Tensions between Russia and France escalate over presence in Africa

Published 07.11.2018 00:00

France flexed its muscles in West Africa on Monday granting millions of euros in aid to Gambia amid fears of regional instability and took aim at Russia over its growing presence in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who was the first senior French official to visit Gambia since a secret trip by the then resistance leader Charles de Gaulle in 1943, agreed the first part of a 50 million euro ($56.98 million) aid package that includes budgetary support, drinking water and agriculture projects.

Under President Emmanuel Macron, France is attempting to broaden its influence in Africa, in the face of growing Russian presence in the region. Speaking in Dakar on Monday, French Defense Minister Florence Parly took aim at Russia specifically calling on it to play within the multilateral frameworks. "Any manipulation of opportunist powers would be inept and unworthy. Let us give our full support to the African Union to preserve all chances for a quick and peaceful resolution of the crisis," she said, as reported by Reuters. In an interview with weekly Jeune Afrique, Parly stated that Russia's expanding influence in CAR, a former French colony, over the past months is not likely to stabilize the country.

In December 2017, Russia obtained the go-ahead from the U.N. Security Council to deliver arms to CAR, facing near-constant armed conflict since 2013, when a mostly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition overthrew the then-president Francois Bozize, prompting reprisals from Christian "anti-balaka" militias. But in June this year, France, Britain, and the United States blocked a request from Bangui for U.N. approval of Chinese weapons deliveries.

Russia's Foreign Ministry had defended its actions against what it said was "a certain jealousy" by other foreign powers over Russia's role in CAR. Central African armed groups signed a preliminary agreement at the end of August in Khartoum under the aegis of Russia and Sudan, while the African Union, supported by Paris, was overseeing post-crisis negotiations.

France has a military presence in CAR, mainly within the U.N. peacekeeping mission, known as MINUSCA. The country announced to give the Central African Republic, its restive former colony, aid of 24 million euros ($27.4 million) and weapons, Foreign Minister Le Drian announced last Friday. "France wishes to continue its historical partnership with the Central African Republic," the minister told journalists in Bangui after meeting President Faustin-Archange Touadera, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

Le Drian signed aid agreements worth 24 million euros in 2018 for the payment of salaries and pension arrears, to develop regions near neighbor Cameroon affected by massive population displacements, and build bridges to open access to parts of the country. He also announced that France would "soon deliver arms" to Bangui, specifically 1,400 assault rifles for the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) established after independence in 1960.

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