Russia is advancing through the Sahel, NATO's “southern flank.”

Russia is advancing through the Sahel, NATO's “southern flank.”

Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso)In Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, you can watch a tribute to the French musician Cabrel, sponsored by the French Institute, and a representation of one of the classics of Russian literature. InspectorWritten by Nikolai Gogol in the 19th century. The latter is sponsored by the African Initiative, which, coincidentally, is also the name of a Moscow-based platform created in the Central Sahel region after the dismantling of the Wagner paramilitary group and the killing of its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.

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“This is not the first time we have done this montage that talks about corruption; it is a work that was written two centuries ago, but it is very widespread,” says Noel Minojo, head of the Carrefour International Theater of Ouagadougou (CITO), a historic theater in the country founded in 1996. “In many African countries,” he explains, the Burkinabe artistic elite. “We were asked to stage the play to celebrate World Theater Day,” he explains. “We went from giving four shows a year for 50,000 euros to not having the money to paint the sign at the entrance,” he explains. “Right now there is very little funding, and the African Initiative came looking for us directly.” “Covid has not hurt us as much as the war in Ukraine; Funding for the collaboration has almost disappeared, he adds.

While French institutions are withdrawing from the Sahel, it is the Russians who are occupying these spaces. For example, in Niger, the French school founded in 1962, Fontaine d'Or, will not reopen next academic year, and in Burkina Faso, French cultural centers have been operating at half capacity for some time, after they were attacked during the coup. “The country that will be led by Captain Ibrahim Traoré in September 2022. A struggle between geopolitical forces that often does not reflect the mood of the people. I am looking forward to cooperating with a Ukrainian theater group,” says Minogo.

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The US State Department said in a statement in February that the African Initiative is present in Burkina Faso and Mali and has “recruited companies from Prigozhin’s former empire” with the aim of “inflating and strengthening Russia’s image and distorting the image of other countries.” Specifically, the document notes that the African Initiative “misleads and causes spread through social networks.” Among its most popular pages are the African Initiative and the African Kalashnikov.

In de la Françafrique

African French is fading in the Sahel. In the military field, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger ended military cooperation agreements that allowed the presence of French military bases and soldiers on their territories. In addition, Niger in March also canceled the military agreement with the United States that allowed the presence of 1,000 US troops and two operational military bases to monitor the movements of terrorist groups threatening the Sahel region.

On the other hand, on the streets of Ouagadougou you can now see posters offering Russian language courses. Whether at the main roundabouts or on the side roads, four flags are present: the Russian flag, the Burkinabe flag, the Nigerien flag, and the Malian flag, under the slogan “Long live the Sahel States Alliance”, a regional organization born as a joint defense response to the threat of military intervention in Niger by the Economic Community of States. West Africa (ECOWAS) in August 2023 which has already agreed to form a joint military force to fight terrorism.

Since then, Russia has also invested in infrastructure in the Sahel countries. For example, it built a gold refinery in Mali – the 11th largest producer in the world – which would allow the Malian state to control the entire production chain of this metal and obtain many benefits. Last October, Moscow also signed an agreement to build a nuclear power plant in Burkina Faso, which relies on neighboring countries to supply its population with electricity (only a quarter of whom have access to it).

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'soft power'

Last November, the African Initiative began its activities in Burkina Faso Vicrotasi, a Russian comedy film. A month later, the Foreign Minister of Burkina Faso opened the Russian embassy (after being closed for 31 years) in Ouagadougou. The general and head of Niger's transitional authority, Abderrahmane Chiani, also announced that he had held a conversation with Vladimir Putin to “strengthen cooperation in the field of security.” The news came ten days after Niger ended its military cooperation agreements with the United States.

Mali was the first country in the Sahel region to allow the arrival of Wagner mercenaries around 2021 to fight terrorism. In fact, Prigozhin last appeared in public in a video allegedly recorded from inside the country. But after his death, cooperation not only stopped, but took on a new dimension.

Now there are no mercenaries from the private sector, but rather the Russian state itself that creates a bridge for cooperation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with his Malian counterpart, Abdallah Diop, in Moscow on February 28.

Threat to Spain?

At the beginning of April, the Spanish Foreign Minister, José Manuel Albarez, participated in a NATO ministerial meeting held in Brussels, where, as the minister noted in a tweet, “challenges on the southern flank of Europe”, a concept that refers to the Sahel region. .

the report National strategy to combat terrorism The Spanish Minister of the Interior stressed that “the multidimensional crises in the Sahel region directly affect the stability of the region and directly affect Spain's national interests, especially with regard to the terrorist threat and the increase in irregular migration flows.”

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That is why the same report said it was necessary to focus “efforts” on “training local military forces.” For example, Spain leads the European Union Military Mission in Mali (EUTM-MALI), which began “military training and advisory” operations for the Malian army in 2013. On May 18, the last mandate of this military operation was CountryThe contract will not be renewed, so this will be the last European Union military mission in the region.

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