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Russia’s top diplomat promises more military support for Burkina Faso as he tours West Africa

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OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — Russia’s foreign minister on Wednesday pledged more support to Burkina Faso in fighting militant groups as he pressed his whirlwind tour of West Africa in an attempt to fill a vacuum left by the region’s traditional Western partners.

Sergey Lavrov spoke at a news conference in the country’s capital of Ouagadougou while on the third leg of his latest Africa trip, after Guinea and the Republic of Congo.

Russia is seeking to shore up support from the region amid Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. A number of African countries in recent years have expressed growing frustration with their traditional Western partners such as France and the United States.

“Russian instructors have been working here and their number will increase,” Lavrov said, adding that Russia has been helping train Burkina Faso’s military and law enforcement personnel. “We have supplied and will continue to supply military equipment to help strengthen Burkina Faso’s defense capability and allow it to eliminate the remaining terrorist groups.”

Lavrov said he appreciated the “objective and fair” position of Burkina Faso on the war in Ukraine. “For our part, we are ready to provide our support for the just cause of Africans who are trying to free themselves from neo-colonial influence.”

Burkina Faso, a landlocked nation of 20 million, has been ravaged in the past eight years by violence from extremist groups loosely affiliated with al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, and from the fighting between government forces and the militants.

The country also went through two coups in just 10 months, the second last year after which a military junta threw out French forces and turned to Russia for security support. However, the junta has struggled to contain the security and humanitarian crisis.

Burkina Faso has topped the list of the world’s biggest neglected crises for the second year in a row, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council. A record 6.3 million out of 20 million people will need humanitarian assistance in 2024, the aid organization said, with many on the brink of starvation. Two million people remain internally displaced, about 60% of them children. Many have been traumatized, but resources to help them are scarce.

Jan Egeland, the agency’s secretary-general, told The Associated Press that Western governments have been withdrawing financial aid from Burkina Faso and other countries in the Sahel, a region encompassing states on the fringes of the Sahara Desert, contributing to the vicious circle of poverty, violence, and extremism.

“The disengagement of the West is bringing them no influence in the region,” Egeland said. “But I haven’t seen Russia helping us in our humanitarian work or doing development programs, so the Russian approach is not going to bring relief that the people need.”

But, he added, “I see Russian flags in Burkina Faso. I don’t see European flags.”

Later Wednesday, Lavrov arrived in Chad, which has also made the list of the world’s neglected crises.

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Pronczuk reported from Dakar, Senegal.

By ARSENE EVARISTE and MONIKA PRONCZUK
Associated Press

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