Many Russian military trainers have deployed to Mali in recent weeks, especially in the Timbuktu base (north), which French soldiers recently left, according to Malian military officials, in light of tension with international partners who accuse Moscow of deploying mercenaries in the country.
One of those officials responded positively to the possibility that there are now about 400 such trainers across the country.
In Mali, for example, there were Russian military personnel who maintained equipment, but they were not so marked.
The supposed arrival of a number of Russian trainers reinforces suspicions that the financial authorities will resort to the services of the controversial Wagner paramilitary group, despite Bamako’s denials. Suspicions are growing given the murky links between Wagner and Moscow.
Confirmations of their presence
A Western security official, an African diplomat working in Bamako, and an elected local official confirmed the presence of Russian mercenaries, and asked not to reveal their identities due to the sensitivity of the issue.
And about 15 Western partners of Mali reported at the end of last December that Wagner had begun to deploy in the country with the support of Moscow. Mali has been experiencing a deep security and political crisis since the outbreak of an armed separatist movement in the north in 2012, followed by an ongoing rebellion.
The financial authorities that came after two coups in August 2020 and May 2021 have so far denied the spread of Wagner or even the conclusion of an agreement with it, and confirm the presence of Russian coaches similar to European coaches.
The strengthening of cooperation with Russia coincides with France’s restructuring of its deployment in Mali and its beginning to reduce the Barkhane force, whose number will decline from about 5,000 members in the Sahel region in the summer of 2021 to about 3,000 in the summer of 2022.
Barkhane recently handed over 3 bases in the north of the country to the Malian army, the last of which was a base in Timbuktu that was handed over in mid-December.
A Malian official said that Russian trainers had recently arrived in Timbuktu to accompany the delivery of Russian helicopters.
Russian and non-Russian
Another Mali official, who also asked not to be named, confirmed the presence of “Russian military trainers” in several areas of Mali.
“You talk about mercenaries, and that’s your business. In our eyes, they are Russian trainers,” the chief financial officer added.
A Western security official spoke of the spread of a few hundred Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Company on the Malian lands between the center and the north.
He referred to two recent incidents, namely, the injury of a Wagner member by a mine explosion in the center of the country at the weekend, and the unprecedented protest of the Malian authorities against the flight of a plane belonging to the United Nations Force in Mali (MINUSMA) over the Sofara camp (center).
It was not possible to obtain an official Russian response. The Kremlin has repeatedly stressed that Wagner is a private company and has nothing to do with it.
A financial official confirmed that MINUSMA had been contacted “to strongly demand that its aircraft not fly over our camp in Suvara.”
When asked about the accident in which Russia was allegedly injured, the spokesman for the French Army Chief of Staff, Colonel Pascal Iani, said he could not comment, and Iani added to reporters, “We are in completely separate areas, so the Barkhane force is not concerned with this accident, if it happened.” Really”.
But an influential local official in a town in central Mali confirmed that explosive devices had hit and may have killed Russian mercenaries. And he added, “I am on the ground. There are trainers and mercenaries, Russian and non-Russian, working for their benefit.”
A senior French diplomat said today, Friday, that work is underway to assess the dimensions and impact of Wagner’s activities. He said this deployment remains “unacceptable” because it “leads to a new security threat” but would not necessarily lead to France’s withdrawal.
And he believed that the “illegal” military council sought to intervene Wagner “to save itself,” according to him.