Russia’s military advances to a new front: Africa
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.