Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary ad­vances to a new front: Africa

The Buffalo News - - WORLD NEWS -

OUAGADOUGOU, Burk­ina Faso – Rus­sia has been steadily ex­pand­ing its mil­i­tary in­flu­ence across Africa, alarm­ing Western of­fi­cials with in­creas­ing arms sales, se­cu­rity agree­ments and train­ing pro­grams for un­sta­ble coun­tries or au­to­cratic lead­ers.

In the Cen­tral African Repub­lic, where a Rus­sian has been in­stalled as the pres­i­dent’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, the gov­ern­ment is sell­ing min­ing rights for gold and di­a­monds at a frac­tion of their worth to hire train­ers and buy arms from Moscow. Rus­sia is seek­ing to en­sconce it­self on NATO’s south­ern flank by help­ing a for­mer gen­eral in Libya fight for con­trol over his gov­ern­ment and vast oil mar­ket.

Su­dan’s pres­i­dent, Omar al-Bashir, brought in Rus­sian mer­ce­nar­ies in Jan­uary to help shore up his rule against na­tion­wide protests. And in spring 2018, Mali, Niger, Chad, Burk­ina Faso and Mau­ri­ta­nia ap­pealed to Moscow to help their over­taxed mil­i­taries and se­cu­rity ser­vices com­bat the Is­lamic State and al-Qaida.

Rus­sia, en­trenched in Africa dur­ing the Cold War’s vi­o­lent East-West ri­valry, largely re­treated from the con­ti­nent af­ter the col­lapse of the Soviet Union. But in the past two years, Moscow has rekin­dled re­la­tions with Soviet-era clients like Mozam­bique and An­gola, and forged new ties with other coun­tries. Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin of Rus­sia will host a sum­mit be­tween Moscow and African coun­tries this year.

Ex­pand­ing Moscow’s mil­i­tary sway on the con­ti­nent re­flects Putin’s broader vi­sion of re­turn­ing Rus­sia to its for­mer glory. But it also il­lus­trates Rus­sia’s op­por­tunis­tic strat­egy to carve out lo­gis­ti­cal and po­lit­i­cal gains in Africa wher­ever and when­ever it can.

Un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Pen­tagon has shifted fo­cus to con­fronting global threats, largely from China and Rus­sia, and away from fight­ing ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions. In De­cem­ber, John Bolton, Pres­i­dent Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, de­scribed the new strat­egy in Africa as a “great power” com­pe­ti­tion and coun­ter­bal­ance to China and Rus­sia.

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