Putin meets Chad junta leader as Russia competes with France in Africa

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday met Chadian leader Mahamat Idriss Deby in the Kremlin, courting a country that had previously maintained a pro-Western policy and spurned Russia’s recent outreach in Africa’s Sahel region.

Russia has been moving to edge out the influence of France, the former colonial power in West Africa and the Sahel, and build ties with countries that have been roiled by a wave of coups since 2020.

Deby has led Chad since 2021, when he took power in a coup shortly after his father, long-serving president Idriss Deby, was killed in battle fighting anti-government rebels. The junta initially promised an 18-month transition to elections, but later delayed them until October this year.

In brief televised comments, Putin said Russia was pleased that Deby had stabilised the situation in the country, and was ready to help in any way.

According to a transcript published on the Kremlin website, Putin said that the two countries had “great opportunities to develop our bilateral ties”, and that Moscow would double the quota for Chadian students studying at Russian universities.

Deby’s visit comes a week after the prime minister of Niger, also appointed by a junta, visited Moscow. Russia has courted Niger since a July 2023 coup ousted a pro-Western government there.

In Niger and Burkina Faso, the coups have brought to power military governments that have broken with France and instead pivoted towards Russia.

Chad, however, had been seen as an enduring bastion of French influence in Africa, with Moscow’s clout there far more limited than in its neighbours.

Russian influence in some countries, including in Mali and the Central African Republic, was initially spearheaded by Moscow’s Wagner Group mercenary army, led by businessman and one-time Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash last August, two months after he led Wagner in a failed mutiny aimed at ousting Russia’s top military leadership. He had accused defence chiefs of bungling Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.

Since Prigozhin’s death, Moscow has moved to seize control of his network in Africa, incorporating Wagner’s operations into its formal state structures.

(Reporting by Moscow bureau; Writing by Felix Light; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Peter Graff)