Burkina Faso interim president hails Russia as ‘strategic ally’

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By Webdesk

Ibrahim Traore talks about conflicts in the Sahel region, but denies that Russian mercenaries help his government in the fight against rebels.

Burkina Faso’s interim president Ibrahim Traore said on Thursday that Russia has become a key strategic ally, but denied that Russian mercenaries are supporting Burkinabe’s armed forces in their fight against armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) .

Ouagadougou’s relations with Moscow are in the spotlight as anti-French sentiment rises in parts of the region. In February, the West African country expelled French troops after ending an agreement that had allowed France to fight armed groups there since 2013.

During a rare television interview on Thursday, Traore was asked about Burkina Faso’s international allies in the conflict that has killed thousands and displaced about 2.5 million in the wider Sahel region over the past decade.

“The departure of the French army does not mean that France is not an ally,” Traore replied. “But we also have strategic allies. We have new forms of cooperation. For example, Russia is a strategic ally.”

He said Russia is and will continue to be a major supplier of military equipment without giving further details.

“I am satisfied with the cooperation with Russia. It’s candid,” he said, sitting on a graceful chair in military uniform and a beret.

Western countries are concerned about Russia’s increasing influence in the Sahel and nearby regions. France withdrew its troops from Mali last year after the military government there began working with Russian military contractor Wagner Group to combat armed groups.

France had been there since 2013, but the failure to wipe out the rebels led to the Malians’ disillusionment with their former settlers.

Traore was asked to comment on reports that Wagner troops are also on the ground in Burkina Faso.

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo claimed in December that his neighbor had hired the mercenaries, and Burkina Faso called on the Ghanaian ambassador to protest.

“Our army fights alone,” Traore said. “Wagner’s presence was designed to harm Burkina so that countries would not cooperate with us.”

Burkina Faso’s instability led to two coups last year by the army, which promised to regain control of the country but has so far failed to stop the attacks.

Unrest in the region began in neighboring Mali in 2012 when rebels hijacked a Tuareg separatist rebellion. The violence has since spread to Burkina Faso and Niger, and experts have warned it could destabilize coastal countries further afield.

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