A federation of Russian satellite states in the Sahel?

Sahara ,Sahel

Published on Tuesday, 19 December 2023 Back to articles

The military leaders of the Alliance des États du Sahel states – Mali (L), Niger (C) and Burkina Faso (R)

The creation of the Alliance des États du Sahel (AES) — comprising Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso which signed the Liptako-Gourma Charter on 16 September (Sahara Focus, September 2023) — plus the outliers of Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), means that the Sahel is fast becoming a Russian satellite region. This is only finally beginning to dawn on the West. The latter is still in deep denial over the fact that the situation in the Sahel is largely of its own making, thanks to: its ill-thought-out military intervention Libya in 2011; and its subsequent complicity in relocating armed Islamist extremist groups from Algeria into the Sahel. 

If the AES succeeds in forming a federation, it will prove an immense challenge to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which might even dissolve. It could even precipitate the end of the CFA Franc and numerous other regional monetary and financial arrangements. Furthermore the West’s position and interests in much of the wider region will be severely challenged. 

The perhaps transient symbolic victory of the Mali’s Wagner Group-assisted army in Kidal suggest that the Russians are in the process of becoming a permanent feature in much of Africa, not as a piratical mercenary force, but increasingly as an agent of Moscow’s foreign policy.

The Russians’ reputation for crimes against humanity led to swathes of the population vacating Kidal. The region now faces the likelihood of a drawn-out, low-level guerrilla campaign against the Forces Armées Maliennes (FAMa) and their Wagner allies. The fact that some 50,000 people have reportedly been displaced from the region suggests that other forces — possibly from Niger and Algeria — could be drawn into a conflict to recapture their region and homes. As Menas Associates has predicted for several years, this part of the central Sahara appears to becoming a region of sustained conflagration for some time to come.

As is already the case, most Mali government information — as well as several surrounding areas — is likely to be disinformation. 

The effective financing of the Wagner Group in Mali from the tax revenues — paid by three Canadian and one Australian mining company — could lead to considerable pressure being brought to bear on those companies and their shareholders.

Pressure on the Niger junta from both the West and ECOWAS is crumbling. In the West’s case, this is largely through fear that it is becoming a Russian satellite. Most sanctions against Niger are expected to be lifted or simply fall away over the next few months.

Vote-counting is incomplete but the referendum on Chad’s proposed revised constitution looks like being a done deal that will lead to elections of sorts within the next year or so, but which are also likely to strengthen Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno’s current regime.

As the security situation in Burkina Faso continues to deteriorate, the future of the military junta and the country as a whole is looking increasingly precarious.

This excerpt is taken from Sahara Focus, our monthly intelligence report on the Sahara region. Click here to receive a free sample copy.

The December 2023 issue of Sahara Focus also includes the following:

Sahel

  • A federation of pro-Russian satellite states in the Sahel
  • Implications
  • Russia’s expanding regional influence
  • Evidence of Russian atrocities during Kidal’s recapture
  • Other Mali news

Niger

  • Niger is settling into its ‘new normal

Chad

  • Chadian opposition calls for departure of French troops
  • Vote counting under way in controversial referendum

Mauritania

  • Former president Abdel Aziz jailed for five years for corruption

Burkina Faso

  • Burkina Faso: the weakest link in Russia’s chain

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