Russia is trying to exert influence over the African continent by sending troops, increasing arms sales and inking security deals.

A military deployment by the Kremlin to the Central African Republic this week has drawn attention once again to Russia's intentions in Africa, which was a playground for Soviet Russia a few decades ago. 

Moscow is again on the path of challenging the Western monopoly in the continent in order to expand its sphere of influence in Africa's war-torn nations, which is blessed with abundant natural resources. Russian representatives have already struck deals with their African counterparts to access diamond mines, train soldiers and make them combat-ready and also sell them modern weapons. 

Recent Russian activities in Africa are centred on one of the poorest and most unstable countries in the world, the Central African Republic, where general elections are slated on Sunday. 

Faustin-Archange Touadera, President of the Central African Republic, gives a speech in a campaign rally in Bangui, Central African Republic, December 12, 2020.
Faustin-Archange Touadera, President of the Central African Republic, gives a speech in a campaign rally in Bangui, Central African Republic, December 12, 2020. (AP)

Tour de force ahead of elections

After three powerful rebel groups merged and advanced towards the capital Bangui last Saturday, Moscow "promptly responded" to a request by the CAR and sent “extra 300 military instructors” earlier this week.

Paris did not hesitate to order immediately a flyover mission of warplanes to fly over Central African territory.

The country became independent from France in 1960 and the French influence over the African nation is on the wane since the past decade. 

Russian mercenaries

Russian military deployment in the CAR is not something new. In 2018, the Wagner Group, a shadowy paramilitary outfit with connections to the Russian state, was deployed in CAR as a means of entrenching Moscow’s influence.  

Since then, according to the report, the group has been engaged in a campaign of supporting, finding and empowering local allies that are favourable to Moscow’s interests.

American officials estimated last year that there were around 400 Russian mercenaries in the CAR, “some in rebel-controlled areas where they can be spotted riding in white pickup trucks and drinking in local bars at night”.

With the recent deployment, the number of Russian soldiers appears to top 700 hundred.

The Western analysts say that the Central African Republic offers Moscow a chance to export mineral-rich countries “in exchange for mining rights”. For Russia, “Africa as a source of potential revenue and a venue to evade sanctions.”

A return to Soviet days

Russians interest in the African continent goes back to Soviet days. The Soviet Union played an important role in supporting the independence of African countries about five decades ago. 

Despite the resistance of Western states, the United Nations adopted the Declaration on Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples in 1960, which created an international legal basis for the independence of colonized countries in Africa.   

At that time, some 300 industrial projects, 155 of which in the agricultural sector, were carried out. More than 100 educational institutions, including 10 higher and 80 intermediate vocational schools were built across Africa with the Soviet help. 

However, with the collapse of the Soviets, all good relations between the two disappeared.

“Foreign policy priority”

Since 2014, Russia has been pushing hard to gain its power in Soviet times in many regions, including Ukraine, Syria and African countries like Sudan, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo and many more.

Russia has reportedly signed military cooperation agreements with approximately thirty African countries.

Moscow ordered its army last month to build a naval base on Sudan’s Red Sea coast. The base is its first in Africa since the end of the Cold War.

The country’s President Vladimir Putin told an interview last year that Africa was one of Moscow’s foreign policy priorities.

“The development and strengthening of mutually beneficial ties with African countries and their integration associations is one of Russia's foreign policy priorities,” he said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies