President Emmanuel Macron accused Russia of feeding anti-French propaganda in Africa to serve “predatory” ambitions in troubled African countries where France has suffered military setbacks and a major loss of influence in recent years.
On the sidelines of a summit of French-speaking nations in Tunisia, Macron was asked to respond to critics who say France is exploiting historic economic and political ties in its former colonies to serve its own interests.
“This perception is fed by others, it’s a political project,” Macron said in an interview with TV5 Monde. “I’m not a fool, many influencers who sometimes speak on your programs are paid by the Russians. We know them,” he said.
“Some powers that want to expand their influence in Africa do so to hurt France, to hurt its language, to sow doubts, but above all to pursue certain interests,” he added.
France, the former colonial power in most of West and Central Africa, has long maintained military ties throughout francophone Africa, and French troops were stationed in Mali for a decade as part of a counter-terrorism operation.
Critics call France’s operation a failure and accuse it of further destabilizing the region.
It has also vied with Russia for influence in recent years, with the deployment of private military company Wagner Group in several countries, including Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali.
Paris was forced to withdraw troops from Mali after the African country’s military seized power in a 2020 coup amid a breakdown in relations. The military leaders then invited Wagner to help in a decades-long struggle against Islamist militants and to sever ties with France.
Russia has stated that Wagner neither represents nor is paid by the Russian state. But the EU has sanctioned Wagner, accusing her of conducting secret operations on behalf of the Russian government.
Last year, a United Nations report said that Russian military trainers and local troops in Central African Republic had used excessive force, indiscriminate killings, school occupations and widespread looting against civilians.
The Kremlin has said it was a lie that Russian instructors were involved in murders or robberies in the gold and diamond-rich country of 4.7 million people.
On Sunday, Macron said Russia’s behavior was “predatory”.
“You only have to look at what’s going on in the Central African Republic or anywhere else to see that if France is pushed aside, the Russian project that’s going on there is a predatory project,” Macron said.
“It is happening with the complicity of a Russian military junta,” he said.
© Thomson Reuters 2022.