France has suspended military cooperation with and economic aid to the Central African Republic (C.A.R.). France accuses C.A.R.’s government of being “complicit” in a Russian disinformation campaign targeting France, a French defense ministry official said to the media on Monday.

The French foreign ministry said that $12.2 million in economic aid to the C.A.R. government would be “suspended until further notice.” However, French humanitarian aid and other projects worth more than $7.3 million, which directly target the needy Central African population will continue, the ministry added.

The French military will also continue to provide about 100 soldiers in a European Union-led military training operation in the C.A.R.

“On several occasions, the Central African authorities have made commitments they haven’t respected, as much in the political area towards the opposition as with regards to their behavior towards France, which is the target of a massive disinformation campaign,” the unnamed spokesperson said.

While the campaign was orchestrated by Russia, “the Central Africans are at best complicit in this campaign,” the spokesman added.

Central African Republic Wagner Group UN peace mission
A Russian mercenary from the Wagner Group and a UN peacekeeper in the Central African Republic.

France also suspended military operations with the Malian Army after the second coup in the country in nine months. The French have 5,100 troops in Mali supporting Operation Barkhane. The operation tries to stem the tide of Islamic terrorist insurgents against Mali and the other Sahel nations.

France’s Interventions in the C.A.R.

Since granting the C.A.R. its independence in 1960 France has intervened seven times in its old colony to support it.

In 2013, a genocide nearly erupted in the African country. After a coup deposed President François Bozizé fighting broke out between Muslim rebel elements, which had deposed the president, and the Christians. The French rushed troops to C.A.R., kept the groups from slaughtering each other, and disarmed the militias. 

The following year, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a 12,500-troop peacekeeping force called MINUSCA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic) to put an end to the increasing violence between Christians and Muslims.

Vladimir Putin and C.A.R. President Faustin Touadera during the Sochi 2019 summit.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and C.A.R. President Faustin Touadera. Russia is expanding its influence in the region.

The C.A.R. Aligns Itself to Russia

Russia’s influence in the country has increased significantly since 2018.

President Faustin Archange Touadéra granted Russia mineral and mining concessions and in return accepted Russia’s “security assistance” which consisted of arms shipments and instructors from the Wagner Group. The mercenary group now provides security for the president and other C.A.R. political elites. Further, Russian former Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) operative, Valery Zakharov, is now the national security adviser for the C.A.R. government. 

As soon as the Russians began moving into the African country, the disinformation program against the French began. Russia is attempting to increase its influence, at the expense of Paris. To that effect, Wagner’s owner Yevgeny Prigozhin had several Facebook proxy groups tout Russian efforts while criticizing the French government.

Russia continues to oppose sanctions against the C.A.R. government. Potential sanctions would interfere with Russia’s mining interests in diamonds. Additionally, Russia constantly lobbies for the relaxation of arms embargoes so that it can export more arms to the Touadéra government.

UN Points to Wagner War Crimes

Although Wagner fights against the C.A.R. rebels it has also been acting increasingly more hostile to the UN peacekeeping force and has been accused of multiple human rights violations. The UN Security Council on Monday called on the Central African Republic and “all forces present” in the country to ensure the safety of its peacekeepers, in a thinly veiled rebuke of Wagner’s mercenaries.

The Security Council did not specify what its statement was referring to only that “attacks against United Nations peacekeepers may constitute war crimes.”

“The members of the Security Council strongly condemned ongoing human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in the C.A.R., and stressed the need to bring to justice their perpetrators,” the statement said.

“[We call] on all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and ensure safe and unhindered humanitarian access.”