Russian President Vladimir Putin has strengthened Russia's presence in the Middle East and Africa, and concerns are now high over the invasion of Ukraine

NATO concerned about Russian presence in Middle East and Africa

AFP/DELIL SOULEIMAN - Russian soldiers on the M4 key road in the northeastern province of Al-Hasaka, Syria, 20 January 2020.

The absence of words of condemnation of Ukraine's invasion in Middle Eastern and African countries is beginning to show that Russia's influence in the region is much stronger than expected. An influence that military and civilian leaders see as another threat to Western security.

Putin's strategy in these countries has previously been simple and successful. The Russian president has made numerous security alliances with those leaders who have been forgotten, rejected or abandoned by the West, either for their humanitarian violations or for their own geostrategic interests.

El presidente sirio Bachar al Assad estrechando la mano de su homólogo ruso Vladimir Putin en el cuartel general de las fuerzas rusas en Damasco

One of the most recent examples of the strong relationship between Russia and these countries is the announcement by Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu that there were 16,000 so-called Middle Eastern volunteers ready to be sent to the Ukrainian front. It was Shoigu himself who demonstrated nuclear launchers and hypersonic missiles over the Mediterranean in February as part of a security partnership.

The leader of Sudan's military junta, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who staged a coup in the country last year, entered into a new economic alliance with the Kremlin. This alliance revives Russian leaders' hopes of establishing a naval base in the Red Sea.

A final example is Mali, one of Africa's most resource-rich countries, where the government has entered into a series of security coalitions with mercenaries working under Kremlin orders, US officials have told the English daily Al-Arab.

Several experts see these alliances and coalitions in the Middle East and Africa as the next potential long-term threat to Europe or NATO. Security expert Kristina Koch told Al-Arab newspaper that "the Russians felt they were surrounded by NATO and now they want to surround them".

Russia provides military or mercenary support allied with the Kremlin to protect the regimes of controversial leaders in order to achieve its strategic goals. In return for this aid, these leaders repay their debt with natural resources or economic favours. It is these alliances that help further the Russian president's imperialist ambitions.

When the UN General Assembly met to condemn the invasion of Ukraine, Syria showed its support for Russia, and several African countries with relations with the Kremlin abstained.

In response, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in mid-February that the West can no longer ignore Russian and Chinese influence in Africa. Baerbock added that if the West removed its influence, 'others will fill these gaps'.

However, it is not certain that Russia can benefit from this move in the short term, as the invasion of Ukraine examines the country's military and financial capabilities. The crisis with Ukraine has exposed the former Soviet country's military weaknesses. In addition, Western sanctions have aggravated the country's economic situation.

PHOTO/REUTERS - Miembros del Grupo Wagner en el área de Starobeshevo, en Donetsk, Ucrania en 2014
Russian mercenaries

Russian military support does not consist of the traditional army. Much of Russia's security support to these countries is provided by Russian mercenary groups. The presence of these groups increased significantly around the world between 2015 and 2021, and their operations included 27 countries as of last year, according to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

These mercenary contracts guarantee Russia access to mineral resources, land for deployment and significant footholds that challenge the influence of Western countries there.

According to the US and the EU, the creation of the Wagner Group and its presence in several African countries are directly linked to the Kremlin. But Russia denies this is true.

Alarm about the presence of this group in Mali emerged in December 2021. When several reports appeared showing that Wagner had signed a security contract worth 10 million dollars a month with the government. According to several experts, the group is said to have benefited from the country's instability and local resentment over the failures of French troops who spent years fighting extremist factions in sub-Saharan Africa.

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