The coincidence is fortuitous and nevertheless significant: on the very day of the withdrawal of the French military from Mali, Vladimir Putin Tuesday launched a new charge against the “destabilizing” actions of the West in Africa and on other continents. France was not mentioned and the Kremlin did not immediately react to the arrival, in neighbouring Niger, of the last detachment of the Barkhane force present until then on the base of Gao, in Mali. The event, however, marks a symbolic step in Moscow's all-out offensive on the continent.
From now on, instead of the French military force which at one time numbered more than 5,000 soldiers, a few hundred mercenaries from the Wagner group – there were around 300 in Mali at the start of 2022 – are on the front line against the various jihadi groups raging in this region. part of the Sahel. Through these soldiers of fortune, can Moscow succeed where the French – and the Europeans – have failed?
The Islamist Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, linked to al Qaeda, announced that it killed four paramilitaries from the Russian private armed militia Wagner in an ambush in Central Mali, reported France Press. Two local representatives and a hospital source confirmed the news.
The ambush took place on Saturday in the Bandiagara area. A group of mercenaries from “Wagner” have gone out on motorcycles and headed for the nearby mountains. There they ran into the ambush in which four Russians were killed.
Why Russians in Mali
Mali’s junta has turned to what it says are instructors from Russia to support it in the context of the deteriorating security situation. Paris and Washington refer to these instructors as mercenaries of the “Wagner” group.
On Monday, France, with its military fighting the Muslim terrorists for 9 years, said it had withdrawn its last soldier from Mali because of deteriorating relations with Bamako’s rulers. Among the reasons for the worsening of relations was the invitation to “Wagner” to deploy in Mali. After almost a decade of being based in Mali to fight Islamist rebels around West Africa, France and its military allies have moved to Niger to continue their mission. “France remains committed in the (wider region) Sahel, in the Gulf of Guinea and the Lake Chad region with all partners committed to stability and the fight against terrorism,” the French presidency said in a statement.
Coups in Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso have weakened France’s alliances in its former colonies and emboldened Muslim terrorists who control large swathes of the three countries. About French soldiers are based in the Niger capital, Niamey, along with warplanes, drones and helicopters, French officials told reporters last month. Another 300-400 people will be sent for special operations with the troops of Niger in the border areas with Burkina and Mali.
Between 700 and 1,000 more commandos will be based in Chad, as well as an undisclosed number of special forces operating elsewhere in the region.
Role of Germany in the Mali situation
Last week, Germany ended its military mission in support of the United Nations in the African country because of a dispute with the authorities, who once again refused to allow a plane to bring a replacement for the German contingent.
Last Friday, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht announced the suspension of German peacekeeping operations in Mali under the United Nation’s MINUSMA mission. According to a statement from the minister released by the German defence ministry on Twitter:
Germany and its partners have faced serious problems from Mali’s government ever since the May 2021 coup which brought Mali military leaders into power. The coup leaders, hostile to France which had up to that point been the leading foreign contributor to security in Mali, instead turned to Russia and Russian Private Military Companies for support. Just this April, despite the ongoing war in Ukraine, Mali received two Mi-24 helicopters from Russia.
Opposition to the UN, French and other European peacekeeping and security forces by coup leaders have led to a steady decline of their presence and role in Mali. Repercussions were immediate, with France halting all combat operations at the time of the coup, but the decline of European and UN engagement in Mali did not happen overnight. This January, Denmark withdrew its special forces from the country and it was only in February that France declared its plans to withdraw all forces from Mali. This French withdrawal only concluded this week with official French statements informing that the last French units had withdrawn over the border into Niger as of 15 August.
The current government of Mali seems to be content with these recent developments with DW quoting one government representative as saying:
With the exit of Germany and France from Mali and the lack of cooperation from the local government, it is not unlikely that other MINUSMA members will also decide to withdraw their contingents in the coming months. While this may help the Mali government solidify its authority, it will certainly be to the detriment of international and Malian efforts to counter the terrorist threat which has been destabilizing both the country and the region.