The formation of the African Legion allows the Russian ministry of defence to confront Western influence and remedy Moscow’s position in Africa. Recent French moves are reflecting the extent of concern raised by news of Russia’s imminent deployment of the African-Russian Legion in Libya and a number of African countries.

This comes after Paris lost a large part of its traditional positions and influence in the African Sahel region, with reports of Russia seeking to spread its African Legion project in Libya, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Paris does not hide its fear of Russian expansion in Libya, which is considered a major gateway to the depths of the African continent. It also believes that Moscow is working to increase the number of its forces and military equipment in Libya.

The formation of the African Legion allows the Russian ministry of defence to confront Western influence and remedy Moscow’s position in Africa three decades after it disengaged from the African continent, especially with the Kremlin certain that the United States and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO),  including France, are the main opponents of the Russian presence in Africa.

The French Ambassador to Libya Mustafa Maharaj has discussed with the Speaker of the House of Representatives Aguila Saleh ways to find solutions to break the political stalemate in Libya. The French embassy said, in a statement on Sunday, that the meeting addressed “the security situation in Libya and the southern neighbouring countries, and the presence of foreign forces in the country.” The French state radio confirmed that Russia created the African Legion to formalise its presence in the Sahel region

Last week, Ambassador Maharaj met the Commander of the Libyan National Army Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar to discuss “the security challenges in Libya and the Sahel region, and their impact on the stability of Libya.” A delegation of French companies also visited Benghazi, accompanied by the French ambassador, as French companies joined the race of Emirati and Turkish firms to win contracts for reconstruction and health in the eastern region.

Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Guinea, Congo, Chad and Burkina Faso, to promote the Russian presence across the African continent, a matter that worries Paris. A few days ago, informed sources revealed the formation of a new corps to confront the Russian Legion in Libya, with American-European supervision and Libyan financial support, indicating that the new corps will consist of purely Libyan armed elements, with the task of leading and supervising it being entrusted to foreign military elements.

A Libyan source told the Italian news agency Nova that in recent days, the French capital, Paris, hosted a meeting attended by representatives from France, the United Kingdom, the United States and Italy, which focused on forming a joint military force in Libya at the request of the United States. He added, “The meeting aimed to verify and study joint projects for the benefit of the joint military force.”

Observers say that Russia was able to activate a political role into a number of African countries that were historically, economically and even militarily under French dominance. Moscow presented itself as a supporter of African independence from European colonialism, by supporting the rising political regimes opposed to the French presence in some countries such as Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali and Central Africa.

But the French newspaper Le Monde said earlier that Moscow is working to increase the number of its forces and military equipment in Libya, which will enhance its influence that could affect migration flows towards Europe. The paper considered that the strategic structure drawn up by Moscow in North Africa was being strengthened, piece by piece, explaining that the Russian presence in Libya, which had already been tangible since 2019 in the form of paramilitary units (formerly The Wagner Group), had witnessed a sudden acceleration since the beginning of the year, which has not gone unnoticed by Western countries.

In turn, French state radio stressed Russia’s intention to expand its influence in the Sahel region and in Africa in general, as it wants to strengthen ties with Haftar and the alliance of three countries: Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, starting from Niamey. Representatives of the ruling military council in Niger and Haftar’s Libyan National Army officials have also intensified meetings recently, with Moscow’s encouragement.

A delegation from Niger’s military junta, consisting of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Bakary Yaw Sangari, Minister of Internal Security Mohamed Toumba and Niger’s intelligence chief Souleymane Balla-Arabé, visited Benghazi last week to discuss the security partnership. According to French radio, the aim of the Nigerien visits to Benghazi is to strengthen relations between the two countries to materialise a project headed by Russian Deputy Defence Minister  Yunus-bek Yevkurov, who also visited Benghazi.

Paris believes that this demonstrates President Vladimir Putin’s determination to strengthen Russia’s security and diplomatic capabilities in the Sahel region, as he recently established the African Legion to replace the Wagner Group, with the aim of formalising the Russian presence in the region. Paris also believes that eastern and southern Libya could become a rear base for material and logistical support for Russian forces.

Since the signing of a memorandum of understanding and military cooperation early last December, relations between Niger and Russia have accelerated, which prompted Nigerien Prime Minister Mahamane Lamine Zein to travel to Moscow in mid-January.

The French radio report referenced the establishment of Russian paramilitary forces in Libya since 2019, while the United Nations team of experts estimated the number of fighters there at about 7,000, but that was before the war in Ukraine. Moscow aims to sign a joint defence agreement with the authorities in the eastern region that will allow Moscow access to naval bases, specifically in Tobruk.

Senior Russian officials, such as Deputy Defence Minister Yevkurov and Major General Andrei Avrianov of Russia’s military intelligence agency play a crucial role in Russia’s renewed focus on Africa. They visited Libya and a number of African countries where the former Wagner Group is active or seeking to strengthen its presence.

The announcement of the formation of the African Legion was initially issued by Russian military bloggers, and was later confirmed by Igor Korotchenko, a figure close to the defence ministry in Moscow. The Legion is preparing to take over Wagner’s role in Africa, providing security to regimes and leaders in exchange for payment, often in the form of valuable mining rights.


Related Articles