Russia is aspiring to play a pivotal and influential role in the efforts to combat terrorism in the African Sahel, even as the region is witnessing an increase in terrorist threats, especially after the military coup that ousted Malian President Boubacar Keita on 18 August 2020. On the other hand, France, which leads European and Western efforts, faces increasing challenges in the field of counterterrorism.
Catalysts for the Russian role in the Sahel region
Mechanisms of the Russian role in the Sahel region
Opportunities for the Russian role in the Sahel region
Challenges of the Russian role in the Sahel region
The future of the Russian role in the Sahel region
First scenario: the growing Russian role in the region. This means that Russia would head towards sending forces to the region as part of its efforts to combat terrorism, especially in light of the challenges facing the French efforts and the growing political and popular calls within Africa for Russia to intervene in the fight against terrorism. On the other hand, France would seek to avoid showing a reaction to the Russian role in the region, and instead step up its economic and social engagement to offer a distinct model of cooperation. Nevertheless, Moscow faces many challenges to strengthen its efforts and presence in the region, especially in light of its military involvement in Syria, Ukraine, Libya and other countries, not to mention the Russian economic conditions which were weakened by European sanctions after the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
Second scenario: a limited Russian role in the region: this means that Russia would limit its military intervention to providing limited assistance in the field of training and forming special forces to combat terrorism, especially that Russia is aware that France has its own economic interests that it wants to protect in the region and keep competitors away from them. French President Macron warned at the Pau Summit (January 2020) against the intervention of "third countries" in Africa through mercenaries, in a clear reference to Russia. France subsequently proceeded to strengthen its military presence in the region. While there is a will on the part of Moscow to establish a new partnership with Africa, this does not mean that it wants more participation beyond what has already been announced, especially that the Kremlin has not yet responded positively to the call of the Sahel countries to join an international coalition against terrorism.
Russia seeks to exploit the deteriorating security situation in the African Sahel region in order to enhance its security and military presence there. In this context, Russia criticises the failure of Western countries to eliminate terrorist organisations in this region. Regardless of what it says, in fact, Moscow, like other international powers, aspires to obtain an ample share of the oil and mineral resources and wealth that abound in the Sahel region. This means that Moscow will face the challenges of the Western presence which would only allow it to have a limited role. Therefore, Russia’s efforts to increase its influence and role in the African coast are expected to lead to an increase in the policies of international competition in the region as a whole.
 Jideofor Adibe, What does Russia really want from Africa?, November 14, 2019, available at: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2019/11/14/what-does-russia-really-want-from-africa/
 Grey Dynamics, Russia in West Africa: Trying to Replace the West? 30/6/2020, available at: https://sofrep.com/news/russia-in-west-africa-trying-to-replace-the-west/
 Samuel Ramani, Russia Takes its Syrian Model of Counterinsurgency to Africa, Commentary, 9 September 2020, available at: https://rusi.org/commentary/russia-takes-its-syrian-model-counterinsurgency-africa.
 Steve Balestrieri, Putin is reportedly looking to expand Russia's persence in Africa with new bases in 6 countries, 12/8/2020, available at :https://www.businessinsider.com/russia-reportedly-signs-deals-allowing-bases-in-6-african-countries-2020-8
 Paul M. Carter, Jr., Understanding Russia’s Interest in Conflict Zones, Special Report, United States Institute of Peace, July 2020, p.14.
 Statement by Vassily Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN, at the open VTC of UNSC members on Peace and Security in Africa (G5 Sahel), 5 June 2020, available at: https://russiaun.ru/en/news/sahel_050620
 Russia to sign military cooperation deal with Niger, available at: https://tass.com/defense/959862.
 Grey Dynamics, op. cit.
 Redação DefesaTV, Mercenários do ”Wagner Group” presentes no Mali?, 10/12/2019, available at: https://www.defesa.tv.br/mercenarios-dowagner-group-presentes-no-mali/
 Sergey Sukhankin: Terrorist Threat as a Pre-Text: Russia Strengthens Ties with G5 Sahel, Terrorism Monitor, Vol. XVll, issue 6, 20/3/2020, p.6
 Grey Dynamics, op. cit.
 Laurent Ribadeau Dumas, La Russie exerce-t-elle une influence au Mali?, 21/11/2019, available at: https://www.francetvinfo.fr/monde/afrique/politique-africaine/la-russie-exerce-t-elle-une-influence-au-mali_3711387.html
 Gey Dynamics, op. cit.
 Kimberly Marten, The GRU, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and Russia’s Wagner Group: Malign Russian Actors and Possible U.S. Responses, July 7, 2020, available at: https://docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA14/20200707/110854/HHRG-116-FA14-Wstate-MartenK-20200707.pdf
 Łukasz Maślanka, France and the Russian Presence in Africa,17/3/2020, available at: https://pism.pl/publications/France_and_the_Russian_Presence_in_Africa
 Samuel Ramani, op.cit.
 Grey Dynamics, op.cit.
 Łukasz Maślanka, op.cit.
 Margot Colone, Quelle présence militaire russe au Sahel?, available at: http://gipri.ch/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Quelle-pr%C3%A9sence-militaire-russe-au-Sahel_-.pdf
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