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Russian base in central Africa on the table while US refocuses its strategy

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets United States National Security Advisor John Bolton in the Kremlin, October 2018. (en.Kremlin.ru/Released)

Russia may set up a military base in the Central African Republic in a sign of deepening ties between the two countries, Russian state media reported Thursday.

Russian troops are already active in the country, where they train local forces in combat techniques as part of an agreement reached in 2018. The next step could be a military base, Central African Republic Defense Minister Marie Noelle Koyara told RIA Novosti in an interview.

“We have not yet spoken about the concrete development of the base, but such a possibility is not excluded in the framework agreement,” Koyara said. “If the presidents, as supreme commanders and leaders of the nation, decide to deploy the base, then our countries will carry it out.”

Russia’s increased activity in Africa, along with China’s, has caught the attention of the U.S., which recently unveiled a strategy intended to counter the influence of those countries.

Last month, National Security Adviser John Bolton described Africa as a strategic battleground where countering China and Russia’s growing influence will be the top U.S. priority.

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Calling China and Russia “great power competitors,” Bolton said those countries are focused on gaining “a competitive advantage over the United States.”

“In short, the predatory practices pursued by China and Russia stunt economic growth in Africa, threaten the financial independence of African nations, inhibit opportunities for U.S. investment, interfere with U.S. military operations and pose a significant threat to U.S. national security interests,” Bolton said during a speech in Washington.

In 2017, China set up its first overseas military base in Djibouti, where the U.S. also has its main base of operations in Africa.

Russia’s foray into Africa is much smaller than China’s, which has invested heavily across the continent. Still, Russia’s recent push is perhaps its largest in Africa since the end of the Cold War.

During the past two years, Russia has sent arms into the Central African Republic, where the government has been engaged in a civil war with factions of Muslim rebels and Christian militias at odds. Last year, Russia began training government forces in what The Moscow Times described as “the start of its highest-profile military foray in sub-Saharan Africa for decades” and an effort to gain contract rights to mining projects.

Russia also has sought to increase its influence in oil-rich Libya, where Moscow has courted Khalifa Haftar, a militia leader and key rival to the country’s fragile, Western-backed government.

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