World news

In Africa, Russia targets and hunts France

The strategy, well established since the Central African Republic (CAR), is being repeated today in Burkina Faso: young officers supported by equally young civilians are setting out to conquer power, the Russian flag in hand, as one can see in the streets of Ouagadougou since Friday, September 30. Their targets? The presidential palace and France.

If at this time it seems that the putschists led by Captain Ibrahim Traoré have gained the upper hand over Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba – himself who came to power by a coup in January – France is seriously attacked by the new mutineers since Friday.

proxy war

A violent movement with multiple roots and causes, which resonates with the Russian project to drive out and replace Paris in its former backyard. The strategy followed by Moscow echoes the third chapter of the 36 Stratagems (1): “Killing an enemy with a borrowed sword. »

This principle was applied to the letter by the Russians, first in the Central African Republic from 2018. Taking advantage of the weariness and lack of vigilance of the Quai d’Orsay for this country plunged into a deep and terrible civil war since In 2012, Moscow thus sent weapons and instructors to Bangui to support President Touadéra, put in difficulty by a multitude of armed groups.

In the luggage of these instructors were the mercenaries of the private Russian company Wagner: a company which very quickly took control of the presidential palace and the Central African armed forces in exchange for mining concessions. Wagner’s deployment was accompanied by a virulent anti-French campaign in the Central African press and social media, targeting Paris, journalists and French interests in the country.

Results ? In this former bastion of France in Africa, the Russians are now at home. The Élysée has even recorded the repatriation of its last 130 soldiers from its base in M’Poko by the end of the year, as confirmed to The cross a military source. A historic decision, unheard of since the independence of the CAR, taken just nine years after the start of Operation Sangaris, the French intervention decided by François Hollande in December 2013.

preposterous messages

This scenario was repeated in another country weakened by a serious security crisis and by a regime unable to cope with it, Mali. After overthrowing the democratically elected president, the Francophile Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, on August 18, 2020, the ruling junta was divided between supporters of collaboration with Westerners – France and the European Union in the first place – and those who wanted to get rid of it. The latter took control during a second coup d’etat, on May 24, 2021, adopting an aggressive attitude towards Paris, helped in this by the unkind speeches towards them from President Emmanuel Macron, the Minister for the Armed Forces Florence Parly and the Minister for Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Bangui then quite naturally turned to those who held out their arms to them, Russia and the Wagner company. This is how the first Russian mercenaries and instructors deployed in this country from the end of 2021. An arrival which was immediately accompanied by a violent anti-French campaign on social networks. “Troll farms paid for by the Russians are attacking us in battery», deplored at the end of December 2021 a source at the Élysée.

Assured of the protection of Moscow – but also of Algeria, Turkey and China, three powers unfavorable to France on the continent – ​​the Malian authorities accused the French of all evils, going as far as assert that they were the accomplices of the terrorist groups. False information, propaganda, montages, social networks are invaded by preposterous messages questioning the role of France in the Sahel. A speech that led Paris to break with Bamako and to hastily put an end to Operation Barkhane in Mali in February 2022: the last French soldiers left the north of the country on August 15.

Replies from France

Having belatedly become aware of this hybrid war of which it is the target, France is trying to retaliate by taking seriously the “social networks” dimension of Russian strategy (and that of its allies). Not only does it now take into account the “informational war”, the war of influence on the networks and in the media, but it tries to strengthen its links with the countries targeted in its former backyard by the Russian strategy.

Among them, Niger, the cornerstone of the rearticulation of Barkhane in the Sahel. But also Cameroon, which is opening up more and more to Russia, as evidenced by the signing of a military cooperation agreement between the two countries on April 12 – almost two months after the start of the invasion. Russian from Ukraine. A swing that Emmanuel Macron tried to upset this summer by going personally to Yaoundé.

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