BRUSSELS - The EU must accept the 'new realities' of military regimes in the Sahel region or risk losing what remains of its influence to Russia and China, experts have warned MEPs.

"It is a disaster to see how much the EU has lost influence in the Sahel region," said Ulf Laessing, the director of the regional Sahel programme at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Mali, at a hearing of the European Parliament's foreign affairs and development committees on Tuesday.

Along with France, the former colonial ruler and main diplomatic presence in the region, the EU's diplomatic corps, was blindsided by the recent coups in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Gabon.