Russia FM Lavrov takes anti-western tour to Chad

AFP , Thursday 6 Jun 2024

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday arrived in Chad, the last leg of a tour of African nations marked by strong anti-Western sentiment and the promise of greater military backing against jihadists.

Supporters wave Chadian and Russian flags as they cheer outside the International Airport in N Djamena while waiting for the arrival of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on June 5, 2024. AFP


The veteran diplomat has offered to strengthen economic, trade and above all military cooperation with Guinea, Congo and Burkina Faso, his first stops.

The Kremlin has seen relations with the West plummet since the start of Russia's war in Ukraine in February 2022 and has doubled down on efforts to boost its influence in Africa, replacing western powers, above all France.

"It's not peace that the Westerners want to preserve," in Ukraine, Lavrov told journalists, but "the following principles: you have to choose between supporting Russia or supporting" Ukraine.

"And if you support Russia, you will be punished," he said.

Chad is one of the last pieces Moscow is trying to put together in the Sahel region, which not long ago was France's sphere of influence.

France has seen its troops dismissed from Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso by their military regimes since 2022.

Mercenaries from Russia's Wagner group have arrived, all presented as military instructors.

Paris still deploys about 1,000 soldiers in Chad, and says it intends to stay there, if in reduced numbers.

Russian military instructors

Rumours of armed Russians working alongside Chadian soldiers, notably in the south, are rife on social media.

But officially for now, N'Djamena is the last hold-out against the Russian influx.

Lavrov held talks with Chad's General Mahamat Idriss Deby who has just been elected president after three years at the head of a military junta.

Deby paid a visit to Moscow in January, raising questions about his plans to broaden his international allies.

"For six months we've seen a veritable warming of relations between Russian and Chad," African studies expert Vsevolod Sviridov told AFP in Moscow.

Paris has remained solidly behind Deby even though other western capitals have voiced concern at the contested election and the violent crackdown on all opposition.

"Our friendship with Chad will not influence its relations with France," Lavrov said in N'Djamena.

"France has a different approach: either you are with us or you are against us," he added.

In Burkina Faso on Wednesday, Lavrov said the number of Russian military instructors there "will increase".

"At the same time, we are training in Russia representatives of the armed forces and security forces of Burkina Faso," he said in the capital Ouagadougou.

'Destroy terrorists'

Jihadist rebels affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have waged a grinding insurgency since 2015 in Burkina Faso that has killed thousands of people and displaced two million.

"I have no doubt that thanks to this cooperation, the pockets of terrorists which remain in Burkina Faso will be destroyed," the Russian minister said.

In Guinea on Monday, Lavrov congratulated the country for being "in the avant-guard of the decolonisation process".

On Tuesday, in Congo, Lavrov took aim at the West's support of Ukraine and its "objectives" elsewhere, such as Libya.

Last July, Russian President Vladimir Putin invited African leaders to a summit in Saint Petersburg where he said they agreed to promote a multipolar world order and to fight neo-colonialism.

Putin hailed the "commitment of all our states to the formation of a just and democratic multipolar world order".

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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