On 21 August 2018, it was announced that Russia and the Central African Republic (CAR) had signed a military cooperation agreement. Following a meeting in late 2017 the Kremlin and the CAR government have been strengthening their relationship. This has raised questions as to why Russia has suddenly become interested in a country whose crisis has been largely ignored by international media.
The agreement signed on 21st August allows the Russian military to increase training of the Central African armed forces. Since the beginning of the crisis in 2012 the country’s military, known as the FACA, has been largely non-existent. Instead the country has relied upon the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Central African Republic (MINUSCA). However, over the course of the last couple of years the MINUSCA has struggled to bring about peace in the country and has been overstretched and under-resourced. Prior to its independence, the CAR was a French colony, and has been considered part of France’s sphere of influence on the continent. However Russian involvement in the country could begin to change that.
In late 2017 the UN granted Russia an exemption to the arms embargo it had placed on the country. This allowed Russia to import arms to begin arming and retraining the FACA. Obviously, as all major powers do, when they enter into agreements like these, Russia is taking as well as giving. In October 2017 President Touadera of the CAR visited Sochi and discussed the potential partnership with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. Included in the official press release of the Russian foreign ministry was mineral resource exploration, farming and energy.
CAR is rich in natural resources. Timber, gold and diamonds are all mined in the country, and uranium deposits exist around Bakouma. With the government failing to control much of the country, many of the mining areas are controlled by rebel groups. For any major power wishing to access these areas, supporting the effective redeployment of the FACA is therefore a no brainer. This is not to say that major powers are not and have not been averse to dealing with rebel groups historically.
At the moment the agreement between the CAR government and Russia is mainly focusing on the current crisis. Reports suggest that President Touadera’s personal security has been provided for by Russia. Touadera’s power is limited, his government barely impacts the areas outside of the capital Bangui.
CAR rebel groups are numerous. Groups form, disband, reform, rename and go into coalition regularly and it is difficult to keep up. However, in order to bring about peace, they must be dealt with. Earlier this year Moscow offered to act as a mediator by hosting a meeting with the government and representatives of various rebel armed groups in Khartoum. This move was rejected by President Touadera, who stated that there was no room for another peace process outside that of the ongoing African Union (AU) process which has largely failed to bring an end to the violence.
Although the situation in CAR often fails to make the headlines, the death of three Russian journalists on the 31st of July certainly brought the situation and the relationship between the two countries to the fore. Reports suggest that the journalists were killed outside the town of Sibut during an ambush by an armed group. They were allegedly in the country to investigate a private Russian military company with links to the Kremlin, something that the Kremlin has publicly denied.
If Russia is successful in redeploying an effective FACA and bringing about an end to a prolonged conflict, we could potentially see more African countries turning to Russia for support. Increased Russian activity on the African continent is likely to spark a reaction from the West, especially amongst former colonial powers and the United States.