Russia has sent 100 military personnel to Burkina Faso, the first significant deployment of Russian troops to the West African country, which has been rocked by a coup and a jihadist insurgency.
The Russian Africa Corps, a new military force that replaces the Wagner group of mercenaries, said on its Telegram channel that the troops would provide security for the country’s junta leader Ibrahim Traoré and the Burkinabe people.
The move comes as Burkina Faso seeks to diversify its international allies after expelling French troops in early 2023, following the example of neighbouring Mali, where Russian Wagner operatives have been active.
These “military experts” will also “provide training to Burkinabe troops and conduct patrols in high-risk zones,” as reported by The Africa Initiative, a media outlet close to the Kremlin, on its Telegram account.
Last November, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his counterpart from Burkina Faso Kassoum Coulibaly met and agreed to strengthen defense ties. Burkina’s military rulers have deepened cooperation with Moscow as the country looks to diversify its international allies following a coup last year, at the detriment of former colonial master France.
Russia has been expanding its influence in the Sahel region, where a series of coups has brought Moscow-friendly military regimes to power in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, challenging the long-standing presence of former colonial power France.
France had deployed about 5,000 troops in the Sahel since 2013 as part of its Operation Barkhane, which aims to support the local forces in fighting the jihadists linked to Islamic State and Al Qaeda.
However, France has faced growing resentment and criticism from the Sahelian countries, who have accused the G5 Sahel, a regional anti-jihadist coalition backed by France, of failing to make the region safer and of serving foreign interests.
Burkina Faso and Niger withdrew from the G5 Sahel last December and joined Mali in forming a new alliance of Sahel states that aims to enhance their security and development.
Russia, which has grown more isolated since its Ukraine offensive, has in recent months discussed greater military cooperation with Burkina Faso. Last November, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his counterpart from Burkina Faso Kassoum Coulibaly met and agreed to strengthen defense ties.
Russia’s African Legion
Russia is preparing to launch the African Legion, a new military force that will be directly subordinate to the Ministry of Defense, and will be overseen by Deputy Defense Minister Yunusbek Yevkurov, a former president of the Russian republic of Ingushetia.
The African Legion will consist of former Wagner operatives and private security contractors affiliated with Russian companies working in Africa. It was formed in August 2023, after the death of Wagner’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin.
The African Corps channel said a further 200 troops would be deployed to Burkina Faso in the near future. It also said that the military leaders of Niger and neighbouring Chad paid separate official visits to Moscow in January, signalling further cooperation.
The deployment of Russian troops to Burkina Faso will add to Western concerns about Russia’s widening influence in Africa’s Sahel region, where a long-running regional conflict with insurgents has been complicated by political instability and foreign intervention.