Central African Republic Accuses Russia of Invading It, Moscow Denies

A Russian armoured personnel carrier (APC) is seen driving in the street during the delivery of armoured vehicles to the Central African Republic army in Bangui, Central African Republic, on October 15, 2020. (Photo by Camille Laffont / AFP) (Photo by CAMILLE LAFFONT/AFP via Getty Images)
CAMILLE LAFFONT/AFP via Getty

The government of the Central African Republic (CAR) on Monday announced that Russia and Rwanda had deployed military forces in the country to counter an alleged coup d’etat and safeguard the national elections.

Russia denied it sent any forces to the country and insisted its efforts were limited to the United Nations peacekeeping operation, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty (RFERL) reported Tuesday.

CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadera is seeking reelection in the December 27 national elections and has accused former President Francois Bozize of orchestrating a coup against him; CAR’s highest court deemed Bozize ineligible to participate in the election.

The alleged coup consisted of an alliance of rebel groups attempting to march on the capital city of Bangui. Russian state news agency Tass numbered the rebel coalition, christened the Coalition of Patriots for Change, at roughly 9,000 militants.

As of Tuesday morning, the rebel advance had reportedly been repelled. A U.N. spokesperson for the peacekeeping forces asserted that the situation is “under control,” RFERL noted. Bozize has denied any complicity in the coup.

Bozize, who took power in 2003, was ousted in 2013 by the Muslim Seleka rebels, which resulted in a brutal civil war and the subsequent U.N. intervention to subdue the Seleka. Bozize has faced U.N. sanctions, exile in Uganda, and several arrest attempts over his role in fostering the crisis and support for militia groups.

The degree of Russian involvement remains unclear. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov explicitly denied that Russia had sent any additional forces to the CAR after the coup.

“We are not sending troops, we are complying with all U.N. resolutions,” Bogdanov said, according to Interfax.

Bogdanov did note that Russia had previously sent military advisers to the country.

“So our people are there, naturally,” he added.

The deputy foreign minister expressed concern over the rebel activity, asserting that Russia supported the constitutional process in CAR and condemned the use of military force.

“There are destructive forces that seek to disrupt the constitutional process, the upcoming election and create an atmosphere of instability through the use of force,” Bogdanov said to Tass. “All that deserves condemnation.”

He further denied reports of Russian deployments to the region, saying Russian “doesn’t have army there” and that Russian involvement was part of the UN peacekeeping effort.

“There is a mission of the Defense Ministry in accordance with an inter-state agreement. We announced it earlier. There are officers within the UN peacekeeping forces,” he said. “The UN peacekeeping mission to the CAR aims to ensure security and stability in the country, including the preparations for and holding of the elections in normal conditions.”

Russia has made significant efforts to expand its influence in Africa in recent years, the Moscow Times reported, noting the government’s extensive investment in CAR since 2018 in exchange for mineral resource rights. The Times further highlighted the presence of Wagner, a pro-Kremlin mercenary group, in several unstable African nations.

Local media in CAR reported that a group of “Russian mercenaries” were defeated at Mbaiki, 100 km away from the Bangui, Tass further noted, though details remain sparse.

Outside of CAR, Russia has offered support to Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar. In early November, Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized the construction of a naval facility near Port Sudan which would allow Russia to project its naval power along the African east coast and into the Indian Ocean.

Rwanda, for its part, has confirmed additional troops deployments, the New Times reported. According to a statement from the Rwandan military, “the deployment is in response to the targeting of the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) contingent under the UN Peacekeeping force by rebels supported by François Bozize.”

The Rwanda Defence Force is a major troop contributor to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).

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