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The military juntas in the Sahel are sidelining Europe's efforts on security in favour of Moscow's forces
When Burkina Faso's junta expelled France's ambassador, Luc Hallade, last week it reinforced the sense of failure of Europe's diplomatic and security policy in the region.
Ouagadougou's move, followed the lead of Mali's junta which declared France's ambassador to Bamako persona non grata last year. It comes less than two weeks after the UN humanitarian coordinator in Burkina Faso, Barbara Manzi, was declared persona non grata.
EU High Representative on Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, insists that the EU 'is not abandoning the Sahel' but is 'restructuring our presence' in the region. Yet the withdrawal of French, German and British troops started last year and playing out over the next twelve months will mean more reliance on traditional diplomacy and development aid as policy tools (AC Vol 63 No 4, France moves out of Mali and Vol 63 No 8, Disjointed force).
Last year, the German government stated that it would start pulling out troops by mid-2023 and completely withdraw its soldiers by May 2024; Britain says it plans to withdraw its contingent earlier than the planned exit date of December 2023.
The prevailing anti-French sentiment in the region, and the increasing influence of the Russian mercenary force, the Wagner Group, suggests that the EU and its member states may struggle to recover ground in the short term.
The EU has recently launched programmes aimed at tackling what the European Commission calls Russian 'disinformation' on social media in the Sahel. Officials in Brussels know that that Russia wants to expand its presence via the Wagner group in the Sahel. But there is little sign they have an effective policy to counter that.
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