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ISW: Russia expands its military presence and influence in Africa  

Formal basing agreements and sanctioned operations suggest these efforts would likely last for years, ISW reported.
Burkina Faso and Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin with Burkina Faso’s interim President Ibrahim Traore during a meeting following the Russia-Africa summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, July 29, 2023. Credit: Sputnik Africa

The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) keeps expanding Russia’s influence and subsuming previous Wagner Group operations in Africa, ISW said in its daily report on 26 January.

A Russian MoD delegation arrived in Burkina Faso on 26 January to discuss “the rights and powers of the Russian military contingent” in the country and future cooperation between Burkina Faso and Russia.

The Russian milbloger said that Burkina Faso would likely become the “main coordination center” between Sahel Alliance members Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali. Russian media operates in Burkina Faso to “compete with French media” and “create a loyal information space.” He said Russia’s military presence in the Sahel “would likely last for years.”

Additionally, Alexander Ivanov, director of the Russian Officers’ Union for International Security (OUIS), told the Russian state news agency TASS that “several hundred Russian military personnel” in the Central African Republic (CAR) would be “sufficient and effective.” Ivanov argued this would “strengthen Russia’s position in CAR and the region.” However, he labeled claims that the proposed Russian base could accommodate 10,000 personnel as “a clear exaggeration.”

The ISW report also states that the US Treasury Department sanctioned OUIS and Ivanov earlier this year for acting as front companies for the Wagner Group. Ivanov’s recent comments suggest Russia has been successful in “co-opting some former Wagner Group structures in CAR,” the report says.

Russia reopened its embassy in Burkina Faso in December 2023, BBC reported.

Previously, Burkina Faso was an ally of the former colonial power of France. However, the country has shifted its allegiance towards Russia since the military took control of Burkina Faso’s government in a 2022 coup.

Other takeaways from the ISW report:

  • The Kremlin and US officials rejected rumors about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s willingness to engage in meaningful negotiations amid continued indications from the Kremlin that Russia seeks nothing less than full Ukrainian and Western capitulation.
  • Russian demands for Ukrainian “neutrality” and a moratorium on NATO expansion have always been and continue to be one of Putin’s central justifications for his invasion of Ukraine. Any hypothetical concession on these demands would represent a major strategic and rhetorical retreat on Putin’s behalf that Putin is extremely unlikely to be considering at this time.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated boilerplate Kremlin narratives that blame Ukraine for the war while also highlighting Russian forces in the Soledar direction.
  • The circumstances of the 24 January crash of a Russian Il-76 military transport aircraft in Belgorod Oblast remain unclear.
  • The European Union (EU) will provide Ukraine with an additional five billion euros to meet “urgent military needs” in the near future.
  • Russia reportedly imported $1.7 billion worth of advanced microchips and semiconductors in 2023, primarily from the West, skirting Western sanctions intended to deprive Russia of such technology.
  • Russian forces advanced near Avdiivka amid continued positional engagements throughout the theater.
  • Elements of Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin’s alleged personal private military company (PMC) may have deployed to Ukraine.

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