The Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary organization, has been operating in Mali for over 5 years, though this has never been officially confirmed by authorities. Despite their presence, it seems that they have not yielded significant results in the fight against jihadists. On the contrary, insecurity in Mali has worsened, leading to an increase in civilian casualties due to violence. According to data from Acled Info, civilian losses more than doubled last year.
Despite these developments, the Malian military government has defended its decision to seek Russia’s assistance, claiming that Russia has been effectively meeting their strategic needs. Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop stated in a joint press conference with Lavrov that Russia was present at Mali’s request, and the choice of a Russian partner did not require justification.
However, concerns about the methods of operation of the Russian mercenaries have prompted calls for investigations into possible war crimes committed by these forces in Mali. Human rights advocacy groups have collected information pointing to torture, summary executions, and sexual assaults during joint counterinsurgency operations conducted by the Wagner Group and the Malian army. Malian authorities have denied these allegations, emphasizing that their army has been strengthened through training and equipment provided by Russia.
The presence of Russian mercenaries in Mali has also sparked reactions on social media, with pro-Wagner propaganda seeking to discredit France and the West while promoting Russian influence in Africa. This propaganda has been widely disseminated and gained popularity with the support of Malian lobbying groups organizing demonstrations in favor of increased cooperation with Moscow.
The Wagner Group has been active for several years in Libya, the Central African Republic, and Mozambique. It is estimated to have surpassed French forces in Bamako in 2022, with around 1,500 fighters in Mali. The U.S. Treasury Department recently designated Wagner as a “transnational criminal organization,” accusing it of systematically carrying out summary executions, rape, torture, and other forms of physical violence in Mali and the Central African Republic.
Despite these accusations and international concerns, Wagner appears determined to continue its operations in Mali and the Central African Republic, exerting its influence in these regions.
Amidst the rebellion and mutiny within the Wagner paramilitary group in Russia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced that the group’s operations will continue in Mali and the Central African Republic. According to Lavrov, this rebellion will not impact Moscow’s relationship with its allies.
Lavrov asserted that Wagner members work in Mali and the Central African Republic as military instructors, and their work will persist. He also emphasized that these countries turned to Russia and Wagner for military instructors to ensure the security of their leaders, as Europe and France have withdrawn from these regions.
Western countries consider Wagner an instrument of Russian influence to advance Moscow’s interests and compete with European powers.
This paramilitary group is also accused of committing abuses and exploiting natural resources in the countries where it is deployed.
Lavrov further emphasized that the rebellion of Wagner’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and his men in Ukraine will not affect Russia’s relations with its allies. He indicated that many foreign partners have expressed support for President Vladimir Putin, and this will not alter relations with friendly nations. As for other countries, the Russian minister stated that he does not care, as relations with the West are already strained.