Russia’s multidimensional policy of engagement with the Central African Republic and its newfound efforts to end its half-decade-long civil war are indicative of a larger strategic intention to return to Africa.
Largely kept out of the media and mostly relegated either to small news blurbs or conspiratorial online speculation, Russia’s multidimensional policy of engagement with the Central African Republic (CAR) and its newfound efforts to end its half-decade-long civil war are finally beginning to bear fruit and yield strategic returns for Moscow. At the tail end of last year, Russia was able to convince the UNSC to agree to a temporary exemption of its arms embargo against Bangui so that Moscow could send much-needed weapons and equipment to CAR’s national military, which only controls a fraction of this mineral-rich country.
The CAR slipped into civil war in late-2012 after Muslim militants from the east stormed across the majority-Christian country and unseated President François Bozizé a few months later, which soon thereafter led to communal fighting and claims of genocide after members of each religious group began killing one another. The subsequent French and UN military interventions have done little to restore stability to this landlocked state, nor do they look likely to anytime in the near future after both parties have downscaled their commitment to the country, which is probably why Russia’s offer to provide free military aid was so attractive to the international community.
Nowadays, unconfirmed reports are circulating that members of Russia’s special forces and/or its private military companies (“mercenaries”) are guarding CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra and even negotiating with the country’s many rebel groups, sparking fears among some Western observers that Moscow has masterfully managed to make itself indispensable to this strategically positioned country located in the geographic heartland of the continent. This notion was reinforced after President Touadéra traveled to Saint Petersburg last week for a meeting with his Russian counterpart in the framework of the International Economic Forum that was being held during that time.
Russia’s game plan is to apply its military and diplomatic experience from Syria to the CAR in order to resolve its conflict and resultantly reap economic and strategic dividends. To explain, just like in Syria, Russia is militarily aiding the internationally recognized authorities in the CAR in their campaign against a wide vary of rebel groups, albeit in less of a direct manner, and at the same time facilitating diplomatic negotiations with these anti-government parties in order to pave the way for a future Moscow-mediated political settlement that involves all sides “compromising” for the greater good.
As with the Russian-written “draft constitution” for Syria, this might see “decentralization” suggested as a possible solution in order to reincorporate Muslim separatists from the self-declared “Republic of Logone” in the mineral-wealthy northeast following the model that Moscow is trying to advance with the Kurds in the Arab Republic. Russia is incentivized to see this plan succeed because it wants to show the world that its Syrian model of conflict resolution is applicable elsewhere in Afro-Eurasia, and especially in parts of the “Global South” that the West exploited, destroyed, and failed to fix, which would therefore make Russia these countries’ most attractive partner.
Moscow isn’t doing this for magnanimous reasons but because it has a self-interest in obtaining privileged access to these states’ resources and markets as it seeks to clinch a variety of non-Western partnerships to help it weather the anti-Russian sanctions that will probably be in effect for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of Russia’s Syrian model satisfies the interests of its potential partners as well, thereby making this a classic “win-win” relationship. In the CAR case, this is exceptionally important because Russia would be symbolically demonstrating that it’s capable of countering Huntington’s so-called “Clash of Civilizations” theory by bringing peace to the country’s warring Christian and Muslim communities.
In addition, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Russia’s multifaceted peacemaking efforts in the CAR wouldn’t even be possible had it not been for Moscow’s excellent relations with Sudan, as this neighboring African country allows Russia to transit through its airspace in accessing the landlocked state. Ties between the two were solidified after President Omar al-Bashir traveled to the Russian capital in November and offered Moscow a naval base in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan where its Turkish, Qatari, and Ethiopian partners are currently investing. Not only that, but he also requested as much Russian military help as possible in order to thwart what he warned was an American plot to split Sudan into five separate countries.
It’s unclear whether Russia intends to take Sudan’s offer to build a Red Sea naval base, but the invitation itself was indicative of the strategic partnership between the two countries that shortly thereafter made the low-intensity application of Moscow’s Syrian conflict resolution model possible in the CAR. Taken together, Russia’s interconnected inroads with Sudan and especially the CAR prove that the country is silently engaging in a return to Africa by providing strategic military and diplomatic stabilization services to its partners in presumable exchange for privileged economic partnerships with these resource-rich states that the Western Great Powers have victimized and/or neglected. This is a very smart move on Moscow’s part and will surely assist the incipient Multipolar World Order.
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