Central African Republic considers hosting Russian military base
The president of Central African Republic has said his country would consider hosting a Russian military base, as Vladimir Putin woos dozens of African leaders in an effort to spread Moscow’s influence at an investment summit in southern Russia.
In an interview with Russian state media, President Faustin-Archange Touadéra said he had also asked Russia for new weapons shipments for CAR’s soldiers, who have fought a civil war against rebel forces in the country since 2012. Asked about a potential military base, Russia’s first in Africa, he said that his government was “considering the possibilities”.
The Kremlin later denied that Putin had discussed the establishment of a Russian military base in CAR. Touadéra said the question was being reviewed by the two countries’ defence ministries.
The remarks came as Russia holds its first Russia-Africa summit, an estimated £55m effort to charm African leaders with the prospect of arms deals, and investments in mining, nuclear energy and other spheres, while promising no political strings attached.
Russia believes it can extend its influence to become a geopolitical powerbroker in Africa and begin to make up ground against China’s massive investment in the region, while edging out other powers like the US and France.
The timing for the summit has also been fortuitous, with Putin recently brokering a deal with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey to take joint control over previously Kurdish-held territory in north-eastern Syria. The deal highlighted Russia’s role as a dealmaker in the conflict and ability to withstand western pressure, as well as the abrupt US pullout from its alliance with the Kurds under Donald Trump.
Leaked documents revealed by the Guardian in June showed that Russia has sought to bolster its presence in at least 13 countries in Africa through military deals, private business contracts, and by grooming a new generation of leaders. That mission to spread Russian influence was led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman close to Putin whose interests include a private military group that has deployed to Ukraine, Syria and CAR.
But while Prigozhin’s efforts to spread influence have largely remained in the shadows, Russia this week has sought to shine a spotlight on its growing relationship with Africa.
On Wednesday, Putin rolled out the red carpet in Sochi, holding marathon bilateral sessions with African leaders to say Russia was open for business. “We currently export to Africa $25bn [£19.5bn] worth of food – which is more than we export in arms, at $15bn,” he said. “In the next four to five years, I think we should be able to double this trade, at least.” As the conference began, Russia flew two Tupolev Tu-160 nuclear bombers to South Africa, the first time the planes have landed on the continent.
Russian trade with Africa is about 10% of China’s, which exceeded $200bn last year, but Moscow has traditionally dominated certain sectors like weapons exports. Agriculture, mining and civilian nuclear power were also a focus during the summit. Overall, Russia said $12bn in deals had been struck at the conference, although many were in memorandums of understanding that may not be fulfilled.