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Russia expands in the Sahel with its new brand: Africa Corps

2023-12-23T05:05:23.314Z

Highlights: Russia expands in the Sahel with its new brand: Africa Corps. After consolidating its position in Mali, Moscow is strengthening its collaboration with Burkina Faso and Niger through an armed structure dependent on Defence to replace the Wagner group. On November 22, an announcement appeared on Telegram for the recruitment of a structure called Africa Corps, which presents itself as Russia's new armed wing on the continent. The death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Wagner, after he rebelled against the Russian president has changed the way the country provides its military support to its African allies.


After consolidating its position in Mali, Moscow is strengthening its collaboration with Burkina Faso and Niger through an armed structure dependent on Defence to replace the Wagner group


Captain Ibrahim Traoré, President of Burkina Faso, and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, together with Egypt's Al Sisi, during the Africa-Russia summit on July 28 in St. Petersburg, Russia. MIKHAIL TERESCHENKO / TASS HOST (EFE)

Russia is expanding its influence and military presence in the Sahel at a pace never seen before. After consolidating itself in Mali, where Wagner mercenaries were decisive in the recapture of Kidal by the national army against the Tuareg rebels last November, Moscow is now laying the foundations for its deployment in Burkina Faso and negotiating with Niger to become the necessary military ally. To this end, the Russian government has created a new military structure, under the Ministry of Defence and called Africa Corps, with which it intends to replace Wagner. Thus, they will move from a decentralized private company model to another formula that implies more direct control by the State. At the same time, at the beginning of December, the UN made official its complete withdrawal from Mali after handing over the Mopti base to the Malian authorities.

On 14 November, after fierce fighting against Tuareg rebels, the Malian army triumphantly entered the city of Kidal, a fiefdom of the separatists that had been out of state control for more than a decade. However, the Malian soldiers were not alone: some 600 Wagner mercenaries were part of the huge convoy that set off from Gao for the reconquest. In several videos that circulated on social networks, they could be seen aboard armored vehicles circulating through the city after their fall. Days later, a flag with the Wagner logo flew over the Kidal fort until it was removed by the Malian authorities, who prefer to maintain a patriotic discourse that attributes the prominence of the operation to their own Armed Forces.

"Would the Malian army have been able to reconquer the Kidal region on its own? Who knows. What there is no doubt about is that Russian involvement has helped and that the Sahel Armed Forces, such as Mali, are now better equipped," says Amid Bencherif, a researcher specializing in the Sahel. The presence of Wagner mercenaries on Malian soil has been proven since at least December 2021, as well as their participation in numerous counter-terrorism operations, especially in the centre of the country. Russian weaponry has flowed into Mali since then and Colonel Assimi Goïta, leader of the Malian military junta, received a lot of attention from Vladimir Putin himself during the Africa-Russia summit held last July.

However, the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Wagner, after he rebelled against the Russian president, has changed the way the country provides its military support to its African allies. On November 22, an announcement appeared on Telegram for the recruitment of a structure called Africa Corps, which presents itself as Russia's new armed wing on the continent, directly linked to the Ministry of Defense. According to the All Eyes on Wagner association, which specialises in the activities of this company, "Africa Corps would be a convenient cover to accommodate the operational staff of the Russian Ministry of Defence, but also of its security services, with a much more limited autonomy than the Wagner group and without a strong figure".

The proximity of Burkina Faso and Niger

Burkina Faso is also reaching out to Russia. On November 10, a Russian army plane landed at Ouagadougou airport. About <> uniformed men descended from the plane and settled in a luxury hotel in the Burkinabe capital, according to different sources. For the first time after a year of rumours, Russian servicemen were openly seen in a chemical factory and allowed themselves to be photographed in the laboratory for substances against viral hemorrhagic fevers in Bobo-Dioulasso, the country's second city. Days earlier, the African country's public television broadcast a report on the fight against jihadism in the north-central region in which an army captain appeared wearing two large Wagner logos sewn to his uniform, according to All Eyes on Wagner.

Although Captain Ibrahim Traoré, strongman of the Burkinabe military junta, has chosen since coming to power to strengthen his own capabilities for the fight against jihadism, carrying out intense, even forced, recruitment for both his Armed Forces and the controversial Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland (VDP), he has also recognised on numerous occasions the need for international support in this fight. especially in material means. Like Goïta, the Burkinabe leader held several talks with Vladimir Putin at the St. Petersburg summit and later by phone, and the Russian and Burkinabe military delegations have met on multiple occasions in the past year.

In Niger, where a military junta has also ruled since last summer, the new authorities on Monday denounced the defense agreements that bound it to the European Union. On the same day, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yunous-Bek Evkurov met in Niamey with General Abdourahmane Tchiani, the Nigerien president, and General Salifou Mody, the defense minister. The meetings were aimed at "strengthening cooperation between the two countries in the field of defense," according to a statement from the Nigerien government. "It is clear that there is a strategy [by Russia] to extend its influence," Bencherif said, while at the same time hindering Western influence.

This Russian expansion comes after the authorities of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger expelled French soldiers from their respective territories and created the Alliance of Sahel States, an organization for mutual aid and military cooperation that was born in the midst of the threat of military intervention against Niger by the rest of the countries in the region. The three states are also working together on economic and trade matters to counter the sanctions to which they are subject by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The UN mission in Mali has also been forced to pack its bags at the request of the military junta.

Meanwhile, the jihadism that has hit the region for more than a decade and is led by the local branches of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State remains very active. The massive attack launched at the end of November against the town of Djibo, in northern Burkina Faso, which was repelled by the army and caused at least 22 soldiers and dozens of terrorists to die, as well as the most recent attacks by the jihadists in several Malian cities such as Menaka, prove its operational capacity. Last week, the Western-backed anti-jihadist G5 Sahel alliance began its process of dissolution.

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Source: elparis

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