Chad: Chad, Sahel States Receive Russia’s Foreign and Defense Ministers

Yaounde, Cameroon — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected in Chad’s capital N’djamena Wednesday, continuing an African tour that has taken him to Guinea and Congo. Russian Defense Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov has also been on the move in Africa, visiting Libya and Niger. The visits are seen by civil society and analysts as Russia’s attempt to establish its troops in the Sahel region after military leaders seized power, sparking ideological differences over the presence of American and French troops in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Niger and Chad.

Several hundred people gathered at the N’djamena International airport Wednesday to welcome Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Chad’s government says it mobilized civilians to receive Lavrov because he is the first top foreign official to visit after the inauguration of Mahamat Idriss Deby as Chad’s President and the formation of a new government to end a three-year transition in the central African state.

Among those awaiting the Russian envoy is 38-year-old merchant Immaculate Djeida.

Djeida said she expects Russia, one of the leading producers and exporters of wheat, to transfer technology and know-how to Chad, where civilians have enough land to produce wheat, rice, maize and beef but do not have enough food to eat. She said she expects Russia to assist Chad in developing a viable electricity network that can bring electrical power to 90 percent of Chad’s citizens.

Djeida spoke to VOA via a messaging app from N’djamena Wednesday.

In a statement released Wednesday, Chad’s government said Lavrov will discuss efficient methods to combat terrorism, and enhance military, diplomatic, economic and trade ties between Chad and Russia.

The government said Lavrov will also discuss the security situation in the countries of the Sahel as well as the war in Sudan, which has displaced close to a million people across Sudan’s border to Chad and Libya.

Chad says Russia will support it in dealing with the humanitarian crisis caused by the war against Boko Haram terrorists that has killed more than 36,000 people and displaced 3 million according to the United Nations.

Chad is fighting Boko Haram alongside troops from neighbors Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Lavrov is visiting Chad at a time when Russia is expanding its military presence in Sahel countries including Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Sudan and Chad. At the same time, Sahel countries are asking troops of their former colonial ruler, France to leave.

Niger’s military rulers said in May of this year, high-level talks were held with U.S. military officials in Niamey to coordinate plans to also withdraw more than 900 American military forces before the end of 2024.

Chad says most U.S. troops left its territory before the central African states’ May 6 presidential elections. Mahamat Idriss Deby, the declared winner, told Chad state TV during his inauguration that cooperation with U.S. troops is under review, but gave no further details.

U.S. troops have been stationed in Chad and Niger to help local militaries combat Islamist terrorists in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Sudan and Chad.

Yamingue Betinbaye is a political analyst at Chad’s Anthropology and Human Sciences Research Center. He spoke on Chads State TV Wednesday.

Betinbaye said Russia has been successfully reinforcing its military presence in countries of the Sahel region since 2021, when the Mali army, led by Colonel Assimi Goïta, seized power from President Bah Ndaw. He said Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mali that have military rulers are suspending military cooperation with France because Paris never succeeded in pushing back jihadist threats even with the one-time presence of 5,500 stationed French troops in the region.

Betinbaye said anti-French sentiments increased in the Sahel when France supported Niger’s ousted President Mohamed Bazoum who was toppled by a popular military led by General Abdourahamane Tiani.

He said the presence of France, a former colonial power in Central and West Africa and the Sahel, is largely seen as an exploitative and overbearing political influence. France has always said it is present in Africa to promote democracy, human rights, economic growth and fight increasing insecurity.

Russia started deploying military equipment and trainers to Sahel countries when military leaders who seized power began forcing out French troops.

Russia says the visits of the two officials will end with the signing of joint security agreements with Chad, Guinea, Congo, Libya and Niger.

In January, Chad President Mahamat Idriss Deby met with the Russian leader Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. Deby said among issues he discussed with Putin were the military, diplomatic and trade ties Chad needs to fasten its development and bring lasting peace to the country where armed gangs and jihadist are in running battles with government troops.