MALI – The French authorities were openly concerned on Tuesday, September 14, discussions between Bamako and the Russian private company Wagner, warning that a deployment of these paramilitaries in Mali could lead to a withdrawal of French troops, who have been fighting the groups there for eight years. jihadists.
An involvement of the Russian private company Wagner in Mali would be “incompatible” with the maintenance of a French force, warned Tuesday the head of French diplomacy, Jean-Yves Le Drian, before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly .
“It is absolutely irreconcilable with our presence” and “incompatible with the action of the Sahelian and international partners of Mali”, he insisted, stressing that the paramilitaries of Wagner “have distinguished themselves in the past, particularly in Syria. , in the Central African Republic, many with exactions, predations, violations of all kinds (and) cannot correspond to any solution ”.
“If the Malian authorities were to enter into a contract with the Wagner company, it would be extremely worrying and contradictory, inconsistent” with France’s action in the Sahel, had previously reacted the Minister of the Armies Florence Parly before the National Defense Commission of the Assembly.
The Wagner scenario
According to a French source familiar with the matter, the junta in power in Bamako is studying the possibility of concluding a contract with Wagner on the deployment of a thousand Russian paramilitaries in Mali in return for funds, to train its armed forces and ensure the protection of the leaders. From a West African security source, mining counterparts would be discussed. These sources confirmed information revealed by Reuters.
Asked by AFP, the Malian Ministry of Defense admitted to conducting talks with the sulphurous Russian company. “Mali now intends to diversify and in the medium term its relations to ensure the security of the country. We have not signed anything with Wagner, but we are discussing with everyone ”, he reacted.
If the Wagner scenario materializes, a rapid departure of French troops from Mali to neighboring Niger would be studied, a French source said.
Especially since in the event of Russian intervention in Mali, she is alarmed, “the United States would stop everything” on the spot, depriving France of crucial resources, and “certain European countries could also decide to withdraw. disengage ”, while Paris has struggled for two years to convince them to join the group of special forces Takuba, a force of 500 men dedicated to supporting Malian soldiers in combat.
The Wagner group, with which Moscow denies any link, provides maintenance services for military equipment and training but is also accused of mercenarism and suspected of belonging to a businessman close to the Kremlin, Yevgeny Prigojine.
French and Russian presence “incompatible”
Its men are already present in Africa: in Libya, they are said to be allies of Marshal Haftar, the strong man from the east of the country. Western media have reported a presence in Sudan and are said to have crossed into Mozambique. And at the start of 2018, the arrival of arms and dozens of Russian “military advisers” in the Central African Republic allowed Russia to make a spectacular return to the African theater, accompanied by a violent campaign of anti-French disinformation.
At the end of 2019, AFP revealed that a small team of Wagner had been seen in Bamako, shortly after the conclusion, in June 2019, of a military cooperation agreement between Mali then chaired by Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and the Russia, which has been engaged for a few years in an all-out charm operation in Africa.
The possible recourse to Wagner would come at a time when France, which still had some 5,000 soldiers in the Sahel in the summer, recently began to reduce its military apparatus, while intending to continue its counter operations. -terrorism but also its support for local armies.
From a source close to the executive, the arrival of Russian paramilitaries would constitute a yellow line for France, already scalded by a second coup d’état in a year in Mali, last May, and while Paris, like the ECOWAS, pushes the junta with difficulty to keep its commitment to organize elections in early 2022 to bring civilians back to power.
“We are not aware of a contract signing between Mali and the Wagner company” and “we did not act as an intermediary”, only commented to AFP a Russian diplomatic source in Bamako, while by stressing that “like France and other countries we are concerned about the security of the area”.
See also on The HuffPost: Macron will halve the French military presence in the Sahel