Mauritania has become a point of polarisation between Moscow and the Atlantic Alliance following the G5 Sahel resolution

Mauritania: the geopolitical key to Russia and NATO's rivalry

PHOTO/FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin during unspecified military manoeuvres

In an increasingly Cold War-like context, Russia and NATO - in their battles on all fronts - see West Africa as a key geopolitical niche for interests and influence. The new scramble for Africa is gaining momentum. The Russians have to deal with the new geopolitical realities and their existing practical challenges. Pushing strong anti-Western sentiment and alluding to 'Soviet-era assistance', Russia is investing in competitive sectors and economic spheres. 

The campaign in Burkina Faso and Mali is nothing more than an attempt to position itself on the continent's Atlantic coast and in the Sahel, all under the pretext of efforts to develop the region. It is like a "checkmate" in a chess game, through which Russia tries to respond to NATO's attempts to encircle it from the east and west and find important places in North Africa from Libya or Mauritania to threaten its southern flank. This explains Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's visit to Mauritania.


This visit will be the first since Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov visited Nouakchott in 2017 during the tenure of former President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. "New tools for trade and investment cooperation are expected. The process is not fast, but it is happening and with strong momentum," Lavrov told a press conference during his African tour. In contrast is NATO.  There is no doubt that the intensification of visits by US and European military leaders to Nouakchott, especially to the northern and eastern border regions with Algeria and Mali, raises Russia's concerns, especially in light of talk of NATO's desire to establish a military base. 

Indeed, NATO is not only seeking to establish a military base in Mauritania to combat terrorism in the Sahel region, but also to undermine any Russian attempts to expand into Mauritania and the Atlantic coast and threaten the alliance's south, especially the Canary Islands. On the other hand, Moscow is expected to offer to Nouakchott to enhance its military cooperation, especially in terms of supplying Mauritania with weapons, including heavy weapons, as it has already done with Mali. During his visit, Lavrov will undoubtedly raise with Mauritanian officials the issue of the establishment of a NATO military base on their territory, which would threaten the presence of the Russian company Wagner in Mali.


Russia's war in Ukraine made the United States more determined to expel Wagner from Africa, and it is not unlikely that it would put it on the list of terrorist organisations, following a series of sanctions it imposed on it and its leaders. Mauritania, despite its close cooperation with France and the US, signed a military agreement with Moscow in June 2021. This military agreement would be Russia's gateway to increasing its influence in this strategic country that links the Maghreb region with West African countries. 

As Lavrov begins his tour of four African countries, Russia's future is at stake, especially in a world whose future is predicted to be multipolar. Meanwhile, the Eurasian country continues to win the support of African leaders for its 'special military operation' in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine. Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Egypt, Congo, Uganda and Ethiopia last year and tried to justify Russia's decision to declare war on Ukraine. He is also embarking on another lecture tour of southern Africa (South Africa, Swaziland, Botswana and Angola), where popular themes include geopolitical change, the rise of neo-colonialism and the creation of a multipolar world order. 


The French crisis in the Sahel is the key to Russia's integration in the region. The US does not want to leave the area empty. Through NATO, Washington wants to renew the new security strategy in the region with Mauritania as the backbone of development. Europe should focus its efforts on combating violent radicalisation, mafias, trafficking of arms, drugs or migrants and the rise of jihadism in the Sahel and Maghreb through strong diplomatic ties with these countries to promote cooperation and agreements. The instability in the Sahel region, combined with the EU's strategic failure on counter-terrorism issues and Russia's intervention, has led to the terrorist alert in, for example, Spain, currently being set at alert level 4 out of 5. 

During these official visits to Africa, Lavrov, unlike his Chinese counterparts, rarely cut the ribbon for the completion of African development projects. Many of his trips are characterised by impressive and promising political rhetoric and numerous geopolitical initiatives and conferences. With great optimism and a desire to strengthen its geopolitical influence, Russia exchanged slogans and many of the bilateral agreements it had signed were not implemented, including all the agreements of the first Africa-Russia summit. Africa, which has historically achieved political independence, now needs to transform its economy to provide better living conditions for its approximately 1.3 billion people. 


Almost all African countries seek to build and create a new built-in economic situation that takes care of the growing young generation. This also implies the availability and accessibility of the necessary technologies and innovations. To realise these novel transformations, African leaders need credible external partners with funds to invest, external partners to support large-scale projects on the continent. The days of political slogans are long gone. It is still at a crossroads, and worse, it does not know which road to take to reach its destination. 

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