Foreign ministers from three West African countries that recently underwent military coups have called for their reinstatement into two key regional blocs following a trip to the region by Russian envoy Sergey Lavrov.
The top diplomats of Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso said in a joint statement on Thursday that they had agreed to work together to push for the lifting of their suspensions from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU).
Abdoulaye Diop of Mali, Morissanda Kouyate of Guinea and Burkina Faso’s Olivia Rouamba held talks in the Burkinabe capital, Ouagadougou, after Lavrov travelled to Mali earlier in the week to pledge assistance to West African countries battling armed groups.
The three countries had “agreed to pool their efforts and undertake joint initiatives for the lifting of the suspension measures and other restrictions” by ECOWAS and the AU, according to a joint statement released after the meeting.
A string of coups unfolded in the three countries since 2020, bringing in governments that have bristled at external demands to restore civilian rule, leading to suspensions from regional groups.
Mounting insecurity in the Sahel region led the three ministers to agree on “the need to combine their efforts and those of the countries of the sub-region and the region to deal with this scourge”, the statement said.
Mali has fallen out with France, its former colonial power and traditional ally, in favour of close military ties with the Kremlin, and speculation is rising that Burkina Faso will follow suit.
“This is the first time that I have been in Burkina Faso since the struggle of the Burkinabe people, which led to a correction enabling the recovery of sovereignty and territorial integrity in this brother country,” Mali’s Diop said.
Military regimes have seized power in Mali and Burkina Faso amid anger at the army over the toll from a conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and forced millions from their homes.
The coup in Guinea had different causes, being rooted in public anger against then-President Alpha Conde, over a lurch towards authoritarianism.
All three countries are under pressure from ECOWAS to return swiftly to civilian rule.
Mali and Guinea were also subject to other sanctions that have since been partially lifted.
The diplomats slammed the sanctions, saying they “affect populations already battered by insecurity and political instability, deprive ECOWAS and the AU of the contribution of the three countries needed to meet the major challenges, and undermine sub-regional and African solidarity”.
On a trip to Bamako on Tuesday, Lavrov paid tribute to the bonds forged between Mali and Russia in fighting armed groups.
He said the Kremlin was willing to provide the country with further support.
“The fight against terrorism is, of course, an issue for the other countries in the region,” Lavrov said.
“We are going to provide our assistance to them to overcome these difficulties. This concerns Guinea, Burkina Faso and Chad and the Sahel region generally and even the coastal states on the Gulf of Guinea.”
Since seizing power in 2020, Mali’s military government has brought in Russian planes, helicopters and paramilitaries – personnel that France says are Wagner mercenaries.