Russia’s role in Burkina Faso crisis under scrutiny

Ouagadou – Within hours of Burkina Faso’s second coup this year, the head of Russia’s dark mercenary Wagner Group was one of the first to congratulate the leader of West Africa’s new military junta.

In a message posted on Telegram, Evgeny Prigozhin praised the rebels for doing “what was needed”.

That same day, pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergey Markov posted that the Russian people had helped the new coup leader, Captain Ibrahim Traoré. And he predicted that Burkina Faso’s new leader would seek help from Russia, not its former colony France.

As Traoré cements his grip on power in Burkina Faso, questions are already swirling about his ties to Russia and how much he played in propelling him and his allies to power.

The recent coup “could be a gateway to a more assertive Russian policy toward the Sahel,” said Samuel Chan, an associate fellow at the Royal United Service Institute, a defense and security think tank. Ramani said.

“The Burkina Faso coup we just witnessed may be the first time Russia has played a role in fomenting a coup, rather than simply exploiting existing unrest.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, when asked about the coup in a call with reporters earlier this month, did not comment on the prospect of establishing ties with the country’s new leader.

The Kremlin denies ties to the Wagner Group, but Western analysts call it a tool of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Wagner Group mercenaries have established Russian footholds in at least six African countries, including the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mali, as thousands died and about two were displaced in Burkina Faso. fighting riots in million people.

The group has been accused of committing human rights violations. At least 300 of his people were extrajudicially killed in six alleged massacres of civilians in Mali’s Moura village earlier this year, according to the Center for African Strategic Studies.

“What we are observing today is the disturbing deployment of Wagner militias elsewhere in Africa, and we can see on the ground the impact of these militias leading to the mistreatment of the population. We have seen crimes in Mali, looting of natural resources in the Central African Republic and Mozambique, and above all, zero effectiveness in the fight against terrorism,” said the spokesman of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. said Anne-Claire Legendre of

France has had troops stationed in the region since it helped oust Islamist militants from power in northern Mali in 2013, but its presence has had little effect amid escalating jihadist violence. Following Burkina Faso’s recent coup, the French embassy and French research institute in the capital Ouagadougou were attacked by protesters waving Russian flags. .

It is unclear what role Russia played in orchestrating last month’s coup, or whether it was simply taking advantage of the chaos. Lieutenant Colonel Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who is now under pressure for months to work more closely with Russia, he said.

Traoré and other officers urged Damiba to work with more partners, particularly Russia, but Damiba refused, speaking on condition of anonymity for his safety, a member of the military government said. told communications.

Traore did not respond to multiple attempts to comment.In an interview with Radio France International last week, he downplayed questions about turning to Russia and said Burkina Faso was already allied with Moscow. Stated.

“I don’t think it’s special to see the Russian flag waving in Ouagadougou,” he told RFI.

Mamadou Drabo, executive director of Save Burkina, a civil society group that supports the military government, said they had tried to defuse tensions in the weeks before the coup. One of his biggest complaints was that Damiba did not have enough equipment, such as helicopters, that members of the junta wanted to buy from Russia because France would not give them anything. he said.

The Wagner Group’s track record in other countries has been controversial, but people are desperate for change and are willing to take the chance, he said.

“If you say today that you don’t want Wagner, how long are you going to stay in this war?” Drabo said. “I don’t want Burkina Faso to turn into Somalia.

After Damiba overthrew the democratically elected president in January, he asked Burkinabe to give him until September to show results in fighting Islamic extremism.

His government has created a comprehensive command center to strengthen coordination and set up local dialogue committees aimed at forcing the jihadists to lay down their arms. Burkina Faso’s military acquired three of his combat helicopters and drones, but security continues to deteriorate.

The number of people killed between the end of January and September, when Damiba was in power, increased by more than 100 percent from the same period last year, from 1,545 to 1,545, according to the Armed Conflict Places and Events Data Project. 3,244 people have died.

Last month, a convoy to the besieged town of Zibo was ambushed by jihadists, killing at least 37 people, most of them soldiers. Civil society groups and members of the military government widely believed that the attack led to Damiba’s demise, and his resistance to stronger cooperation with Russia also played a role.

However, many private citizens and analysts believe that talk of increased Russian involvement is exaggerated. Even if Burkina Faso wanted Russia’s help, it’s unclear if that would be possible given that Russia is having trouble finding soldiers for its war in Ukraine.

“Without the promised deployment, it is unclear whether (Traoré) will stand up to the French,” said Andrew Lebovich, a researcher at the Dutch think tank Clingendael Institute.

Many in Burkina Faso are wary of years of foreign intervention, saying no matter who intervenes, nothing will change.

“Whether it’s Russia or France or someone else, they all want the same thing,” said Ousmane Amirou Diko, a traditional leader known as Chief Liptako. control and influence.”


Contributed by Associated Press writer Jeffrey Schaefer, who lives in Paris.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission. Russia’s role in Burkina Faso crisis under scrutiny

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