A thousand contractors from the Wagner Group are expected to arrive in Mali in the coming months (or weeks) according to an agreement already closed by the local coup junta with the Russian private security company. The news comes out on Reuters which has had direct information on the agreement, including on the value of the same, 10.8 million dollars a month. France would have tried to block the deal, but failed and so Russia will place its mercenaries in another African country, after Libya and the Central African Republic, Guinea, Sudan, Congo, Rwanda, Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe , Mozambique and Madagascar.
Many of these deployments are not disclosures, as the Wagner Group almost always operates underground. The company – brought back under the control of Yevgeniy Prigozhin , known as “Putin’s chef”, who however denies any connection or business in Africa – is considered an asset of the Kremlin. Used for ambiguous operations where it is essential to maintain maximum plausible deniability, i.e. where someone needs to do the dirty work on behalf of the Russian government and without wearing the insignia of the Federation on the uniforms. Mali is one of these territories.
Fallen under a coup twice in less than two years, Bamoko is a chaotic environment where Wagner’s men can facilitate the Russian wedging. The interest is twofold: first, to exploit the contacts under construction with the new leadership to build economic-commercial relations connected to those moved on the wide area where the Russian presence is distributed (among these interests there are those of an extractive / mining nature) ; second, presenting themselves as potential stabilizers by disturbing Western activity which – given the results – has not borne fruit.
The question is linked to the narrative, the Russian model as an alternative reference to the US-EU one. In Mali, France has been engaged for eight years in a complex military campaign aimed at stabilizing and fighting terrorism within its sphere of influence. Paris has clear objectives, interests and reasons behind the Russian involvement – from which the Kremlin considers itself formally excluded because it concerns a private company – and protests. Moscow will be able to push its storytelling if it can bring more security.
The French diplomatic offensive, Reuters sources explain, included asking for help from partners including the United States to persuade the Mali junta not to pursue the agreement and sending high-level diplomats to Moscow and Bamako for talks. The French fear that the arrival of Russian contractors could disturb their interests in the country, a former colony, and complicate the strategy of withdrawing its contingent. In fact, the idea of ​​Paris is to lighten its presence in Mali, linked to anti-terrorism activities in the country and in the Sahel-West Africa region, through a reshaping of the commitment.
The Elysée plans to replace its commitment (the “Barkhane” operation, very expensive from an economic point of view, but also from a political point of view) by replacing its own military with those of other European countries – which France would still like to guide through the Task Force “Takuba”, which Italy is also part of. Wagner’s intervention would be “incompatible with the efforts made by Mali’s Sahelian and international partners engaged in the Sahelian Coalition for the security and development of the region,” a French diplomatic source told Reuters. One of the worries in Paris concerns Malian uranium, an extraction which, together with those in Niger, drives the French nuclear procreamm forward.
Public opinion in Mali is in favor of greater cooperation with Russia given the current security situation. But it is not certain that what stirred public opinion was not precisely an interference activity conducted by Wagner herself, which specializes in certain types of operations. Public opinion is influenced by the positions of leaders such as Umar Mariko , who leads the United African Party for Democracy and Independence (member of the opposition coalition M5-Frp) which he promised to the Donbas militants – whom he had met in 2018 in pro-Russian eastern Ukraine – to open their diplomatic office in Mali.
With the worsening of relations with France, the military junta of Mali has intensified contacts with Russia, a country that already had an appeal in Mali before last summer’s coup. Rumors claim that the military in power, led by Assimi Goita , are very tied to Russia and have been moved by the Russians towards a coup: Colonel Goita received military training in Russia, Prime Minister Choguel Maiga lived in Belarus before graduating from the ‘Moscow Telecommunications Institute.
The powerful Minister of Defense Sadio Camara – among the protagonists of the August 2020 coup, who returned with his colleague Malik Diauin his own country after training in Moscow a few weeks before the coup – and flew to visit Moscow on 4 September. Russian Deputy Minister Alexander Fomin met Camara during the “Army-2021” international military forum to discuss “in detail defense cooperation projects and regional security issues relating to West Africa,” the Kremlin said.
On 8 September in Moscow there was the top diplomat for Africa of the French Foreign Ministry, Christophe Bigot , who had a long conversation with Mikhail Bogdanov , the man of Vladimir Putinfor the Middle East and Africa. It is not clear whether the meeting was directly linked to the Mali / Wagner dossier. France has held strong positions towards Russia, however it has always supported the need for the reopening of a dialogue – complicated since Moscow annexes Crimea, even using Wagner’s assets. For Paris, contact with Moscow also serves to keep Russian penetration in certain areas of Africa under control as far as possible.

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