Are Cameroon & Russia moving towards a military rapprochement?

By Georges Dougueli, Mathieu Olivier
Posted on Wednesday, 20 April 2022 16:25

Joseph Beti Assomo, the presidency's minister delegate in charge of defence, met with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoogou. © MABOUP
Joseph Beti Assomo, the presidency's minister delegate in charge of defence, met with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoogou. © MABOUP

In recent days, Joseph Beti Assomo, Cameroon's defence minister, made a discreet but remarkable visit to Moscow to sign a new military cooperation agreement between the two countries. This symbolic trip comes at a time when the Kremlin has relaunched its offensive in Ukraine.

On 12 April, Cameroon and Russia signed a new military cooperation agreement. Joseph Beti Assomo, the presidency’s minister delegate in charge of defence, had left Yaounde the day before for Moscow, where he met with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoogou. The latter, who is part of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, initialled the 13-page document on Russia’s behalf.

Although the Cameroonian presidency has not revealed the contents of this agreement, it is similar to the one that the same Russian Federation signed in 2015. At the time, the agreement was concluded with Alexander Fomine, who is in charge of “military-technical” cooperation with foreign armies and Russia’s current deputy defence minister.

Less than a year ago, Colonel-General Fomine signed the new cooperation framework between Russia and Mauritania. He is also in direct contact with his Central African counterpart, Marie-Noëlle Koyara, and worked on bringing Nigeria and Russia closer together by signing another text in Moscow in August 2021.

‘The army has no shortage of needs’

The agreement that Yaoundé and Moscow signed in 2015 facilitated the delivery of arms and military equipment to the Cameroonian army, which was fighting the Boko Haram terrorists, now known as Islamic State in West Africa. In recent years, Moscow has provided artillery, troop transport and air protection material assistance. “Even though Boko Haram has weakened in the northern part of Cameroon, the army has no shortage of needs, especially in the north-west and south-west regions,” says a former defence ministry official.

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However, Assomo’s visit to Moscow is taking place in a particular international context. The Kremlin has just launched a new military offensive in Eastern Ukraine, where its army has been trying to conquer territory since the end of February.

Should this agreement be seen as veiled support for Putin’s Ukrainian policy? According to a source within the Cameroonian presidency, this is not the case, as Yaoundé simply wants to establish partnerships based on its needs on the national ground.

A symbolic visit?

On 2 March, Cameroonian diplomacy chose to abstain from voting on the resolution – adopted by the UN General Assembly – that called on Moscow to “immediately stop using force against Ukraine.” It declined to vote again on 7 April, when the same Assembly decided to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Sadio Camara, Mali’s defence minister, has been the only other minister to visit Moscow.

“This visit’s timing is not the best,” says a European diplomat based in Yaoundé. In recent months, several sources who had access to the Russian group Wagner’s internal documents have confirmed that Cameroon was one of the Russian mercenaries’ African targets.

These mercenaries, who are financed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, are active in Mali, where Camara is the architect of their arrival, as well as in Central Africa. In addition, the US, which is closely monitoring the security situation in the North-West and South-West, has reduced its military aid to Yaoundé in recent years.

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