Lavrov courts “positive history” with Burkina Faso amid purported Russian courtship

The public pronouncements belie simmering tensions within the global order as Russia endeavors to cultivate new strategic partnerships amid its deepening international isolation over the Kremlin’s war of aggression in Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made overtures toward deepening ties with the increasingly restive African nation of Burkina Faso this week. Hosting his Burkinabe counterpart Karamoko Jean-Marie Traoré, Lavrov waxed nostalgic about the “positive history” and “mutual sympathy, trust and respect” purportedly underlying relations between the two countries.

The public pronouncements belie simmering tensions within the global order as Russia endeavours to cultivate new strategic partnerships amid its deepening international isolation over the Kremlin’s war of aggression in Ukraine.

With the West applying biting economic sanctions, Moscow has prioritized courting African nations possessing both natural resources and concerns about Western neocolonialism – fertile ground for Russia’s diplomacy.

While pledging non-interference, Russia maintains troops and private military contractors on the ground across Africa. In Mali, Human Rights Watch has accused Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries of indiscriminate killings, executions and mass displacements of civilians. There is widespread fear that Burkinabe junta leader Ibrahim Traore may invite a similar fate for his beleaguered nation unless he maintains independence from foreign powers.

Moscow was quick to officially recognize last September’s military coup that propelled Traore to power. In turn, the young upstart leader purged French-allied officers and expelled the ambassador while staking a nationalistic stance to consolidate control. Lavrov clearly sensed an opportunity, extending rhetorical overtures about the two nations’ mutual understanding while his subordinates made diplomatic inroads across the capital.

Yet to many analysts, Russia’s efforts appear aimed less at altruistically reclaiming its Cold War solidarity with the developing world than accessing landlocked Burkina’s gold mines, uranium deposits and other strategic resources.

With oil-rich nations heeding Western sanctions over Ukraine, the Kremlin may simply be seeking new sources of income to sustain its grinding military campaign.

As the pieces continue shifting, Burkina Faso’s new junta choice to navigate the courtship from Moscow may prove pivotal. But historical legacies of exploitation and post-colonial grievances weigh heavily, allowing Lavrov and his lieutenants to advance their geopolitical ambitions by any means necessary.