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After the Central African Republic, Sudan, Mozambique and Libya, will Wagner come and plant his flag in Mali? No contract has yet to be signed in Bamako. But after two years of approaching the Russian private military company, according to information revealed by Reuters, the terms of an agreement were discussed between the Malian junta and this company of mercenaries seen as the army of the shadow of the Kremlin.
This would provide for the deployment on the ground of a thousand men – some sources suggest a lower figure – responsible for the protection of senior figures and the training of the Malian armed forces. If the intervention model already used in the Central African Republic were to be repeated, this double mission would in no way prevent Wagner’s agents from fighting directly alongside the Malian soldiers and would be accompanied by a substantial financial contribution. Reuters mentions 6 billion CFA francs (about 9.15 million euros) per month and possible access to three mining deposits.
In Bamako, the defense ministry, whose incumbent, Colonel Sadio Camara, was still in Russia in August, recalls that “Public opinion is in favor of increased cooperation with Russia, given the security situation”. But he also ensures that“No decision has been taken on the nature of this cooperation”. A way of blowing hot and cold, while the possible arrival of this sulphurous security partner is causing obvious concern in Paris, as in all European chancelleries.
“Even if, to our knowledge, nothing has yet been signed, it is confirmed that Wagner is multiplying aggressive approaches to establish itself in the Sahel and use Mali as an entry point”, notes a French leader. In August, Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Poutine, on the sidelines of a conversation on the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan, discussed the situation in the Sahel.
Relocation envisaged in Niger
“The president explained to him what we are doing and that we are not in a withdrawal maneuver”, The same source continues, although Mr. Macron announced in June the end of Operation Barkhane, with a halving of the number of troops deployed in this region by 2023.
Did Vladimir Putin then feel that the moment was right to occupy a place he considered vacated by France? If the Russian leader was able to deny any hint of this order, it is clear that he was not entirely convinced. On September 8, Christophe Bigot, Africa and Indian Ocean director of the Quai d’Orsay, made a return trip to Moscow to meet with his Russian counterpart. Two days later, the French ambassador in Bamako was received by the president of the transition, Colonel Assimi Goïta. No one doubts the content of the discussions and the messages transmitted.
“Wagner was singularly illustrated in Syria, in the Central African Republic, with exactions, predations, violations of all kinds. (…) It is absolutely irreconcilable with our presence. I’m saying it so that I can be heard. (…) An intervention of a group of this type would be incompatible with the action of the Sahelian and international partners of Mali ”, warned, Tuesday, September 14, the head of French diplomacy, Jean-Yves Le Drian, questioned before the foreign affairs committee of the National Assembly.
In such a case, a rapid relocation to Niger, which will become the new center of French military operations, could be considered. “Choices have consequences. We have a position of principle which will make it difficult, if not impossible, to keep our commitments ”, adds a source within the European Union, worried about this possible “Reversal of alliances”. In Mali, the European Union currently has more than 1,200 soldiers and police officers responsible for training the security forces.
A favorable situation for Russia
If the threat of an arrival of its mercenaries on the ground of operations agitates the Westerners, Mali is far from being a terra incognita for Russia. Since independence in 1960, military cooperation between the two countries, reinforced by a new agreement signed in the summer of 2019, has made it possible to equip a large number of units and train many Malian officers.
Moscow has historically had influential links there and has intensified its diplomatic efforts in the direction of Bamako after the August 2020 coup. The situation is favorable for it with a prime minister, Choguel Maïga, and a trained defense minister. on his land. The Kremlin could take advantage of this, in the game of rivalry between it and several European nations.
For the Malian leaders, Russia also offers the possibility of a relationship without political requirements, while an extension of the political transition is looming beyond the announced deadline of February 2022. Barely more than a year later. a coup d’etat which had found only customary condemnations, Paris has changed its gaze on these “Well-meaning young officers”, who are now less inclined to cede power. A new ally seems ready to help them in their maneuver.