iexclusivenews – Russia has dispatched a group of its military personnel to Burkina Faso, a West African nation that recently expelled French forces in early 2023.
The move is seen as part of Russia’s growing involvement in the Sahel region, where it has been supporting Moscow-friendly regimes that have seized power through coups.
Why Did Russia Send Troops to Burkina Faso?
The Russian government confirmed that it sent about 100 soldiers to Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, on Wednesday, to “ensure the security of the country’s leader Ibrahim Traore and the Burkinabe people.”
The Kremlin said that another 200 soldiers would be deployed soon, and that the Russian troops would also provide training and assistance to the Burkinabe army and police.
The deployment came after Burkina Faso severed its security ties with France, its former colonial ruler, and asked the French troops stationed in the country to leave.
Burkina Faso accused France of failing to protect it from the escalating violence by Islamist militants linked to Islamic State and Al Qaeda, who have been wreaking havoc in the Sahel region for years.
Some analysts speculated that Burkina Faso would seek to strengthen its security cooperation with Russia, following the example of its neighbour Mali, where Russian Wagner mercenaries have been operating alongside the junta that overthrew the elected president in 2022.
How Did Russia React to the Photos of Its Troops?
The Russian defence ministry did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters, the news agency that first reported the deployment.
However, African Initiative, a pro-Kremlin Russian news outlet that covers African affairs, posted photos on Telegram on Wednesday, showing men in military uniforms unloading equipment from a plane with a Russian flag and a blurred number on its tail.
The plane was an Il-76, a transport aircraft widely used by the Russian military.
African Initiative claimed that the photos showed the arrival of the 100 Russian soldiers in Ouagadougou, and that they would also help patrol the dangerous areas in the country.
Reuters said that it could not verify the photos or the information independently.
What Are the Implications of Russia’s Presence in the Sahel?
The deployment of Russian troops to Burkina Faso will likely raise the alarm in the West, especially in France, which has been leading a counter-terrorism operation in the Sahel region since 2013.
France has about 5,000 troops in the region, but has faced growing criticism and resentment from some of its former colonies, who accuse it of meddling in their affairs and failing to restore stability.
Russia, on the other hand, has been expanding its influence in the region, by offering military and diplomatic support to the coup leaders in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, who have pledged to hold elections and restore civilian rule.
Russia has also been selling arms and providing training to the armed forces of these countries, as well as other African nations, such as the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mozambique.
Some observers fear that Russia’s presence in the Sahel could fuel the conflict and undermine the efforts to find a political solution.
Others argue that Russia could play a constructive role in the region, by helping to combat the terrorist threat and promote dialogue and cooperation among the regional actors.
What Are the Prospects for Future Cooperation Between Russia and the Sahel Countries?
Russia’s involvement in the Sahel region is likely to continue and increase, as it seeks to assert its global role and challenge the Western dominance in Africa.
Russia has already expressed its interest in developing economic and cultural ties with the Sahel countries, as well as other African nations.
In January 2024, the military leaders of Niger and Chad, two key Sahel countries, paid separate official visits to Moscow, where they discussed security and defence cooperation with their Russian counterparts.
Russia has also announced that it will host the second Russia-Africa summit in 2024, following the first one in 2019, where it signed dozens of agreements with African countries.
However, Russia’s engagement in the Sahel region could open new opportunities for dialogue and partnership, but it could also pose new challenges and risks for the stability and development of the region.