February 24, 2023 - 2:49pm

Tony Blair has called on the West to take the fight against Russia to Africa. Writing for the Telegraph, the former Prime Minister argued that the West needs a “broader strategy” to resist Russian aggression by providing support to the continent. “Watch the Sahel,” Blair writes. “It will be the source of the next wave of extremism and migration to Europe if we do not coordinate and focus Western policy.”

Until now, the former Labour leader’s interventions on Ukraine had been relatively limited, with calls for a “dual strategy” in which the West should provide as much military support (short of fighting directly) combined with tough sanctions, so that Ukraine would have “leverage” for a negotiated solution. Blair re-asserts his case in today’s column, arguing that “there is too big a lag between realising what weapons and munitions the Ukrainians need and our supply of them.” But his desire to open up a new front in Africa marks a change in his thinking.

Since leaving office, Blair has advocated for Britain to open a “new chapter” in the country’s relationship with Africa. The Tony Blair Institute provides ‘advisory political support’ to at least 17 governments across Africa, calling for deepening ties with the continent. But in the last year, the Institute has taken an increasingly strident tone, warning that “escalating tensions with Russia” mean that the West could lose influence in Africa. According to the Institute, Putin considers Africa a “so-called second frontier, after Eastern Europe, for encircling Western Europe.” “By framing Russia’s interventions on the continent as the return of an old anti-colonial ally or bulwark against extremism,” it continues, “Russia’s intentions become an extension of Putin’s imperialist ambitions.”

Whether Mr Blair’s calls for further Western action on the continent will be welcomed by African leaders remains to be seen. Since 2014, Russia has expanded its reach in Africa through a series of security and defensive alliances, supplying weapons to buyers and providing protection against armed insurgents. At yesterday’s UN resolution vote calling for an end to the war, two African countries (Eritrea and Mali) voted against while a further 15 abstained. Though a majority of African countries voted in favour of the resolution, it illustrates the difficult balancing act that the continent is playing in response to the war.

Full excerpt from Tony Blair’s column below:

The West needs a broader strategy to push back not just against Russian aggression in Europe, including support for the brave people and leadership of Moldova, but also, for example, in Africa. It’s a campaign of de-stabilisation, involving large scale disinformation, the malign actions of the Wagner Group, the provision of arms and even the support of coups. Watch the Sahel. It will be the source of the next wave of extremism and migration to Europe if we do not coordinate and focus Western policy.
- Tony Blair

is UnHerd’s Newsroom editor.