The U.S. Government has warned Burkina Faso’s military junta about the “destabilizing impact” of the Wagner Group following last week’s new coup d’état in the African country, which has been suffering from a serious deterioration of the security situation for years.
“The United States is monitoring the situation in Burkina Faso,” said U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel, who stressed that Washington “has spoken clearly about the destabilizing impact of Russian disinformation and the global activities of the Wagner Group.”
“The countries where the group has been deployed are weakened and less secure, which we have seen in several cases in Africa,” he said, referring to the presence of Russian mercenaries in Mali, Libya and Central African Republic (CAR).
Patel therefore indicated that the United States “condemns any attempt to escalate the situation in Burkina Faso” and added that it “strongly encourages the new transitional government to adhere to the agreed timetable for the return of a democratically elected civilian government”.
The leader of the Sept. 30 uprising, Ibrahim Traoré, stressed Monday that “Russia is a state like any other,” in the face of speculation about possible increased Russian involvement in the African country and rising anti-French sentiment in Burkina Faso and other nations in the region.
Indeed, following the coup, the French Embassy in the capital, Ouagadougou, was attacked amid rumors that outgoing junta leader Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba was there, and dozens of demonstrators have taken to the streets with Russian flags to protest France’s military deployment.
Burkina Faso has generally experienced a significant increase in insecurity since 2015, with attacks by both Al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates, leading to a wave of internally displaced persons and refugees to other countries in the region.
Speaking on the French radio station RFI on Monday, 34-year-old leader Traore vowed to uphold the July 2024 timeline for restoring civilian rule.
This could even happen “before that date” if conditions were right, Traore emphasized.
He said that he would simply carry out “day-to-day business” until a new civilian or military transitional president was appointed.
The appointment would be made by a national forum gathering political and social representatives, the pro-Traore faction in the military said on Sunday.
Traore told RFI that this meeting would take place “well before the end of the year.”
Analysts said that his position, if carried out, would be acceptable to ECOWAS.
The Economic Community of West African States was created to shore up democracy in one of the world’s most volatile regions, yet has suffered five coups in three of its 15 members since August 2020. Burkina’s latest bout of turmoil coincided with a surge of violent protests against France, the former colonial power and ally in its struggle against the jihadists.
Pro-Traore officers accused Damiba of having taken refuge at a French military base near Ouagadougou in order to plot a “counter-offensive” charge he and France denied.
On Sunday, security forces fired tear gas from inside the French embassy to disperse angry protesters, and the French Institute, which promotes French culture, was also attacked.
The foreign ministry in Paris blamed the violence on “hostile demonstrators manipulated by a disinformation campaign against us.”
Traore on Monday condemned what he called “acts of violence and vandalism” against those buildings and urged “calm and restraint.”
Damiba’s ouster was proclaimed on Friday just hours after a protest rally that also demanded the end of France’s military presence in the Sahel and closer military cooperation with Russia.
Russian paramilitaries are supporting fragile regimes in Mali and Central African Republic, sidelining France, those countries’ traditional backer. The Russians have also been tarred with accusations of massacres and other abuses.
However, on Monday, the Kremlin said Russia wanted the situation in Burkina “to normalise as soon as possible, for complete order to be ensured in the country and for a return to the framework of legitimacy as soon as possible.”