OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso The morning after the coup in Burkina Faso, a crowd of entertainers celebrating the military occupation of the capital’s main dusty square had two messages for the outside world: No to France and yes to Russia.
We want a partnership with Russia, said Bertrand Yoda, a civil engineer who shouted to be heard among hundreds of cheering and cheering people gathered at a loud applause for the new military junta. Long live Russia!
Insurgent militants seized power in this impoverished West African nation on Monday, riding on a wave of frustration over the government’s failure to curb growing Islamic violence that has displaced 1.4 million people since 2016, killed 2,000 and possibly destabilized two-thirds of a once peaceful country.
But now that the democratically elected president, Roch Marc Christian Kabor, has been ousted, the military says he is being arrested, supporters of the coup have turned to re-establishing foreign alliances in Burkinas Fasos. Their preferences were broadcast on Russian flags fluttering in the capital, Ouagadougou, on Tuesday, along with open, hand-painted signs directly targeting the former colonial ruler of Burkina Faso.
Not for France, a read.
The sudden outcry over Moscow’s aid was a further sign of how Islamic violence across the Sahel, a vast sub-Saharan region, is disrupting old alliances and destroying pro-Western, if often weak, democratic political orders.
Many in the protest said they were inspired by Russian intervention in the Central African Republic, where Russians guard the president, Russian diamond mining companies and Russian mercenaries fought an Islamic offensive last year, as well as a more recent Russian attack on Mali. , the site north of Burkina Faso.
The Russians got good results in other African countries, said Mr. Yoda. Hopefully they can do the same here.
It is not known if there are any Russian troops in Burkina Faso and it is unclear whether the country’s new military ruler, Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, wants them to come. Tuesday, Reported Daily Beast that Lt. Col. Damiba had begged President Kabor to hire the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-linked mercenary group earlier this month.
Some US officials privately questioned the account, but said it was entirely plausible that the new military government could seek Russian help.
It was not clear how the Russian flags ended in a pro-military demonstration in downtown Ouagadougou on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the coup. The Russian Embassy in Burkina Faso could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. But the rally was an indication of an attempt to pave the way for Russian intervention in another African nation.
The difficulties that Europe and in particular France has faced in curbing jihadist groups in the Sahel have offered Russia an opportunity to expand its security cooperation, especially in Mali, said Andrew Lebovich, a policy associate at the European Council on Relations with Outside, a study. bodies.
Analysts point out that Russian intervention in Africa often focuses on resource-rich countries that urgently need military assistance, where Western influence is diminishing or lacking. Russian aid comes in the form of military advisers, weapons or mercenaries, paid in cash or mining concessions for gold, diamonds and other resources.
The Russian presence is predominant in the Central African Republic, but Russia is also known to have intervened, to varying degrees, in Mozambique, Libya and Sudan, among other countries.
Recently, Russia’s focus has shifted to the Sahel, where it is taking advantage of growing anti-France sentiment and its reputation for effectiveness in combat, Mr Lebovich said. But he added that the record of Russian private military companies in Africa and the Middle East at best is mixed and damaged by significant abuses.
The United States also has a connection to the coup in Burkina Faso.
On Tuesday, U.S. Command in Africa confirmed that Lt. Col. Damiba attended numerous U.S. military courses and exercises between 2010 and 2020, joining a long list of African-American coup leaders who received U.S. military training.
Lt. Col. Damiba received instructions on the law of armed conflict, civilian control and respect for human rights, Kelly Cahalan, a spokeswoman for the African Command, said in an email. The military takeover is not in line with US military training and education, she wrote.
Warm welcome expected from Russia in some African countries is in stark contrast to the unfolding crisis in Ukraine, where the United States and its NATO allies fear an imminent invasion.
However, Russia has established a diplomatic nest with its recent move to Mali. where the ruling military junta returned to the Wagner Group last fall in its fight against the Islamists.
The deployment, which saw the first reported clashes between Russian mercenaries and Islamic militants earlier this month, has angered France, which since 2014 has deployed thousands of troops to the Sahel, including Mali, to help former colonies. its to counter the growing terrorist threat.
But it aroused interest in Burkina Faso, where civilians and military officers frustrated by their French-backed efforts to fight the Islamists began to consider the Russian model as a viable alternative.
We support the Russians, said Aminata Ciss, a water vendor who joined crowds celebrating military rule. Our families are dying and unemployment is rising, yet France has not helped much. At least we can try something new.
Public opinion in favor of a Russian intervention has gained momentum on social media in recent weeks, some residents said. On Facebook, in particular, people in Burkina Faso reposted news accounts of Russian deployment in Mali.
They also noted harsh criticism from Malian leaders of France’s decision to withdraw its troops and close three major bases in northern Mali since last October.
At the United Nations in September, the caretaker Prime Minister of Mali, Choguel Kokalla Maiga, accused France of leaving his country, saying that this would force Mali to look for new partners.
At the crowd in Ouagadougou on Tuesday, some people said they were inspired by Malis’s challenge to France. They saw Monday’s military control and their desired orientation towards Russia as a chance to achieve total independence from France, which formally withdrew from Burkina Faso in 1960.
Analysts say the coup this week has dealt a new blow to France’s shaky efforts to stabilize the Sahel. But a senior French military official dismissed suggestions that Burkina Faso was ready to move suddenly toward Russia.
The fact that Lt. Col. Damiba was trained in Paris, not Moscow, means France must be able to find a way to continue its decades-long cooperation with Burkina Faso’s military, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. discuss national security issues.
But, he added, we must be active to avoid any vacuum that the Russians could exploit.
Eric Schmitt contributed to the report from Washington.
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