Russia seeks a new opportunity in Burkina Faso. After strengthening its military cooperation program with Mali, first with the help of the Wagner Group led by Yevgeni Prigozhin, and currently thanks to the insertion of the mercenary company within the Russian Ministry of Defense, the neighboring nation’s turn has arrived to enter the orbit of Moscow influence. And the rumors that have been circulating for months seem to have been confirmed this November 10.
The following article presents a chronology of relations between Burkina Faso and Russia in the last year, so that the reader can understand, point by point, how the Kremlin troops have arrived in the nation that just two years ago was considered one of France’s strongholds in the Sahel.
September 30, 2022
The rapprochement between Ouagadougou and Moscow had its beginnings during the coup occurred in September 2022. Then, anti-French sentiment exploded among the Burkinabe population. Attacks on the French consulate, chants against neocolonialism and Russian flags waving among civilians who supported the military uprising featured in the photographs of those dates. Even some of the coup plotters dared to show signs in favor of a partnership with Russia.
Alexander Ivanov, leader (Russian) of the Community of Officers for International Security in the Central African Republic, That January, he had offered Wagner’s services to the previous Burkinabe head of state, Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, to combat terrorism in the country.. In his proposal, he assured that it was possible to “share the experience acquired in the Central African Republic to develop an army ready to fight and dominate the situation in a short time.”
January 23/February 20, 2023
After months of friction between the French Government and the new military junta led by artillery captain Ibrahim Traoré, both nations They reached an agreement during the month of January where the end of French operations in the country was announced. Prior to this decision, on January 3, the French ambassador in Burkina Faso had been expelled from the country. The reason that led the Burkinabe people to make such a drastic decision was based on two positions: a popular one, at street level; and the other, military. The popular position was born from the rumor that the French “finance the jihadists” in order to maintain instability in the region and thus strengthen their military presence in a kind of twisted neocolonialism. Expelling the French forces thus managed to connect the military junta with the wishes of the people, regardless of the veracity of the accusations, and thus satisfied the popular mass. The military position accused Paris of not having met its objectives in the fight against terrorism since the start of operations in 2015.
One day after the French withdrawal was announced, the Burkinabe Foreign Minister, Olivia Rouamba denied that a military cooperation agreement was being forged with the Wagner Group (or, failing that, Russia) and added that Burkina Faso was on its own to guarantee its own security thanks to the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland (VDP) program. The African nation would thus seek an “endogenous” solution to the terrorist crisis. Skepticism took shape among neighboring nations and the president of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, even claimed that there were mercenary troops in Burkina Faso even then. Information that was never confirmed. The end of the French presence in the country became official on February 20, 2023.
July 27-28, 2023
These were the dates on which the II Russia-Africa Summit in Saint Petersburg. The event could be called historic for Burkina Faso, after Captain Ibrahim Traoré secured a meeting with Vladimir Putin within the framework of the summit, a meeting that was aimed at strengthening ties between both nations. During this meeting, Traoré stated that “There is a desire to change the policy that leads us to turn our backs on our traditional allies and turn towards our true friends, like Russia, which has supported us since decolonization until today”. In a speech made during the Summit, in front of the rest of the African nations, the Burkinabe head of state added that “Russia is part of the African family, because we have the same history” and criticized the “forgetfulness” sought by the international community. when recognizing the efforts of Africa and Russia to combat Nazism during World War II.
The Second Russia-Africa Summit, added to the firm support that Traoré assured for the Kremlin’s policy, marked a before and after in relations between the two countries. Events that had taken months to develop thus suddenly accelerated during the following weeks.
September 1, 2023
The Burkinabé Government announced that a Russian delegation led by its Deputy Minister of Defense, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, had visited Burkina Faso in recent days to meet with Ibrahim Traoré. In this meeting, as stated, both parties raised a possible military cooperation that would continue what was agreed upon during the July meeting in Saint Petersburg. The agreement signed in September includes “areas of cooperation that mainly concern the military field, including the training of cadet officers and Burkinabe officers of all levels, including pilots in Russia.”.
Open intelligence channels had detected the day before that a Russian military aircraft had landed at the Ouagadougou airport after taking off from the Central African Republic (where Wagner has maintained a significant presence since 2018). The Burkina Faso-Central African Republic link that Alexander Ivanov exposed in January 2022 was closed here.
September 16, 2023
The leaders of the military junta that govern Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger signed a treaty through which the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), whose main function consists of military collaboration. It was Colonel Assimi Goita, from Mali, who announced in his X account that he had signed “with the Heads of State of Burkina Faso and Niger the Liptako-Gourma Treaty, establishing the Alliance of Sahel States, with the aim of establishing collective architecture of defense and mutual assistance for the benefit of our citizens.”
Although this new alliance seems independent of the relations of African nations with Russia, its military nature and Niger’s growing interest in associating with Moscow suggest that the AES will count, at least with regard to the training of African soldiers. , with a probable Russian presence. The cohesion of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali (two countries led by coup plotters and which have expelled French troops from their respective territories) and their military capacity will from now on be closely linked to Moscow’s powers when it comes to offering effective training. and advice suitable for their armies. In one word: The success of the Alliance of Sahel States as an organization will be determined by Russia’s contribution on the ground.
October 13, 2023
The military junta that governs Burkina Faso announced that it had reached an agreement with the Russian state company Rosatom to build a nuclear power plant in the African country. This agreement will allow the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and will seek to put an end to the perpetual energy crisis that affects the Burkinabe (81% of the population does not have access to electricity). The importance of this agreement dates back to the meeting between Putin and Traoré during the month of July. So, The young captain reminded the Russian boss of Burkina Faso’s urgent need to obtain solutions regarding the energy deficiency.
The energy-military cooperation nexus has been the main basis of the rapprochements between Russia and Burkina Faso for one fundamental reason: that Russian discourse is sustained by “brotherhood” with Africa and its legitimate interest in seeking African development free of the “obstacles” imposed by Western neocolonialism. The construction of a nuclear power plant meets the wishes of the Burkinabe people, who resist replacing France with Russia in an exclusively military sphere and who long for effective independence for the nation.
November 7, 2023
Kassoum Coulibaly, Burkinabe Defense Minister, met in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, to finalize preparations for Russian-Burkina military collaboration. The statement after the meeting determined that “during the meeting, issues of bilateral military cooperation were discussed. […]. “They agreed to strengthen and expand ties between Russia and Burkina Faso in the field of defense.” Shoigu wanted to highlight that relations between both nations are based on “mutual respect” and noted that the diplomatic balance was “positive.”
November 10, 2023
An Il-76 aircraft, well known for its role as a Russian troop transport, landed at Ouagadougou airport on the afternoon of November 10. At least 50 Russian soldiers were seen descending from the aircraft, to later go to the Lancaster Hotel on a bus. Russia thus consolidated its presence in Burkina Faso and, furthermore, in the Sahel. The use it will give Ibrahim Traoré The Russian instructors are still unknown, although, considering that the current numbers are much smaller than in neighboring Mali, it is assumed that they will not participate directly in the confrontations against the terrorists, beyond their capacity as observers or military instructors. .