Add to that the climax of voices warning Mali’s interim government against brokering any deal to use the mercenaries of Russia’s Wagner Group to help US military officials with security and counter terrorism.
For weeks, American and French officials have publicly tried to prevent Mali leaders from moving forward with an alleged deal that would call for 1,000 mercenaries to train Mali’s military and provide security for senior officers. Wagner for $10.8 million per month.
Now, the Pentagon says such a deal could hurt Mali in a number of ways.
“Given the Wagner Group’s record, if these reports are accurate, any role of Russian mercenaries in Mali would exacerbate an already fragile and volatile situation,” US Defense Department spokeswoman Cindy King told VOA.
King also warned a deal between Mali and the Wagner group “will complicate the international response to government support.”
The US was providing training and other assistance to Mali as it tries to confront threats from various terrorist groups, including the Islamic State-affiliated IS-Greater Sahara and the al-Qaeda-linked Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam Wal-Musmin, which also known. as jnim.
But that support was suspended after the August 2020 coup, in which elements of the Mali military deposed the country’s elected leaders.
Most recently, France announced last June that it would bring home some 2,000 counter-terrorism forces stationed in Mali and neighboring countries.
Mali’s interim government has so far denied a deal with Russia’s Wagner Group, but the country’s prime minister told VOA last week that the actions of the US, France and others have left the interim government with few options. .
“The security situation is deteriorating day by day,” Choguel Maga told VOA in an interview on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
“We have to find new partners who can help,” he said. “We may seek a partnership with Russia or any other country.”
Some Western officials with knowledge of a possible deal between Mali and the Wagner group have called the possible deployment of Russian mercenaries “a genuine concern”.
Officials indicate what they describe as the destabilizing influence of about 2,000 Wagner mercenaries in the Central African Republic, where allegations of human rights abuses and exploitation are rampant.
Russia has denied any abuse by contractors there and welcomed talk of a possible deal between Mali’s interim government and Wagner.
“They are combating terrorism,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a news conference at the United Nations last week. “And they have turned to a private military company from Russia in connection with the fact that, as I understand it, France wants to significantly reduce its military component.”
“We have nothing to do with it,” Lavrov said, “at the government level, we are also contributing to providing Mali’s military and defense capabilities.”
However, many Western governments insist that there is little practical difference between the exploits of the Wagner Group run by the Kremlin and the Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin.
According to US intelligence officials, Prigozin, sometimes referred to as “Putin’s cook” because of his work at a catering company for Russian President Vladimir Putin, is believed to have extensive ties to Russia’s political and military establishment.
The US State Department approved Prigozhin and Wagner back in July 2020, as well as several major companies for the group’s operations in Sudan.