Russian Ambassador to Central African Republic: Russia saves CAR from collapse

Pravda.Ru special correspondent Daria Aslamova met with Russian Ambassador to the Central African Republic Alexander Bikantov. The ambassador spoke about Russia's efforts in rescuing the CAR from collapse, about the struggle against local terrorists, PMC Wagner's activities in the country and plans of the authorities of the Central African Republic to cooperate with Russia not only in the military, but also in agricultural field. 

The Central African Republic is the first country on the African continent that has made such a choice in favor of cooperation - military cooperation for state security with Russia. They didn’t just buy weapons, but they turned to Russia seeking security. Why do you think we are generally successful in this mission? What does it include?

First of all, thank you very much for visiting the Central African Republic...You are right, of course, the Central African Republic has made a choice in favor of full-scale military-technical cooperation with Russia. Russia already has extensive experience in military cooperation with African countries. If you remember the era of the countries of the so-called socialist camp ...

But that was in the Soviet Union. We used to be  successful, but now we left Africa, we lost.

We didn't lose, we didn't leave Africa. We've always been here, we were always remembered, loved and they always wanted us back.

Are we coming back?

We left to go back.

So is Russia returning to Africa?

You could say that. But, on the other hand, as a diplomat who has been involved in Africa for many years, I have always seen Russia here. We have always been here politically, diplomatically, commercially, economically, humanitarianly and so on and so forth. We have always interacted with African countries. Perhaps our presence was not as noticeable as, for example, in the era of the countries of socialist orientation. But, nevertheless, we have always been here. But of course, life goes on and everything changes.

The civil war began officially in 2013. A series of armed conflicts that evolved into a civil war. It lasted through 2020, when there were elections and after that there was a surge in the activity of illegal armed groups. The country was in need of urgent help and we came for help.  This is the main result of our military cooperation.

Secondly, we train personnel for the army and the so-called security sector of the Central African Republic that includes the police and gendarmerie. The gendarmerie is an analogue of the Russian Guard. Last year alone we trained about 4,000 people. This is a lot. The army has become one of the best trained in the subregion.

Thirdly, Russia supplies military products and army equipment. This is also very important. It used to go down to Kalashnikov rifles and small arms in the past, but now we supply even aircraft. A batch of Albatross L-39 combat training multifunctional aircraft has been delivered recently. This delivery has launched a new era in the history of the CAR army when several helicopters and planes appeared in the structure of the army. 

So to sum up, our cooperation has been very successful. The country has defended its sovereignty, the government controls 95% of the country's territories. The country is now at the stage of post-conflict rehabilitation, that is, this is a green light for foreign investors. A dialogue with Bretton Woods institutions that allocate credit resources and give the go-ahead for continental or regional loans, such as the African Development Bank, will be completely different hence post-conflict rehabilitation.

What is the situation now? Now that the commanders of PMC Wagner and Prigozhin himself died, is the situation going to change? 

PMC Wagner is still the basis of security. Officially, there is no Wagner here. There is a group of Russian instructors present here to develop interdepartmental agreement on cooperation in the field of defense, signed in 2019. This is a military cooperation agreement. As part of this agreement, we sent instructors when the capital was besieged. There was no choice. Our instructors started working immediately. They assisted in operational planning, in tactical deployment of forces and assets, in personnel deployment, in intelligence database management, in supplies and even in evacuation of the wounded. The capital was rescued. Today, the government controls 95% of the territory of the country. The past conflict was an armed conflict inside the country between the government and bandit formations. Nowadays, there is an external attack on the CAR. Surviving armed groups retreated outside the country. The government decided to hold local municipal elections for the first time in almost 40 years.

The CAR Ambassador to Russia said in an interview recently that Russia wanted to build an army base here. Are there any prospects for building a Russian base? Does the government want to proceed at this point? 

To be honest, this is a question to the Ministry of Defense. There was no such information inside the ministry. I am familiar with what the ambassador said, but it has not received any further development. Many changes have taken place lately, and it's difficult to guess what is going to  happen. We just have to wait and see.

I would not say that Russia has established itself fully in the Central African Republic. We are not entirely satisfied with how we use the potential. Our security cooperation is going very well, political contacts are developing, but the economic situation is bad. We can not use this potential for a number of reasons. 

The Central African Republic is a country where the influence of France has been traditionally strong. The French army was stationed here, there were French soldiers here. Why did the French fail to handle the situation? Why couldn't they help when the civil war broke out? Why did the French fail and the Russians succeed? Why did the country part with France and start with Russia?

This is a very interesting question. First, France has never left the Central African Republic, and the republic has never turned its back on France either. France is present here both politically and diplomatically, the cultural influence is still moving forward. There are educational ties, economic projects, humanitarian cooperation.

Why can't we be successful, like China? China is everywhere you go. Russia is successful in the CAR militarily, but not economically. This is largely due to sanctions that were imposed on Russia. 

We have big difficulties with bank transfers, logistics and so on. There are also objective difficulties in the economy of the Central African Republic. Not all cooperation models could be applicable. For example, if we are talking about natural resources, there is uranium, gold, diamonds, copper.

Realistically speaking, this is the sphere of export. The market is not very capacious, but its capacity is growing. First of all, this is agricultural processing. There is also the sphere of energy. There are plenty of opportunities - the Russia-Africa economic forum was held to discuss all those issues.

This is a country with one of the lowest income. The main reason is that there has been a series of internal conflicts happening here since 2013. When there are internal conflicts going on, it is impossible to develop the country. The main thing is to survive. The migration issue is huge as well. Over one million 200 thousand people have been displaced. What kind of development can we talk about? One problem leads to another - no roads means poor communication, poor internet, and so on. There is another reason that is inherent in all African countries.

I would also like to ask a question about my fellow journalists. Is there any hope in the investigation  of the 2018 murder case, when a group of journalists was killed? 

The investigation is ongoing. The case has not been closed, no one is going to shelve it. Unfortunately, there is no progress for objective reasons, because when all this happened, there were mass migrations, hostilities, illegal armed formations, and, of course, all traces have been lost over time. However, when they defeat a criminal gang, they interrogate its members, and pieces of information may begin to emerge. 

The head of the Russia House received a terrible package with explosives in December last year. Is there any progress in that case? Who sent the parcel and who threatened him? 

The authorities of the Central African Republic are also dealing with this case. There is investigation going on. The main police department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Central African Republic is directly involved in investigative activities. We only know that the parcel arrived via DHL from Lome, the capital of Togo. The CAR authorities cooperate with the authorities of Togo. However, we do not have any considerable progress. This is an international crime, a matter of international terrorism. 

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Author`s name Daria Aslamova
Editor Dmitry Sudakov