PARIS (Reuters) – President Emmanuel Macron has accused Russia of feeding anti-French propaganda in Africa to serve “predatory” ambitions in the restive African nations, where France has suffered military setbacks and a broader loss of influence in recent years.
Speaking on the sidelines of a summit of francophone countries in Tunisia, Macron was asked to respond to critics who say France exploits historical economic and political ties in its former colonies to serve its interests.
“Others feed this perception, it’s a political project,” Macron told TV5 Monde. “I’m not a fool,” he said, “many of the influencers, who sometimes speak on your shows, are paid by the Russians. We know them.”
He added, “A number of forces that want to spread their influence in Africa do so to harm France, damage its language, and sow doubts, but above all they pursue certain interests.”
France, the former colonial power in most of West and Central Africa, has longstanding military ties across Francophone Africa, and French forces have been stationed in Mali for ten years as part of an anti-terror operation.
Critics call France’s operation a failure and blame it for further destabilizing the region.
It has also been competing for influence with Russia in recent years, with private military contractor Wagner Group deployed in several countries, including the Central African Republic and Mali.
Paris was forced to withdraw its forces in Mali after the African country’s military took power in a 2020 coup amid breakdown in relations. Afterwards, military leaders called on Wagner to help in a decade-long battle against Islamist militants and severed ties with France.
Russia said Wagner neither represents nor pays the Russian state. But the European Union imposed sanctions on Wagner, accusing it of carrying out covert operations on behalf of the Russian government.
Last year, a United Nations report said Russian military trainers and local forces in CAR targeted civilians with excessive force, indiscriminate killing, occupation of schools and widespread looting.
The Kremlin said it was a lie that Russian teachers had taken part in killings or robberies in the gold and diamond-rich country of 4.7 million people.
On Sunday, Macron said Russia’s behavior was “predatory”.
“You just have to look at what is going on in the Central African Republic or anywhere else to see that the Russian project that is going on there, when France is turned away, is a project of plunder,” Macron said.
“This was done with the complicity of the Russian Military Council,” he said.
(Reporting by Michelle Rose). Editing by Raisa Kasulowski
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