PARIS (AFP): French President Emmanuel Macron, on a visit to Benin Wednesday, branded Russia “one of the last imperial colonial powers” for its invasion of Ukraine.
“Russia launched an offensive against Ukraine. It’s a territorial war, the likes of which we thought had disappeared from European soil. It’s a war from the early 20th, even the 19th century,” Macron said on the second leg of a trip to Africa to reset France’s relations with the continent, where many nations are former French colonies.
“I speak on a continent that has suffered colonial imperialism,” Macron said.
Delivering the verbal broadside at a press conference with Benin President Patrice Talon, Macron said “Russia is one of the last imperial colonial powers,” for it had decided to “invade a neighbouring country to defend its interests”.
Russia sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, sparking a war that has killed thousands, displaced millions and sparked fears of a global food crisis over blocked grain exports.
Macron accused the Kremlin of launching “a new type of hybrid world war.”
“It decided that information, energy and food were military instruments placed at the service of an imperialist continental war against Ukraine,” he said.
Macron said he wanted to “describe what’s happening today in the baldest terms”.
He accused Russia of disruption through “disinformation”, describing it as “one of the countries to make the most forceful use of instruments of propaganda”. He referred specifically to the TV channels Russia Today and Sputnik.
Russia has cut back on gas deliveries to western Europe and Ukrainian grain has remained blocked in ports since the start of the war, driving a surge in global prices for energy and cereals.
Russia’s energy giant Gazprom slashed its gas exports to Europe via the Nord Stream pipeline on Wednesday to about 20 percent of its capacity, German authorities have said.
Ukraine, meanwhile, said it had restarted operations at its Black Sea ports, a key phase to resuming grain exports under a UN-backed deal.
The French leader is on a tour of three African countries — Cameroon, Benin and Guinea-Bissau.
His swing coincides with an African tour by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
In Cameroon on Tuesday, Macron said the archives on French colonial rule in Cameroon would be opened “in full” and asked historians to shed light on the period’s “painful moments”.
French colonial authorities brutally repressed armed Cameroonian nationalists before the country’s independence in 1960.
Tens of thousands of supporters of the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC) party died at the hands of French colonial troops and of the first post-independence president, Ahmadou Ahidjo.
Macron also pledged that France, “acting in support and at the request of our African partners”, would stand by African countries facing security problems.
France is reconfiguring its posture in the Sahel after falling out with the military junta in Mali, the epicentre of a bloody 10-year-old jihadist campaign in the region.
After a pullout from Mali that is expected to be completed in the coming weeks, France’s Barkhane anti-jihadist force will have around 2,500 troops in the Sahel, just under half of the deployment at its peak, French officers say.
The force will also make a tactical shift, acting more in a support role for local forces as opposed to taking the lead, they say.
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