Date: 30 September 2021

Russia Lunges Into Mali, Sends Wagner Group Mercenaries And Weapons

All signs are that the military junta in Bamako will get its way, allowing at least several hundred Russian mercenaries to start operating in Mali. The government in Mali makes little of the warnings from France and the whole European Union (the bloc deployed to the country a military training mission to help combat jihadi insurgents).


A cargo plane delivered four helicopters, weapons, and ammunition from Russia to Mali late on September 30 amid a military deal the two countries had concluded in December 2020, according to the Malian defense minister. Colonel Sadio Camara said these would be used in the fight against insurgents linked to the Islamic State group and al Qaeda. This is another sign of the tightening security cooperation between Bamako and Moscow. The Russians are filling the power vacuum left by the retreating French forces. France’s poor ties with Bamako stem largely from the country’s dissatisfaction with the current political situation in Mali. President Emmanuel Macron questioned the legitimacy of the Malian authorities after two coups took place in the country: in August 2020 and May 2021. President of France Emmanuel Macron announced a gradual withdrawal of French troops from Mali in June after the country’s second coup in a year. The authorities in Paris are planning to reduce the 5,000-strong French contingent by half. Furthermore, France is seeking to start closing some military facilities in the country while keeping a watchful eye on the border with Burkina Faso and Niger. The government in Bamako thus asked Russia for help. Addressing the last UN General Assembly, Mali Prime Minister Choguel Maiga accused France of abandoning the conflict-torn country adding his government was seeking military aid. Mali has asked private Russian companies to boost security, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. At the same time, it was reported that the Wagner Group was close to recruiting new people to possibly work in Mali. The Wagner Group is a private military company (PMC) with ties to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman closely linked to the Kremlin. They pus for the goals of Russia’s foreign policy while securing Prigozhin’s interests in those countries they are dispatched to. They have already left their footprints in Ukraine, Syria, and Libya. In addition, they were or still are active in Sudan, Mozambique, and the Central African Republic. If Russian military contractors arrive in Mali, they will be probably sent to northern regions from where France is retreating its troops, at least according to the junta. Unofficially, the contract between Mali and Russia’s Wagner Group stipulates that 1,000 Russian mercenaries will be deployed. How much would it be for the Malian junta? The Wagner Group would be paid more than €9 million for its services; the mercenaries would train the Malian military and provide protection for senior junta officials. Senior Malian military officials were trained in Russia in the past. Mali Defense Minister Colonel Sadio Camara has lately visited Moscow. Plans to seal a deal with the Wagner Group sparked a strong reaction from French state officials. In mid-September, French Defense Minister Florence Parly and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said French troops would quit the country if the government in Bamako invited Russian mercenaries.

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