EU ends mission in Sahel, opens path for Russia

11:34 09.04.2024 •

With both European and American forces pulling out of the western Sahel, the region will be left to the growing influence of Russia, writes The European Conservative.

The region borders the southern edge of the Sahara desert and comprises areas of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. Over the last decade, it has become a hotbed of jihadist activity with Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists taking control of many areas. Since 2013, the French had been leading a coalition of European forces but after nearly a decade the results of the mission were lackluster. Relations with the Malian government also broke down following a series of coups. At the same time, soldiers from the Russian-based mercenary Wagner group moved into the region at the invitation of Mali’s military junta. France started drawing down its troops in 2023 with the aim of ending the mission entirely.

The EU then reached an agreement in 2023 with Niger to provide support for the Nigerian Armed Forces against jihadists and protect the country’s civilian population. But just a year later, the EU’s mission has come to an abrupt end.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s highest diplomat, confirmed that the bloc’s mission in Niger was in practical terms already over and would be formally canceled in June. The agreement had originally been signed with the government of President Mohamed Bazoum but when he was overthrown by the military in July 2023, the military junta now running the country distanced itself from its European allies. It announced at the end of last year that it was terminating its cooperation agreement with the EU, allowing for a six month wind down that would have given the EU until June to close its operations and bring staff back to Europe. The Nigerien leaders met with a Russian delegation in December as well to strengthen ties between the two countries.  

The tense situation became obvious in January when the European operations chief of staff was refused entry into the country. Three months later, the closure seems to have come about more hastily and harrowingly than European officials had hoped.

“We have had to cancel the missions in the Sahel and we have had to evacuate the staff of the advisory mission in Niger because the authorities asked us to leave,” Borrell said at a press conference.  

He also said that a decision regarding the mission in Mali was still pending. It is up for renewal in May but has already been suspended due to the coups d’état and the growing influence of Russia in the country.

Niger also announced that it was ending its years-long collaboration with the U.S., leaving U.S. officials scrambling to reassess their strategy in the region and attempt to negotiate with the country’s leaders.

The region is strategic for Europe as immigration from sub-Saharan Africa passes through it

According to Europa Press, the 2023 National Security Report from the Spanish Department of National Security (DSN), seen by the news agency in March, highlighted that “the Sahel is a priority area for Spain due to the effect it may have on the countries of the Maghreb and the possible extension of the conflicts to neighboring territories, such as the Gulf of Guinea.”

The document emphasized “the need to stabilize said area to prevent jihadist groups from having bases from which to plan terrorist actions against Spanish and European objectives.”

But European countries are losing their influence in the region while Russian influence is growing.

On a visit to Africa in March 2023, French President Emmanuel Macron was greeted in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with shouts of ” Macron, murderer; Putin, savior.”

Malians protest against France's military presence in Mali on the 60th anniversary of Mali's independence in Bamako.
Photo: EPA-EFE


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