Editor’s note: This article was written by Ana Maria Baloi and originally published on Grey Dynamics.

This report examines the likelihood of a Russian power projection in West Africa, based on the country’s ambitions, military doctrine and previous and current actions in other parts of the continent

Key Judgements

KJ-1: Russia’s interest in Africa is nothing new, with (troops) already present in Libya, Central African Republic (CAR), and Mozambique. There is a real possibility that Russia will challenge the Western military presence in the Sahel in the next 5 years, by supporting the region’s military efforts against Islamic extremism.

KJ-2: U.S. involvement in the fight against jihadism in West Africa is likely to decrease. The U.S. is rethinking its strategic goals; troop withdrawals from West Africa are expected later in 2020, as the U.S.’s current strategic priority is China.

KJ-3: The vacuum of power is highly likely to encourage terrorist groups to advance their agenda, while the flow of refugees into North Africa and Europe is likely to peak.

KJ-4: Modest military equipment, remote access to key areas, and limited personnel are likely to determine some of the West African governments to seek further military and logistic support from other interested parties.


This year, the jihadist threat is higher than ever in West Africa. Despite the presence of 5,100 French troops and a 13,000 U.N. peacekeeping force, violent extremist attacks in the region have skyrocketed in the last 18 months. In 2019 alone, 2,600 fatalities resulted from 800 attacks—a number which has nearly doubled every year since 2015. Burkina Faso is now the new epicenter of violence, primarily from groups linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS). Mali, eastern Mauritania, Niger, southern Algeria, northern Nigeria, Niger, and Chad still represent safe havens for the extremists.

At the same time, a new “scramble for Africa” seems to emerge as Russia, China and Turkey increase their soft and hard powers on the continent. While the US is planning its withdrawal, the revisionist powers are orchestrating their expansion. If China is now Africa’s largest trade partner, Russia appeals to more overt means for projecting its force – such as deploying intelligence officers, mercenaries, and weapons to their focus areas.