The Bamako Government wants the paramilitaries to train the country’s armed forces, but without engaging in combat
Although with the disapproval of the West, the Malian authorities have officially requested the group of Russian mercenaries Wagner to send their units to the African country to confront Islamic fundamentalism. This is assured by the Russian agencies, which cite Malian military sources with the clarification that the paramilitaries that Russia will send will not participate directly in the armed confrontations but will limit themselves to training the Malian Army.
The British channel BBC maintains that the Wagner group has already begun recruiting the troops for this new operation on African soil and places the center where they are being mobilized and prepared in the southern Russian region of Krasnodar. But Paris has warned the Bamako government that if it hires the Russian mercenaries, Mali will isolate itself internationally.
Mali’s Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga accused France before the UN General Assembly on Saturday of leaving his country, devastated by conflict and terrorism, with his decision to reduce troops. According to Maiga, Paris “has acted unilaterally and forces us to look for other partners.”
In his speech, also on Saturday, before the United Nations General Assembly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that “the Malian authorities have not been able to confront the terrorist threat and have had to address a Russian private military company ‘.
In his opinion, the Bamako Executive “is legitimate and has legal grounds to resort to such services”, but, he stressed, “the Russian Government has nothing to do with it.” “As I understand it, France wants to significantly reduce its military contingent, which was supposed to be there to fight the terrorists … but it has failed in that task,” Lavrov said.
However, the French Foreign Ministry denied on Monday that France had abandoned Mali and that the troop withdrawal was a unilateral decision. Its spokesperson, Anne-Claire Legendre, stated that “the transformation of our military presence in the Sahel is not an exit from Mali or a unilateral decision, it is wrong to say otherwise (…) the new mechanism was the subject of consultations with the Sahelo-Saharan authorities and Malians «. He maintains that “France remains committed to the fight against terrorism in Mali.”
In January 2013, France, at the request of the Malian authorities, launched a military operation in the north of the country against the local branch of Al Qaida. Then, in July 2014, despite the end of the intervention, French troops had to continue fighting the insurgents in other regions of the country. Last June, however, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the cessation of the anti-jihadist operation in Barkhane and the reduction of the military contingent in Mali.
Last week, hundreds of people demonstrated in Bamako demanding the withdrawal of French troops and forging an alliance with Russia. They also gave their support to the current authorities, provisionally in power, after the August 2020 coup against the then president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Assimi Goita is now the acting president.
The Wagner Group, owned by the Russian businessman, Evgueni Prigozhin, close to President Vladimir Putin, would have, according to numerous sources, mercenaries deployed in Syria, Venezuela, eastern Ukraine, Libya and the Central African Republic. A UN report attributes atrocities to them such as torture and very summary executions.
A true shadow army
The so-called Private Military Company (ChVK in its Russian acronym) Wagner appeared, according to various reports, in the separatist east of Ukraine, in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea and in the framework of the “hybrid war” unleashed by the Kremlin against Kiev. The idea arose precisely after the peninsula was seized from Ukraine. In addition to regular forces, devoid of identifying badges, Moscow employed in Crimea Cossacks, mercenaries and, in general, people of arms who in the past were military or members of elite units of the Police or secret services, reservists in general.
This entire conglomerate of forces was used primarily in eastern Ukraine and it was there that it acquired the name ChVK Wagner. Rumors about their existence circulated as early as 2014, but it was when they were sent to Syria, a year later, that more information emerged about their activity. Its own members uploaded photos obtained in different combat actions with their weapons and uniforms to social networks.
The death of dozens of these paramilitaries, there are even hundreds of casualties, on February 7, 2018 in Deir ez Zor, northeast Syria, in an attack by the international coalition led by the United States, put the focus of the Russian press at a time when the Kremlin tried to ignore them and distance themselves.
Radio Echo of Moscow then reported that some 600 fighters from the Wagner group tried to seize an oil field from the Kurds in Deir ez Zor and were therefore attacked from the air by American planes. The Russian Defense Ministry said at the time that “there were no Russian military personnel in the area of the bombing.”
The man who, according to all indications, finances this group of fighters is the Russian magnate, Evgueni Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s cook”, but the creator and head of the unit was Dmitri Utkin, former commander-in-chief of the 700th special forces detachment of one of the GRU (Russian military intelligence) brigades. He was decorated by President Vladimir Putin.
After Ukraine and Syria, the Wagners were employed in Libya, Sudan and the Central African Republic, where the opposition to the Kremlin accuses them of having murdered three Russian journalists in 2018. The United States also denounced the presence of these mercenaries in Venezuela.
Various publications locate the Wagner headquarters in the town of Mólkino, located a few kilometers south of the city of Krasnodar. The 10th brigade of the GRU’s special forces is also stationed there.
But, according to the Russian authorities, the Wagners do not officially exist. They are nowhere to be found, and although the Russian government admits and supports the existence of private security companies, the country lacks legislation regulating the creation and operation of forces made up of mercenaries. Only now have Russian deputies begun to consider the need to provide the country with regulations in this regard.