Valery Zakharov works as National Security Advisor to the President of the Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadera, who has held office since the 2016 elections. Touadera’s rise to power has been accompanied by a considerable increase in the influence of the Russian Federation in the country.
To learn more: El eje Bangui-Moscú: en el corazón de la Rusáfrica
- Could you tell us exactly what your job is in the Central African Republic?
My work as an adviser to the President of the CAR is primarily associated with a comprehensive analysis and development of the entire national security system in the country. This includes issues of economic and information security. Of course, the most important at this stage are the issues of fighting crime, since the country is going through difficult times.
In the UN roadmap, general elections are a key element in nation-building, and therefore a set of measures to ensure safe voting is a priority for national authorities. At the moment, the efforts of the President and the Government are aimed at completing the process of forming the National Assembly of the country.
- Since last December, the Central African Republic has experienced a major crisis. How serious is the situation out there? Do you think we can talk about a third civil war?
I strongly disagree with describing this conflict as “civil”. In this case, we do not see a split along ethnic, religious or political grounds in the population. The people of the CAR have long been tired of war and strive for peace with all their might.
This process became tangible in 2016 after the election of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra during the first peaceful elections in a long time, and finally took shape in 2019, when even the armed groups agreed to sign a peace agreement. Central Africans have unanimously demonstrated great courage by coming to the national elections. This desire to uphold democracy has aroused great admiration of the international community. This was another proof that the residents of the CAR do not accept any form of change of power except for fair democratic elections.
Now the CAR government is waging a war against outright bandits and mercenaries who terrorize and rob civilian population. Therefore, now a comprehensive operation is being carried out to clear the territories of bandits. They suffer defeat after defeat, because they do not have support among the local population. I believe, that the moment, when all the territories of the country will be free of all bandits without exception, is not far off.
I would especially like to note that the people of the CAR stand in solidarity with the official authorities. Thousands of people come to rallies, marches and other events in support of the national army and against armed groups.
- The FACA, with the help of its allied forces, recently launched a military campaign that allowed the Government to regain control of the RN3 by reopening the road between Bangui and Cameroon. But operations appear to be continuing, and offensives have already taken place elsewhere in the north and east of the country. What is the purpose of this campaign? Is the government trying to regain control of the entire country, or does it have some less ambitious goal?
Yes, of course, the government will soon restore control over the entire territory of the country. We can observe solid conditions for achieving this goal. First of all, it is the desire of the people to live in a civilized society, in peace and harmony. The road to Cameroon is open, and supplies of essential goods and food are gradually being restored. The government’s goal is very simple and straightforward: safety and order in the country must be provided by the army, police and gendarmerie. The existence of any non-state armed groups, who impose levies , kill and rob civilian population, is unacceptable.
- Former President Francois Bozizé has been accused of supporting the rebels of the Coalition of Patriots for Change, but what is his real relationship with these groups? Is this simply a matter of convenience in which Bozizé represents the political sphere of this rebellion, or is there a more direct connection?
The Government has removed from the governing bodies those representatives who withdrew from the so-called Khartoum Agreements and participated in armed demonstrations. Thus, a political assessment of the situation is given. There are those who have remained committed to the peace process, and there are those who have returned to their former criminal activities, and the latter should be arrested and convicted.
According to operational data, Bozizé personally directs the operations of the militants and is personally involved in attracting mercenaries from various countries, including Chad and Sudan, to destabilize the situation in the Republic.
The role of both Bozizé himself and the members of the armed groups in the events of December 2020 – January 2021 must be established in accordance with the procedure provided for by law. A number of criminal cases have already been opened on specific circumstances, and investigative actions are underway. I think it is important to get not only a legal assessment, but also to publicly disclose the details of this criminal conspiracy, so that there would be no doubt that they are trying to sell an openly bandit attempt to seize power as political differences.
There is evidence that it was Bozizé who persuaded the leaders of the armed groups to join this obviously doomed adventure, probably hoping to take power by force and divide the resources and territories of the CAR among the bandit leaders. But as we can see, his plan didn’t work.
- France is a country with a great historical connection to the Central African Republic, and its great influence on the country’s political evolution during the 20th century is well known. How do you assess their role in the current crisis?
France and other EU partners play an important role in ensuring democratic procedures in the country, facilitating elections, and making generous donations to ensure a transparent and legitimate electoral process. The Government and the people of the CAR certainly appreciate this. However, in my opinion, there are a number of negative factors that undermine the authority of France among the population, in particular, the fact that France is one of the key supporters of maintaining the arms embargo in the CAR.
The embargo is a source of extreme resentment among Central Africans, because it weakens the army’s defenses and makes it impossible to equalize forces in the fight against the militants, who are often better armed.
- Rwanda was, along with Russia, one of the countries that was requested to assist during the elections last December. What exactly is the role of Rwanda today? Are they actively involved in the conflict only through MINUSCA, or is there some other type of closer cooperation through other structures or channels? How do you assess their role in the current crisis?
Rwanda, at the request of the CAR authorities, has significantly strengthened its peacekeeping contingent, which now amounts to almost 1,300 people. They act very efficiently and professionally. Of course, without the support of Rwanda, it would be difficult to repel the aggression of the militants and immediately go on the offensive. We are in constant contact with the Rwandan forces, as well as with all other partners.
- And since we mentioned this, I would also like to ask you about MINUSCA. How do you assess the role of MINUSCA in the current crisis and what, in your opinion, will its role be in the future of the country?
MINUSCA plays a very important role in ensuring the security of the population in those regions where the CAR army has not yet reached and has been entrusted with an important function of assisting in the conduct of general elections, in particular, MINUSCA ensures the delivery of electoral materials and security at polling stations for calm and fair voting.
However, MINUSCA has a number of restrictions due to the UN mandate to participate in the conflict, so the main burden of the fight against the militants still falls on the CAR army, which will have to restore state power throughout the country.
- Now that everything is clear, let’s talk about Russia. Let’s start from the beginning: How does Russia support the Government of the Central African Republic? It is well known that there is important security cooperation, but what role does Russia, or Russian personnel, play in the current offensive against the CPC?
Russia is a key security partner of the CAR and has consistently supported the lifting of the embargo. It was Russia that managed to get an official UN permit to supply weapons to the CAR army in 2018. The personnel authorized to train the security forces was sent to the Republic at the same time.
Since then, the role of Russian instructors in the CAR has not changed, they are still engaged in FACA training. To strengthen the army, the Russian Ministry of Defense has delivered 20 BRDM-2 vehicles to the CAR.
- What further prospects do you see for cooperation between Russia and the Central African Republic? Do you think there is a chance that Russia will eventually open a permanent military base in this country, as has been repeatedly rumored? And what role do you think the Central African Republic can play in Russia’s growing involvement on the continent?
Relations between Russia and the CAR have a long history, more than 60 years. I believe that there are still a lot of promising areas in relations between the CAR and Russia, primarily economic ones. As soon as the security situation is resolved, I am convinced that numerous investors interested in mining, alternative energy, cotton and timber industries, and so on, will also come to the CAR.
There is already a Russian military representation in the CAR, which is still sufficient for operational coordination between the Central African and Russian Ministries of Defense, the issue of opening the base is not yet on the agenda.
- The growing significance of relations between Bangui and Moscow has drawn some harsh criticism from the West, which in some cases has led to Moscow being branded as pursuing “imperialist” policies in the country and the region. How would you respond to this criticism?
We react calmly to such criticism, because we understand that the same representatives of Western countries, France, the United States and others present on the territory perfectly see Russia’s efforts to ensure security in the CAR and are in constant contact with us. In my opinion, instead of being guided by the old stereotypes of the Cold War, we need to build a direct constructive dialogue, to which the Russian side is always open.
To learn more: Cobertura del conflicto en República Centroafricana