African leaders allied with Russia had grown used to dealing with Yevgeny Prigozhin, the swaggering, profane mercenary leader who traveled the continent by private jet, offering to prop up shaky regimes with guns and propaganda in return for gold and diamonds.

But the Russian delegation that toured three African countries last week was led by a very different figure, the starchy deputy defense minister, Yunus-bek Yevkurov. Dressed in a khaki uniform and a "telnyashka” — the horizontally-striped undergarment of Russian armed forces — he signaled conformity and restraint, giving assurances wrapped in polite language.

"We will do our best to help you,” he said at a news conference in Burkina Faso.