(New York, N.Y.) — Last week, Burkina Faso President Paul-Henri Damiba was deposed by Captain Ibrahim Traoré and his supporters in a successful coup, the second in the country in the past year. Traoré cited Damiba’s lack of progress in defeating Islamic extremists—the same justification that Damiba provided in his own successful coup in January 2022. Supporters of Traoré, who were later seen waving Russian flags, then called for military support from the Kremlin after attacking the French embassy, signaling both Russia’s growing influence in the Sahel region and France’s diminishing influence.
To read the Counter Extremism Project (CEP)’s resource Russia: Extremism and Terrorism, please click here.
Russia has increasingly asserted its dominance across the Sahel region after France announced that it would end its seven-year anti-terror mission in Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad, Niger, and Mauritania. Through the auspice of the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-associated paramilitary group, Russia has reportedly taken on a primary role in supporting Mali’s fight against the jihadist insurgency. However, according to the BBC, the Wagner Group has been accused of giving Russia control over mineral resources in areas where they operate. Additionally, a 2021 U.N. report accessed by the New York Times found that Russian mercenaries and allied government troops committed “indiscriminate killings, occupation of schools and looting.” According to scholars on the region, while Wagner will provide training to local forces and offer security services to senior officials in partner countries, Wagner will also spread Russian influence on the continent.
Burkina Faso had been largely free of extremist and terrorist incidents prior to January 2016 when insurgents attacked the Splendid Hotel and Cappuccino Café in Ouagadougou, ultimately killing 30 people. The security environment first began to shift in 2015 when Burkina Faso began to suffer intermittent cross-border raids targeting Burkinabe police and military outposts near the country’s northern border with Mali. Since the January 2016 attack, Burkina Faso has reported several terrorist incidents, including the kidnapping of foreigners by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and two attacks by an ISIS-inspired breakaway group. Most recently, on September 26, militants from AQIM affiliate Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) ambushed a supply convoy in Gaskinde, northern Burkina Faso. The attack killed 11 soldiers and injured 28 others.
To read the CEP’s resource Burkina Faso: Extremism and Terrorism, please click here.