Weeks after expelling 400 French troops in the face of rising Islamic violence in the West African country, Burkina Faso may be increasing links with Russia’s mercenary company, the Wagner company. Burkina Faso’s government requested over $30 million worth of gold from its miners in February, citing “public necessity.” While the exact purpose of the gold is unknown, it has been speculated that it was used to pay for the services of Wagner Group mercenaries who were already active in Mali and the Central African Republic. Officials in Burkina Faso have denied bringing in Wagner mercenaries, but they have requested Russian military trainers. This comes at a time of rising anti-French sentiment after the country severed its military ties with France.
Since 2013, when French forces assisted in the ouster of Islamic extremists in northern Mali, they have been stationed in the Sahel. Citizens of France are becoming increasingly critical of the military’s presence amid rising Islamist attacks. The administration in Burkina Faso has added Russia to its list of military allies. Destabilizing for the region, according to the UN working committee on mercenaries.
The Wagner Group, founded by Russian millionaire businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin who is linked to President Vladimir Putin, has around 1,000 fighters in Mali for over a year. The group has been designated a significant transnational criminal organization by the United States and was sanctioned by the European Union for human rights abuses. African countries have granted Wagner access to natural resources, such as mining concessions, in payment for the mercenaries provided. There has been widespread outcry from Western nations about the employment of Wagner mercenaries in Africa. Trumpeting that the Wagner Group is “the life insurance of faltering and putschist regimes,” French President Emmanuel Macron referred to them as “criminal mercenaries.”
Rights organizations and local people have been accusing the Burkina Faso junta of carrying out extrajudicial killings since the coup in September 2020. Similar charges have been leveled against volunteer members of Burkina Faso’s armed forces. These civilians help defend the country against Islamists. Burkina Faso strongly refutes the allegations. Some in Burkina Faso are hoping for Western intervention in the form of France in order to better their situation, but they are worried that France won’t arm them.