Search
  • ctownsendeqc762

THE WAGNER GROUP IN MALI AND ITS INFLUENCE ON THE STABILITY OF SAHEL

Updated: Dec 7, 2021

Michael Shoesmith, Jonathan (Alex) Petrovitch, Rebecca Pantani, Weapons and Tactics (W/T) Team

Week of Monday, November 8, 2021


French Patrol in Mali[1]


As France prepares to reduce its military presence in Mali, the Malian government has requested help from “a private Russian military company,” widely believed to be the Wagner Group.[2] It is likely that Mali will be the newest nation to see the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company (PMC), deployed to combat its growing insurgency problem. During bilateral talks in Moscow on November 11, 2021, the Malian government declared that the Malian State is under threat and that Russia is a trusted ally that can provide assistance.[3] The Russian government has agreed to send equipment and weaponry but will not be providing their troops to aid the counterinsurgency effort in Mali.[4] It is likely that the Russian government may utilize the Wagner Group to impose geopolitical power within Mali. If the Wagner Group enters the region, it is very likely France will reduce their activity in Mali even further. This will likely change the power dynamic within Mali as the Wagner Group will likely act in the interest of the Russian government despite their formal separation. It is likely that separating the group from the State itself will enable Russia to make geopolitical movements that would otherwise be considered threatening by the European Union (EU).


France has recently raised concerns over the involvement of the Wagner Group in Mali.[5] If Russia had directly deployed its troops to Mali, it is very likely that the actions would be condemned on an international scale; the utilization of PMCs in Mali will likely allow for the relationship between the two nations to increase whilst maintaining a level of plausible deniability to the international community. If no action is taken to assist the Malian government, there will likely be a rapid acceleration in Jihadist insurgency within the region. Operation Barkhane was established in 2014 by French forces with the intention of assisting the Sahel G5, Burkina-Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, in an autonomous counter insurgency operation against the Sahel’s growing Islamist threat.[6] Since French President Emmanuel Macron has stated that Operation Barkhane will end by 2022, it is very likely that the Malian armed forces are not in a position strategically or physically to handle the insurgency in the Sahel. If the insurgents respond to France’s withdrawal from Mali in a similar manner to the Taliban in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops, political instability is very likely to occur.


Geopolitics of Wagner Group involvement


The Wagner Group is reported to have been offered $10.8 million USD per month and access to three mining deposits within Mali for their services to the Malian government.[7] This money and access to mineral deposits will very likely come with very little international political backlash to Russia. This is due to the non-State affiliated status of the Wagner Group, which very likely allows the Russian government to be officially uninvolved, and deny being part in deals between the Wagner Group and the Malian government.[8] The EU has reacted to the possibility of the Wagner Group in Mali by drafting a number of economic sanctions to be imposed upon the Wagner Group.[9] However, it is very likely that the evidence gathering process required to enforce such sanctions will take longer than it will for the Wagner Group to deploy to Mali.


The potential deal between the Malian government and the Wagner Group is likely to disrupt French and European counterterrorism efforts in the country, as France issued an ultimatum forcing Mali to choose between the involvement of the Wagner Group and France.[10] The loss of French assistance in the region will likely lead to a larger shift in international cooperation as Russia will have an increased presence throughout Africa. If Mali develops a connection with Russia as a result of their aid in supplying equipment, as well as the efforts of the Wagner Group, it is likely that a partnership will develop between the two countries. This is likely to be facilitated by the general Malian view of Russia as a more neutral partner compared to France.[11] A partnership between Russia and Mali could include economic aid, which will likely further disrupt the cooperation between the EU and Mali, especially after France gave Mali an ultimatum forcing them to choose between the Wagner Groups’ aid or France’s.


Russian PMCs have been increasingly utilized as an asset to increase Russian geopolitical power and influence without engaging in conventional warfare tactics.[12] The Wagner Group will very likely be used as a vehicle to enlarge Russian influence in Mali. Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group are already physically present in several African countries, including Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Niger, among others where they exert a consistent ascendancy.[13] It is also believed that while this PMC is not directly affiliated with the Russian military, they may control the diamond and gold mines in Central Africa to extend Russia’s influence in the region.[14] It is very likely that such mercenary forces will deploy regardless of international condemnation. If the Wagner Group enters Mali it is likely other PMCs will try to enter other African countries, which could cause instability throughout the region given various PMCs history of war crimes and violence.


Impacts on Terrorism within Mali


It is very likely that the Wagner Group would assume a role of training Malian troops, which is a role the group has previously carried out in other deployments to Ukraine, Libya and other African nations.[15] France has recently discontinued its role in training the Malian armed forces as a part of its larger withdrawal campaign, leading to growing contempt towards the French presence.[16] This likely indicates that the Malian armed forces have been fighting a growing insurgency without the formal training it previously possessed, an opportunity Wagner Group will likely take advantage of. It is likely that any training received from the Wagner Group will positively impact the Malian effort to combat its insurgency.


Previously, the Wagner Group has faced issues when attempting to combat insurgencies; during the 2019 attacks carried out by Islamist insurgents in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, the Wagner Group were forced to withdraw due to being reportedly “out of their depth.”[17] There is currently little information that indicates if the result in Mali will differ or not. However, it is likely that the difference in the amount of Russian-provided equipment being supplied will allow the Wagner Group to have better success in Mali than they did in Mozambique. This is because it is very likely that the large amount of vehicles and weapons being provided to the Malian government will be available for use by Wagner Group paramilitaries.


While public opinion is divided towards a possible intervention from the Wagner Group, it is mostly united in sustaining French withdrawal.[18] This is also connected with the opinions of some Malian activists that the presence of French forces have been a catalyst for Islamist terrorists.[19] This is likely due to France’s opposition to any possibility of negotiations with jihadists.[20] It is likely that the removal of French troops from Mali will lead to a lower rate of jihadists attacks on other Western forces in the region. France’s withdrawal will also likely provoke a removal of troops by Germany and Estonia that serve as European forces on the territory. It is likely that a similar decision will be taken by the EU as a result.


Wagner Group and the Malian Population


While carrying out training and covert operations within the Central African Republic, the Wagner Group have been accused of carrying out multiple crimes against civilian and military populations.[21] These include lootings, executions, killings, and mass rapings.[22] If it were to occur, this behavior in Mali is very likely to destabilize the region further. It is likely that the local population will begin to view the Wagner Group with high levels of suspicion and contempt, leaving the population facing multiple actors that pose a threat to their livelihood. The Wagner Group also recruited and trained military forces in the Central African Republic and had them fight against any group that did not support the Russian presence in the region.[23] It is very likely this same pattern of violence will occur in Mali if the Malian government accepts the Wagner Group’s deal. It is very likely that the Wagner Group will adhere to Russian interests over the interests of Malian citizens, and only act to gain influence with the Malian government as they have done in the past in Central Africa.


The Wagner Group’s presence has been repeatedly linked to instability and wider conflict in nations such as Libya and the Central African Republic.[24] Allowing the Wagner Group to establish a level of control within Mali will very likely go back on previous efforts made by United Nations (UN) peacekeeping forces. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) currently assists with a wide range of humanitarian and human rights work in the country.[25] It will likely be affected by instabilities that have previously come with the Wagner Group presence. As the State of Mali currently faces deep-rooted political disruption, outside actors introducing new instabilities is very likely to generate further instability.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) will continue monitoring the situation in Mali and the Sahel in general and the eventual deployment of mercenaries from the Wagner Group into the State. The circumstances will be analyzed by the Weapons and Tactics (W&T) Team in cooperation with the AFRICOM Team, which focuses its research on Africa. Threat Hunters and Worldwide Analysis of Terrorism, Crime, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H.) Officers will continue to track related news and events.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is a subdivision of the global consulting firm Paladin 7. CTG has a developed business acumen that proactively identifies and counteracts the threat of terrorism through intelligence and investigative products. Business development resources can now be accessed via the Counter Threat Center (CTC), emerging Fall 2021. The CTG produces W.A.T.C.H resources using daily threat intelligence, also designed to complement CTG specialty reports which utilize analytical and scenario-based planning. Innovation must accommodate political, financial, and cyber threats to maintain a level of business continuity, regardless of unplanned incidents that may take critical systems offline. To find out more about our products and services visit us at counterterrorismgroup.com.

 

[1] "French Patrol in Mali" by Fred Marie Photographer licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

[2] The Wagner Group in Mali: Another Failed EU Strategy in Sahel?, Finabel, October 2021, https://finabel.org/the-wagner-group-in-mali-another-failed-eu-strategy-in-sahel/

[3] Mali says it may ask Russia for 'help' given current security situation, Reuters, November 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/mali-says-it-may-ask-russia-help-given-current-security-situation-2021-11-11/

[4] Moscow vows military support for Mali, denies links to Wagner mercenary group, France24, November 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/africa/20211111-moscow-vows-military-support-for-mali-denies-links-to-wagner-mercenary-group

[5] French ministers warn Russian counterparts about mercenaries in W. Africa, Reuters, November 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/french-ministers-warn-russian-counterparts-about-mercenaries-w-africa-2021-11-12/

[6] France ends West African Barkhane military operation, Reuters, June 2021 https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/france-announce-troop-reduction-sahel-operations-sources-2021-06-10/

[7] The Wagner Group has its eyes on Mali, Modern War Institute, October 2021, https://mwi.usma.edu/the-wagner-group-has-its-eyes-on-mali-a-new-front-in-russias-irregular-strategy/

[8] Russia shrugs off French concerns on possible mercenary deal with Mali, Reuters, November 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/russia-shrugs-off-french-concerns-possible-mercenary-deal-with-mali-2021-11-11/

[9] EU ready to support sanctions on Russian mercenaries, France says, Reuters, November 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/eu-ready-support-sanctions-russian-mercenaries-france-says-2021-11-15/

[10] France's defence minister warns Mali against hiring Russian 'mercenary' firm, France24, September 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/africa/20210921-france-s-defence-minister-warns-mali-against-hiring-russian-mercenary-firm

[11] Mali's plan for Russia mercenaries to replace French troops unsettles Sahel, BBC News, October 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-58751423

[12] “Russia’s Corporate Soldiers,” Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), July 2021, https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/210721_Jones_Russia%27s_Corporate_Soldiers.pdf?7fy3TGV3HqDtRKoe8vDq2J2GGVz7N586

[13] The Wagner Group in Mali: Another Failed EU Strategy in Sahel?, Finabel, October 2021, https://finabel.org/the-wagner-group-in-mali-another-failed-eu-strategy-in-sahel/.

[14] Who Blessed the Vlads Down in Africa?, Foreign Policy, September 2021 https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/09/24/russia-wagner-group-mali-africa-putin-libya/

[15] Band of Brothers: The Wagner Group and the Russian State, CSIS, September 2021, https://www.csis.org/blogs/post-soviet-post/band-brothers-wagner-group-and-russian-state

[16] After Barkhane: What France’s military drawdown means for the Sahel, ECFR, July 2021, https://ecfr.eu/article/after-barkhane-what-frances-military-drawdown-means-for-the-sahel/

[17] In Push for Africa, Russia's Wagner Mercenaries Are 'Out of Their Depth' in Mozambique, Moscow Times, November 2019, https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2019/11/19/in-push-for-africa-russias-wagner-mercenaries-are-out-of-their-depth-in-mozambique-a68220

[18] Mali's plan for Russia mercenaries to replace French troops unsettles Sahel, BBC News, October 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-58751423

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibid

[21] Russian mercenaries leave trail of destruction in the Central African Republic, Financial Times, October 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/020de965-429e-4fb9-9eed-f7e4370514b3

[22] Russia-Linked Wagner Group Committing Mass Atrocities Against Civilians in Central Africa, The Sentry, June 2021, https://thesentry.org/2021/06/14/6100/russia-linked-wagner-group-committing-mass-atrocities-civilians-central-africa/

[23] Ibid

[24] Malian government and the Wagner Group: Minister for Africa's statement, Gov.uk, September 2021, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/malian-government-and-the-wagner-group-minister-for-africas-statement

[25] The Wagner Group has its eyes on Mali, Modern War Institute, October 2021, https://mwi.usma.edu/the-wagner-group-has-its-eyes-on-mali-a-new-front-in-russias-irregular-strategy/

533 views