OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso – The morning after the coup in Burkina Faso, a crowd celebrating the military takeover in the capital’s dusty main square delivered two messages to the outside world: No to the outside world. France, and yes with Russia.
“We want to work with Russia,” said Bertrand Yoda, a civil engineer, who shouted to be heard among the hundreds of cheering, honking horns gathered in a show of appreciation for the company. with a new rank. “Long live Russia!”
Rebel soldiers seized power in the poor West African country on Monday, triggering a boiling wave of frustration at the government’s inability to stem the surge in Islamist violence since 2016 that has led to 1.4 displaced millions, killing 2,000 and destabilizing perhaps two-thirds of a time of peace. Nation.
But now that the democratically elected president, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, has been cast aside – the military says he is in custody – coup supporters have turned to re-establish links foreign alliance of Faso of Burkina. Their hobby was broadcast on fluttering Russian flags in the capital Ouagadougou, on Tuesday, along with blunt hand-painted signs aimed squarely at the ruler of the former colony of Burkina Faso.
“No to France,” read one.
Moscow’s sudden call for help is yet another sign that Islamist violence across the Sahel, a vast region south of the Sahara, is reinforcing old alliances and eroding existing orders. pro-Western, if often weak, democratic self-politics.
Many at the rally said they were inspired by Russia’s intervention in the Central African Republic, where Russians defended the president, Russian diamond miners and Russian mercenaries fought against an attack by Islamist forces last year – as well as a recent Russian attack on Mali, the country north of Burkina Faso.
“The Russians have had good results in other African countries,” Mr. Yoda said. “We hope they can do the same here.”
No Russian troops are known to be in Burkina Faso and it is unclear whether the country’s new military ruler, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, wants them to come. On Tuesday, The Daily Beast reports that Lieutenant Colonel Damiba begged President Kaboré to hire the Wagner Group, a group of Kremlin-linked mercenaries earlier this month.
Some US officials have privately questioned the account, but said it was entirely legitimate that the new military government might seek Russia’s help.
It is unclear how the Russian flag ended at a pro-military rally in central 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 protest is a sign of an attempt to pave the way for Russian intervention in another African country.
“The difficulties that Europe and especially France face in containing jihadist groups in the Sahel have created a problem,” said Andrew Lebovich, a policy fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations of the Council of Europe. opportunities for Russia to expand security cooperation, especially in Mali. a research institution.
Russia’s intervention in Africa is often focused on resource-rich countries that are in dire need of military help when Western influence is waning or absent, analysts point out. area indicated. Russian assistance in the form of military advisors, weapons or mercenaries, paid in cash or mining concessions for gold, diamonds, and other resources.
The Russian presence prevails in the Central African Republic, but Russia is also known to have intervened, to varying degrees, in Mozambique, Libya, and Sudan, among others.
More recently, Russia’s focus has shifted to the Sahel, where it is capitalizing on growing anti-French sentiment and its own reputation for combat effectiveness, Lebovich said. But he added, “the record of Russian private military companies in Africa and the Middle East is mixed at best and tarnished by substantial abuse.”
The United States is also linked to the Burkina Faso coup.
On Tuesday, the US Africa Command confirmed that Lieutenant Colonel Damiba participated in many US military courses and exercises between 2010 and 2020, joining a long list of European coup leaders. Phi has received US military training.
Lieutenant Colonel Damiba received instructions on the law of armed conflict, civil control and respect for human rights, Kelly Cahalan, a spokesman for Africa Command, said in an email. “The military takeover of power is not consistent with the military training and education of the United States,” she wrote.
Warm Russian welcome in some African countries in stark contrast to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, where the United States and its NATO allies fear an impending invasion.
Even so, Russia has stirred up a diplomatic hive with its recent move into Mali, where the ruling military junta turned over to the Wagner Group last fall in its fight against Islamists.
That deployment, which saw the first reported clashes between Russian mercenaries and Islamist militants earlier this month, angered France, which has since 2014 deployed thousands of troops. soldiers to the Sahel, including Mali, to help their former colonies combat the growing terrorist threat.
But it did draw interest in Burkina Faso, where civilians and military officers desperate for their own, French-backed efforts to fight Muslim forces began to see the Russian model as a viable alternative.
“We support the Russians,” said Aminata Cissé, a water vendor who joined the crowd celebrating military rule. “Our families are dying, and the unemployment rate is rising, but France has not been of much help yet. At least we can try something new.”
Some residents said that public support for Russia’s intervention has created momentum on social media in recent weeks. In particular, on Facebook, people in Burkina Faso retweeted news accounts about Russia’s deployment of troops to Mali.
They also noted the harsh criticism of Malian leaders over the decision to withdraw troops and close three key French bases in northern Mali since last October.
At the United Nations in September, Mali’s interim prime minister, Choguel Kokalla Maiga, accuse France abandoned his country, saying it would force Mali to look for a “new partner”.
In the crowd in Ouagadougou on Tuesday, some said they were inspired by Mali’s French defiance. They see Monday’s military takeover, and their desired pivot to Russia, as an opportunity to achieve “full independence” from France, which officially left Burkina Faso in 1960.
Analysts say this week’s coup has dealt a fresh blow to France’s faltering efforts to stabilize the Sahel. However, a senior French military official dismissed suggestions that Burkina Faso is about to suddenly turn towards Russia.
The fact that Lieutenant Colonel Damiba was trained in Paris, not Moscow, means that France “can” find a way to continue its decades-old cooperation with Burkina Faso’s army, the official said on condition anonymously to discuss national security issues.
However, he added, “We will have to be aggressive to avoid any gaps that the Russians can exploit.”
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/25/world/africa/burkina-faso-coup-russians.html After coup in Burkina Faso, protesters turn to Russia for help