Arms and the ‘instructors’: Russia boosts Africa role

Maxime Popov –
Touting military cooperation and “instructors,” arms deals and investment, Russia is making a comeback in Africa after years of inactivity and now aims to rival European countries and even China, analysts say.
Moscow has worked hard over the last three years to strengthen its position in Africa, a pace that seems to have accelerated in recent months, they say.
Its effort is most prominent in the Central African Republic (CAR), a poor and unstable country that traditionally has turned to the former colonial power France for help.
Since the start of the year, Russia has supplied weapons to the CAR army after gaining UN authorisation to do so and provides security for President Faustin-Archange Touadera, whose security adviser is Russian.
It has sent five military officers and 170 civilians as “instructors” for CAR’s armed forces, even though its troops are already being trained by the European Union.
Experts believe the “instructors” could be from a shadowy mercenary group named Wagner whose forces are reportedly fighting in Syria — three Russian journalists were killed in the CAR last month while investigating their activities.
Elsewhere, Russia is shipping arms to Cameroon for its fight with Boko Haram extremists and forged military partnerships with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, Uganda and Angola and cooperation on nuclear power with Sudan.
It is also working with Zimbabwe’s and Guinea’s mining industries — sectors where China is an emerging force in Africa.
Africa remains “at the bottom” of Russia’s foreign policy priorities, but is “starting to gain more importance,” said Dmitry Bondarenko of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
But the interest, he argued, is less for economic gain and more for “political advancement”.
The Soviet Union maintained a very strong presence in Africa as part of its ideological war against the West.
But the collapse of the Soviet Union, economic problems and internal conflicts in Russia during the 1990s caused Moscow to abandon its African projects.
A decade or so ago, the Kremlin started to rebuild its old networks and gradually return to the continent, seeking new partners as ideological concerns gave way to contracts and arms deals. — AFP