French President Emmanuel Macron is visiting Chad this weekend, where he will meet his counterpart Idriss Deby to discuss the crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR), amid widespread concerns about increasing Russian influence in the country.
Moscow has been supplying arms to the CAR since December 2017. Around 175 Russians, including five soldiers employed by private contractors, were sent to the country to train two battalions. That’s while a Russian, Valerii Zakharov, was appointed as a national seciurity adviser to the president.
Russia also started talks with former members of the Seleka – an alliance of rebel militias that seized power in 2013 – and unsuccessfully tried to hold talks between the CAR government and armed groups in July 2018.
France is suspicious about such Russian activities in what it thinks of as its sphere of influence. “It fears that the Russians are going to replace them as the CAR’s main patron,” said Thierry Vircoulon, a researcher at the Africa Centre of the Paris-based IFRI think-tank.
Parallels with Syria
He argued that Russia is taking a similar approach with the CAR to the one it has shown in Syria: “Russia gives the government military support and then acts as a mediator in peace talks, thus becoming a solution to the conflict.”
“Paris also fears that the Russians are trying to advance their economic interests there, and that they’re trying to develop ties with rebel groups to get their hands on natural resources, at the expense of the security situation,” added Roland Marchal, a central Africa specialist at the CNRS think-tank in Paris.
Whether its driven by diplomatic or economic interests, the threat of Russia legitimising armed groups worries France. The CAR’s western neighbour, Chad, shares Paris’ concerns, fearing that it could bolster support for Chadian rebel groups.
According to Marchal, “reliable sources say that, since last spring, there has been contact between rebel groups in Chad and CAR President [Faustin-Archange] Touadéra, while Russians and Chadian rebels have been holding discussions in Sudan.”
That makes things even more worrying for the Chadian government, seeing as its capital is relatively easy to reach from across the border with the CAR.
France and Chad both want to contain Russian influence in the CAR, at the same time as preventing any further outbreak of violence and avoiding getting entangled in the process. “Chad doesn’t want problems on its border while France doesn’t want to be asked to intervene militarily,” Vircoulon concludes.
Source: France 24