Mali Defiant as Europe Slams Deal with Russian Paramilitary Firm

A French soldier secures an area next to an abandoned jihadist bomb factory in Gao, Mali (file photo).
23 September 2021

At the end of a two-day visit to the Sahel, France's defence minister warned Mali against hiring paramilitaries from Russian private-security firm Wagner, RFI reports.

Florence Parly told reporters on September 20, 2021 that if Mali hired the firm, at a time when international partners fighting jihadism in the Sahel "had never been so numerous, such a choice would be that of isolation". The company is considered close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has been accused of committing abuses.

A Mali defence ministry official reportedly said that no decision regarding Wagner had been made. According to the source, Malian defence minister Colonel Sadio Camara told Parly that France's "abandonment" of Mali meant "everything had to be considered to secure the country." France, which has thousands of troops stationed in the war-torn country, has pledged a major troop drawdown across the Sahel by early 2022.

The warning - and similar ones from Germany and the European Union - have not gone down well in the country. On September 22, 2021, the country's independence day, protesters marched in support of the military government. Voice of America reports that demonstrators throughout the country seemed to support the deal, with some carrying Russian flags in addition to Malian flags and pro-military placards.

Estonia, which has 100 soldiers assigned to peacekeeping forces in Mali, will withdraw those troops if the military government agrees to work with the Wagner Group, Estonian Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet warned this week. He said the Russians are seeking access to mineral resources in Africa.

Reports that Mali was considering a paramilitary operation with Wagner surfaced earlier in September 2021, when the Reuters news agency reported that Malian and Russian authorities were on the verge of signing an agreement to this effect.

"Russia has been trying to expand its influence in Mali for the past several years," write Joseph Siegle and Daniel Eizenga from the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in an guest column for AllAfrica. "The essence of the prospective Wagner deal, then, is an unaccountable junta leader vying to bring in unaccountable mercenaries.  It's not hard to imagine how this could turn out badly."

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