Russia is not helping to stabilise the Central African Republic (CAR), a French Defence Minister Florence Parly told weekly Jeune Afrique.
In December 2017, Russia obtained the go-ahead from the UN Security Council to deliver arms to CAR, facing near-constant armed conflict since 2013, when a mostly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition overthrew then-president Francois Bozize, prompting reprisals from Christian ‘anti-balaka’ militias.
In spite of electing a new leader in 2016, the country has been mired in tit-for-tat inter-communal violence and political instability.
Earlier this year Russia donated hundreds of weapons and sent 175 trainers to CAR to bolster the government’s fight against militia groups.
Russia on Oct. 19, said it planned to send additional equipment and deploy more instructors, escalating its most significant military foray in Africa in decades.
Asked if Russia’s growing influence in CAR was posing a threat to French interests, Parly said: “I will not speak of French interests but of Central African interests”.
“Africa belongs to Africans and no one else, no more to the Russians than the French,” she says.
“Russia has asserted its presence in the CAR in recent months, it is true.
“I am not sure that this presence and the actions deployed by Moscow, like the agreements negotiated in Khartoum at the end of August, help to stabilize the country,” she said.
Russia’s foreign ministry had defended its actions against what it said was “a certain ‘jealousy’” by other foreign powers over Russia’s role in CAR.
Central African armed groups signed a preliminary agreement at the end of August in Khartoum under the aegis of Russia and Sudan, while the African Union, supported by Paris, was overseeing post-crisis negotiations.
France has a military presence in CAR, mainly within the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic.
Russia said it planned to deploy 60 more instructors to train the country’s armed forces, escalating its most significant military foray in Africa in decades.
Russia donated hundreds of weapons and sent 175 trainers to CAR earlier this year to bolster the government’s fight against militia groups after receiving an exemption from a United Nations arms embargo.
According to diplomatic and security sources, many of the Russians in CAR are private security contractors and their remit has expanded into mediating negotiations among armed groups, securing mining projects and advising CAR’s president.
Russia’s activities in CAR are part of a wider push to re-establish influence in sub-Saharan Africa that waned after the Cold War.
It has signed military cooperation deals with 19 countries since 2015 and expanded diplomatic and trading ties.
In one of its most extensive comments to date on the subject, Russia’s foreign ministry defended its actions in a statement against what it said was “a certain ‘jealousy’” by other foreign powers over Russia’s role in CAR.