In West Africa against Russia (II)

Controversy over reconnaissance drone flights hampers Bundeswehr mission in Mali: Bamako is denied access to the data. Burkina Faso also expels French troops from the country.

BAMAKO/BERLIN/OUAGADOUGOU (Own report) – Prior to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit in Mail, announced for today, the dispute over the German Bundeswehr’s deployment in that West African country has again flared up. For months, Mali’s military government has made it virtually impossible for the Bundeswehr to conduct drone operations, which are considered indispensable. In seeking to regain control over what is happening in its own country, Bamako has thus been demanding access to the images and data being recorded by the drones. Apparently, this access has been denied the Malian government because of Bamako’s growing cooperation with Moscow, which Western powers seek to sabotage. While the conflict over the Bundeswehr mission in Mali continues, a quite similar development is taking place in neighboring Burkina Faso. There also, the military government has ordered the French armed forces to leave the country. Observers are convinced that this is because Burkina Faso is preparing to cooperate with the Russian military, and they do not rule out similar developments in even more West African countries.

Dispute over Drones

The dispute over the Bundeswehr’s Mali mission has flared up again. The controversy over reconnaissance drone flights that the Bundeswehr has been conducting, or wants to conduct in the North of the country, has been festering for months. The military government in Bamako has long been working to regain control over what is happening in its own country, particularly in the military field. It has thus systematically taken action against unauthorized air operations by foreign armed forces within Mali’s airspace and has also resolutely intervened in German operations that de facto were carried out behind its back ( reported.[1]). Since last fall, Bamako has been insisting on obtaining unimpeded access to images and data gathered by foreign drones of what is occurring in Mali. To emphasize its demand, the government began refusing authorization of drone flights on October 4 of last year. On November 15, an agreement was reached but, according to Bamako, it is not fully respected.[2] The military government has thus been refusing authorization for the Bundeswehr to continue its flights.[3]

The Withdrawal Debate

For the Bundeswehr, this means that it has hardly been able to carry out drone flights since October, and since the beginning of the year, none at all. According to reports, this applies to the Heron 1 reconnaissance drones, with a range of over 1,000 km, as well as for the much smaller Luna drones (range: 80 km) and for the close-range Aladin drones (range: 5 km) as well as the Mikado (range: 1 km).[4] This means that an important aspect of the UN’s MINUSMA operation – reconnaissance flights, particularly in Mali’s north – can no longer be fulfilled, and even that their own security, in which drone surveillance is also necessary is hampered. The problem could easily be solved, if the recordings and data were unimpeded handed over to the Malian government. After all, that data was acquired over Malian territory. However, Berlin is apparently unwilling to do so. Last week, Germany’s Defense Minister Boris Pistorius declared that the Bundeswehr’s remaining in Mali “under the current conditions, makes no sense.”[5] Thus the discussion of whether the Bundeswehr should in fact remain in Mali until May 2024, has flared up once again.

Russia Rather than France

The Bundeswehr expert Thomas Wiegold points out that this all has evolved from the fact that the Malian government had discontinued its military cooperation with France, the former colonial power, and instead, initiated military cooperation with Russia.[6] This is why when Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop, in the course of his appearance before the UN Security Council on January 27, was confronted with massive criticism from the representatives of the Western powers; he finally made it clear that he is no longer prepared to justify to constantly disgruntled third parties, the sovereign decisions of his government to cooperate with its choice of partners.[7] At the moment, the United Nations is dealing with the question of how MINUSMA’s Western units should be replaced, which – like the Bundeswehr – will be withdrawn in the foreseeable future. Referring to the UN General Secretary’s special representative to Mali, El-Ghasslim Wane, Wiegold reports that instead of Western units, discussion now is about deploying troops from Southern Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh) in Mali, as well as a reconnaissance unit from China.[8] This is also intended to improve the coordination between MINUSMA and the Malian armed forces.

Expelled from the Country

The disputes over the foreseeable termination of European participation in MINUSMA, as well as over Russia’s growing influence in Mali are flanking very similar developments in Burkina Faso. In early October, the second putsch in 2022 brought a military government to power in that country, which, unlike its predecessor, pushed also for halting military cooperation with France, alongside closer cooperation with Russia. In December, Prime Minister Apollinaire Kyélem de Tambéla visited Moscow for talks. In late December, the Burkinabe government declared French Ambassador Luc Hallade persona non grata.[9] In addition, a military agreement with Paris, signed in late 2018 that formed the basis for deploying around 400 French special forces in Kamboisin, near the capital, Ouagadougou, was abrogated. In the meantime, the government has demanded that the French special forces leave the country – due to be completed in February.[10] The break with France goes a long way. Observers assume that Burkina Faso will call on the Russian military and private military companies from Russia to aid in the fight against the jihadis.

The Mood Changes

It is considered very possible that the development now occurring in Mali and Burkina Faso, could spread to other West African countries. For example, last year, during protests in Niger, demands were raised that French troops should leave the country, while, at the same time, pro-Russian slogans were heard.[11] Niger, under its current President Mohamed Bazoum is still considered a solid pro-Western bastion in the Sahel. The Bundeswehr also intends to expand its presence in that country. Therefore, a change of course by the government in Niamey would have a profound impact. It has also been speculated that countries, beyond the immediate conflict zones in the Sahel, could, sooner or later, turn their backs on the west and face toward Moscow, for example Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire.[12] Recently, France’s President Emmanuel Macron invited his Ivoirian counterpart Alassane Ouattara – who owes his position to a French military intervention [13] – to a crisis meeting in Paris.[14] On the other hand, Sergey Lavrov, as the very first Russian Foreign Minister, is expected to arrive today in Mali for talks on the expansion of military cooperation. It is unknown whether Russian cooperation with Burkina Faso is also on the agenda.


For more information: In Westafrika gegen Russland.


[1] See also Battle Over Mali (I) and Battle Over Mali (II).

[2] Mémorandum du Gouvernement du Mali sur le rapport trimestriel du Secrétaire général des Nations Unies sur la situation au Mali, couvrant la période du 04 octobre au 29 décembre 2022. Koulouba, 25 janvier 2023.

[3], [4] Thomas Wiegold: Merkposten Mali: Keine Daten, keine Drohnen (Nachtrag: Pistorius). 29.01.2023.

[5] Markus Decker: Abzug aus Mali: Grüne Vizefraktionschefin kritisiert Verteidigungsminister Pistorius. 31.01.2023.

[6] Thomas Wiegold: Merkposten Mali: Keine Daten, keine Drohnen (Nachtrag: Pistorius). 29.01.2023.

[7] Edith M. Lederer: Mali Defends Russian Ties and Opposes Options for UN Force. 28.01.2023.

[8] Thomas Wiegold: Merkposten Mali: Keine Daten, keine Drohnen (Nachtrag: Pistorius). 29.01.2023.

[9] Michel Wendpouiré Nana: Entre le Burkina Faso et la France, une relation en question. 11.01.2023.

[10] Le Burkina Faso « donne un mois aux Forces armées françaises pour quitter le territoire ». 22.01.2023.

[11] See also The Last Stronghold in the War Zone (II).

[12] Claudia Bröll, Michaela Wiegel: Russlands Vormarsch in Afrika. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 25.01.2023.

[13] See also Battle Over Mali (I).

[14] Benjamin Roger: Le Burkina Faso au menu d’un déjeuner entre Ouattara et Macron. 20.01.2023.