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In the CAR, France and Russia engage in a mini Cold War

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Friday, 5 February 2021 09:50, updated on Wednesday, 17 February 2021 19:05

A member of Faustin-Archange Touadéra's Russian security service, in December 2020 © ALEXIS HUGUET / AFP

The Central African Republican has become another playground for the war of influence between Paris and Moscow. The latest episode to date: the alleged infiltration of a French defence subcontractor by Russian intelligence.

The information did not travel beyond the very closed circles of the French Ministry of Defence and NATO. At the end of November, Global Technologies – one of France’s leading companies in the installation of telecom networks in high-risk zones – had its authorisation withdrawn by the French authorities.

This company – managed by Jean-Paul Steinitz and a subcontractor of the French group Thalès – supplied encrypted communication networks to French and NATO troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Sahel. However, its contract – which was under renegotiation with Thalès in October – was not renewed.

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According to our information, the answer to why Global Technologies’ authorisation was withdrawn can be found in Bangui. Steinitz has in fact developed a business network there and recently signed a contract with the CAR to establish a local telecommunications network there.

A mysterious Russian father-in-law

The 72-year-old businessman put the Central African presidency in touch with an executive from Alrosa, a major Russian diamond company. A gemologist who is none other than his current (and recent) father-in-law. It was the discovery of this family connection to a Russian engineer that alerted the French intelligence community.

Paris did not appreciate seeing one of its subcontractors play into the hands of the Russian diamond giant. Alrosa had also signed a contract with Bangui in December, during a Central African mission to Moscow led by Jean-Claude Rameaux Bireau, the economic minister counsellor, and Pascal Bida Koyagbélé, the minister delegate in charge of Major Works and Strategic Investments.

Suspecting Moscow of having succeeded in placing an intelligence agent within a company under contract with its army, the French Defence and Thales then decided to put an end to all collaboration with the latter, despite Steinitz’s protests of good faith. Steinitz, whom we contacted, issued a response after publication of this article. (See below)

READ MORE Russia’s murky business dealings in the Central African Republic

For its part, Thales did not lose its place within the French and NATO encrypted communications market. Global Technologies has been replaced by other subcontractors and the group has just signed a contract with NATO to build its “military cloud.”

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Following the publication of this article, we received a response from Jean-Paul Steinitz:

“I take issue with the assertion that my company and I are “Russian agents infiltrated by the French defense”. The father of my partner – who is not my “mysterious stepfather” since I am not married – actually worked for this company Alrosa in lakoutia (Siberia). It was in 1991, he was 25 years old, he is now 59. He left this company in 1997 and has had no relationship with it since. He is now a buyer for a jewelry manufacturing company.

Global Technologies does not “play into the hands” of anyone and certainly not that of this Alrosa company, with which it has no relation. Global Technologies ignores all of the contracts signed by Alrosa in the CAR even though the article suggests that there is a cause and effect link. Global Technologies has no other business networks in the Central African Republic than the technical stakeholders and decision-makers of the incumbent Central African telecommunications operator.

Regarding our relationship with Thales, other contracts in progress that do not require authorizations – apart from the one that linked us to the International Assistance and Security Force in Afghanistan – are proceeding normally (Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Europe , France…). Contrary to what is stated in this article, the Global Technologies group never executed a contract to provide encrypted communications networks to the French army or to NATO and it was not in renegotiation with Thales at month of november. The contracts signed directly by Global Technologies with NATO continue with the same stakeholders.”