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What is Russia doing in the Central African Republic?

The diplomatic offensive that has just been led by Vladimir Putin in the Central African Republic, which takes the form of an arms donation to Central Africa, accompanied by training actions, raises the question of its longevity.

At a time when the presidential elections are approaching, this could be seen as an action of communication used to divert the attention of the public towards the outside. Still, Russia relies on its recent diplomatic and military successes in the Middle East to return to an African commercial game, which had been partially abandoned to the Chinese.

It is no secret that China is currently taking over an old French colonial project of an Africa extending from Dakar to Djibouti and structured by a trans-Saharan trade route. This project was abandoned in 1898 at the time of Fashoda, for the benefit of a British North-South Empire. The new Sahel-Saharan Silk Road needs to be secured.

One method used by China is that of UN umbrella operations, in which it places its own soldiers. But the Russians could also be used as the security agents of China in Africa. All the more so since Russia had invested in the oil fields of northern Central Africa in the 1970s. These oilfields have only got to be connected to north Sudan.

With regard to the delivery of Russian anti-aircraft weapons to the Central African Republic – which could possibly threaten French helicopters in the future – these gifts could be used to obtain the good graces of the Central African Republic at the UN General Assembly.

Other agreements could be put in place: they would concern the exploitation of the mining resources and the delivery of agricultural equipment. Since 2012, US Special Forces have tried to prevent this economic rapprochement (Kony Campaign). What’s more, on January 7, 2018, the United States suddenly released $13 million to form the Central African Army.

In this respect, the challenge for Russia is currently to connect the Central African Republic to North Sudan – where about one-third of the Russian soldiers repatriated from Syria are stationed. German sources indicate that the Russians are training the Sudanese and that contracts have been signed between Russian private companies and the government.

It is indeed in Sudan that the new Chinese trans-Saharan route will lead to the sea. In these circumstances, it seems important to be in Port Sudan before it is too late. As for the Chinese Saharan route, it is likely to bend gradually towards the south as terrorism sinks toward this direction.