Russia, which lost influence in Europe during the war with Ukraine, has succeeded in strengthening its position in Central Africa, writes the Financial Times. Based on the opinion of experts, the publication claims that Moscow is trying to create something like a "second front" in the region to confront the West.
Russia's interests span a chain of countries, from Mali in the west to Sudan in the east. In a region where vast territories were once under French rule, Russian forces are sponsoring propaganda against the country, which is accused of neo-colonial ambitions. French presidential adviser Samuel Ramani believes that Moscow's goal is "to weaken Europe and open a front where Europe and France look fragile." To achieve this goal, Russia uses various tools, including operations against Islamist rebels, the sale of weapons, the promotion of autocracy.
Ramani notes that Moscow has attached great importance to influence in Africa since the Soviet era, and in the past 10 years has taken up strengthening its position with renewed vigor.
Its influence is especially noticeable in the Central African Republic, one of the poorest and most unstable countries in the world. The Russian presence includes 1,500 Wagner PMC fighters, gold and diamond mining, and even a small vodka production facility. Russia's influence also manifests itself in the financing of social projects. So, she paid for the restoration of the Bangui Cathedral, the capital of the Central African Republic, which came under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate from Constantinople, and the creation of a school class for orphans, where they are taught the Russian language. Russian has also become a compulsory language at local universities.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Central African Republic, Sylvie Baipo-Temon, noted that the mistakes made by France in this country played into the hands of Russia. The politician accused the French of failing to restore order in the CAR during the last military operation in 2013-2016. As soon as the French troops withdrew from the republic, Baipo-Temon said, Russians took their place, supplying weapons to a government that is struggling to hold on to power. Wagner fighters guarding CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. “They are not just his bodyguards, he is their hostage,” a Western diplomat based in Bangui told the FT.
In September, there was a military coup in Burkina Faso, and already in January, the new government demanded that the French troops leave the country. The President of neighboring Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, claims that the authorities of Burkina Faso called on Wagner fighters to fight jihadists. “Today, Russian mercenaries are on our northern border,” the Ghanaian leader said.
Moscow has also established good relations with the Sudanese administration. According to the US Department of the Treasury, Russian companies make money on the illegal export of gold mined in this African country. The military junta ruling Mali also enjoys the support of the Wagner PMC in the fight against the rebels. French troops stationed in Mali since 2013 left for Niger, and the French ambassador was expelled in 2021.
As the FT notes, all these successes caught the West by surprise, which feared the growth of Chinese influence in Africa, and did not take Russia seriously. Meanwhile, Russia is playing on the anti-colonial sentiments of Africans, drawing over to its side those who are dissatisfied with the West. As the publication recalls, in March 2022, during a vote on a UN resolution condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine, 25 African countries either abstained or did not vote.