centre of power

Will CAR be hosting a Russian military base soon?

By Mathieu Olivier

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Posted on May 31, 2023 11:18

 © A Russian armoured personnel carrier (APC) in a street in Bangui on 15 October 2020. 
A Russian armoured personnel carrier (APC) in a street in Bangui on 15 October 2020. CAMILLE LAFFONT/AFP

The Central African ambassador in Moscow has said that his country is ready to host a military base that could house up to 10,000 Russian soldiers. And that President Touadéra would make the trip to St. Petersburg for the Russia-Africa summit.

Is the relationship between the Central African Republic and Russia entering a new phase? In an interview with the Russian daily Izvestia, Léon Dodonu-Punagaza, the Central African ambassador to Moscow, opened the door to a considerable increase in military aid to his country, speaking of building a “military base” on Central African soil.

According to the diplomat, this could eventually accommodate “5,000 to 10,000 Russian soldiers” and “if necessary, [these troops] could be used in other countries” in Central Africa.

Sudan, a neighbour of the Central African Republic, has been engulfed in the conflict between the troops of Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemeti), while the situation in the east of DRC has also alerted Moscow.

Rear base

For several years now, CAR has served as a rear base for a number of Russian ambitions in Africa, notably those of the Wagner group and its boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin. The Kremlin’s armed wing in Ukraine and on the continent, Wagner has gradually revealed its ambitions in Central Africa, particularly in DRC and Cameroon, where its troops are not yet present.

According to Dodonu-Punagaza, the idea of building a Russian base had already been raised in March. It was discussed during the visit of the president of the Central African National Assembly, Simplice Mathieu Sarandji, to Moscow for the Russia-Africa parliamentary conference.

The Russian base could potentially also host Wagner’s mercenaries, who are currently around 1,400 in the Central African Republic.

An agreement on its construction might be reached as early as this summer.

Touadéra and Putin to meet in July

Barring any last-minute changes to his schedule, President Faustin-Archange Touadéra is expected to attend the next Russia-Africa summit, due to be held in the former imperial Soviet city of St. Petersburg at the end of July 2023. “I can confirm that the president will take part in the event,” said the Central African ambassador, who added that security and economic cooperation would be discussed.

Our country was the first in Africa to resist the French.

The presence of African heads of state in St. Petersburg would be a major diplomatic victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin. He is experiencing difficulties both on the Ukrainian front and in the context of the confrontation between Moscow and Western capitals. France and the US are discreetly putting pressure on African leaders to dissuade them from travelling to Russia.

On this point, Bangui seems to have made its choice. “Our country was the first in Africa to resist the French. In recent weeks, when Russia delivered six military aircraft to us, it was the French who started screaming, but that’s not our business, and we’re interested in cooperating with Russia,” Dodonu-Punagaza said.

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