competing with China and the United States, both of whom have permanent bases in Africa and more military might. Russian PMCs are really pretending to be mercenaries while actually functioning as part of Russia’s military intelligence arm, the GRU.
“It’s being done with the knowledge and the aid of Russian government bodies,” said David Isenberg, an independent analyst who has studied private security contractors since the 1980s and testified before Congress on the topic. “This is basically part and parcel of Russia’s greater geopolitical ambitions in Africa and elsewhere in the world,” he added. He estimates that about 175 Russian PMCs are in the Central African Republic, and at least 300 are in Sudan.
Russia is using mercenaries and arms sales to gain access to Africa's natural resources, the top general overseeing US military operations in Africa said 07 February 2019. "By employing oligarch-funded, quasi-mercenary military advisors, particularly in countries where leaders seek unchallenged autocratic rule, Russian interests gain access to natural resources on favorable terms," Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the commander of US Africa Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee in prepared written testimony. "Some African leaders readily embrace this type of support and use it to consolidate their power and authority. This is occurring in the Central African Republic where elected leaders mortgage mineral rights -- for a fraction of their worth -- to secure Russian weapons," he wrote.
"Recently, the President of the Central African Republic installed a Russian civilian as his National Security Advisor. The President also promised the armed forces would be deployed nationwide to return peace to the country by forces likely trained, equipped, and in some cases, accompanied by Russian military contractors," the statement said, adding "Russia's ability to import harsh security practices, in a region already marred by threats to security, while systematically extracting minerals is concerning. As Russia potentially looks to export their security model regionally, other African leaders facing similar instability and unrest could find the model attractive."
Russia wants to strengthen its own weapons industry in Africa. A study by the British think tank Chatham House shows that a mere 3 percent of Russian weapons exports go to Africa, but the continent is a growth market, Russia being the main supplier to several countries. For some countries in Africa it is very difficult to get Western arms. Russia does not have a lot of the same preclusions on selling weapons. It doesn't tie them to human rights. It doesn't tie them to various regional conflicts that states are involved in. It sees this as an area for growing the market.
Russia has taken on a more visible role in CAR since December 2017, when Russia received United Nations authorization to provide the beleaguered African nation with weapons and training. The UN exempted Russia's weapons deliveries to CAR from an embargo it had imposed in 2013, in an effort to support the weakened central government and its military.
The UK, France and the US voiced concern over the move, and demanded that weapons be restricted to light arms, and that Russia provide traceability to prevent them from being sold on the black market. A UN panel of experts had warned on Tuesday that Russia's weapons supply had led to an arms race in the rampantly unstable CAR, with rebels turning to traffickers in Sudan for fresh gun shipments. In addition to the arms deal, Russia is also believed to have signed a range of agreements with President Faustin-Archange Touadera, including a deal for his own security.
CAR's local media reported that the "Wagner Group" became active in the African country after the Kremlin delivered weapons to CAR's security forces and when Russian instructors started training local soldiers. In April 2018, French newspaper Le Monde reported about Russian mercenaries in CAR.
By 2018 Russian military advisors had set up camp in Berengo. They are attempting to train the Central African army on how to use Russian weapons, as well as imparting strategic advice. Generally, the Central African people look favorably upon the situation. The Russian government was the first that was willing to deliver weapons and to actively and quickly train the army. Although the European Union has had a similar approach for years, cooperation has been slow due to restrictions over providing weapons, training, strategic advice, etc.
An ambush outside the city of Sibut in the Central African Republic (CAR) left three Russian nationals dead, government authorities said on 01 August 2018. The victims had press cards in their possession at the time of the murder, but the Russian government did not confirm that they were actual journalists. The journalists were reportedly working on a documentary about the "Wagner Group," a Russian paramilitary organization currently operating in CAR. The project was said to have had the backing of an investigative media outlet run by exiled Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky confirmed Wednesday via Facebook that the journalists were collaborating on a story called "Russian Mercenaries." Russian news agency TASS cited CAR authorities as saying that Muslim rebels could be behind the killings of Russian reporters.
Anastasia Gorzhkova, deputy editor of the Center for Investigation Management (TsUR) Russian online news outlet, said the three journalists wanted to visit a base in Berengo, where, according to media reports, Wagner mercenaries might be operating. They were denied access because they had no accreditation from CAR's defense ministry.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in late October 2018 that it intended to maintain assistance to CAR in rebuilding its armed forces. The ministry said that in early 2018 Moscow supplied CAR's army with small arms and ammunition as well as sending 175 military advisers to train CAR servicemen. The ministry added that Moscow would send additional military advisers and a second shipment of military supplies to the African country, and stressed that all such assistance programs were being carried out in compliance with the UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions regime.
Recent rumors on Russia's alleged large mercenary presence in the Central African Republic (CAR) are speculations, Andrei Kemarsky, the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Department of Africa, told Sputnik 18 December 2018. "This can be called on of the speculations recently actively disseminated against our country," the diplomat said in an interview. According to the official, Russian experts are tasked with strengthening the military capacities of the CAR in order to protect the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity. "Armies of many African states were created according to Soviet standards and equipped with Russian weapons. Naturally, they are interested in maintaining such cooperation," the diplomat explained.
A Russian military base may appear in the Central African Republic, the framework agreement envisions such a possibility, but the issue has not been discussed so far, CAR Defense Minister Marie-Noelle Koyara said in an interview with Sputnik 10 January 2019. "We have not yet discussed this. Everything will be done within the framework of the military treaty that we signed. This treaty is the basis of all our initiatives… Much still needs to be done, but there will be discussions between the supreme commander-in-chief (the president of the republic) and his colleagues. And the ministers will enforce it," Marie-Noelle Koyara said.
She said that when a Berengo training centre had been established for military personnel, people began to talk about turning Berengo into a Russian military base, but this was speculation, as it could not be considered a Russian military base. "Our population perceives Russia very well. When the talk is about Russia, people understand that this is a full-fledged partner that may change the country's future. And it is this human support, so to speak from the masses, that suggests that the word 'partner' is fully applicable to Russia," Koyara added.
A representative office of the Russian Defense Ministry was established under the Ministry of National Defense and Army Rehabilitation of the Central African Republic (CAR). The agreement was concluded to assist the CARs in resolving issues of military and military-technical cooperation and providing guidance for the activities of Russian military specialists in the republic to assist in the construction of the CAR armed forces, in training in the operation, repair and use of weapons and military equipment supplied by Russia to the CAR. The representation of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation will be maintained at the expense of the Russian side, the document said. The agreement was signed on April 24, 2019.
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