December 24 2021
Over a dozen Western powers on Thursday strongly condemned the deployment in Mali of Russian mercenaries working for the controversial company Wagner, accusing Moscow of providing material backing for the fighters.
Malians hold a photograph with an image of Colonel Assimi Goita, leader of Mali’s military junta, and Russia’s flag during a pro-Malian Armed Forces (FAMA) demonstration in Bamako, Mali, May 28, 2021. © Amadou Keita, Reuters
The powers, who included Canada, Germany, France and the UK, said they “firmly condemn the deployment of mercenary troops on Malian territory”.
It was one of the first official acknowledgements by Western capitals that the deployment of fighters is ongoing in Mali after months of warnings to the Bamako government.
“This deployment can only further deteriorate the security situation in West Africa, lead to an aggravation of the human rights situation in Mali (and) threaten the agreement for peace and reconciliation in Mali,” the 15 powers said.
Their statement said the powers “deeply regret” the choice of the Malian authorities to use “already scarce public funds” to pay foreign mercenaries instead of supporting the Malian armed forces.
In a stern message to Moscow, the statement added: “We are aware of the involvement of the Russian Federation government in providing material support to the deployment of the Wagner group in Mali and call on Russia to revert to a responsible and constructive behaviour in the region.”
Washington was not a signatory of the statement but US Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month warned Mali not to accept Wagner mercenaries, saying a deal would divert needed funds and further destabilise the country.
French President Emmanuel Macron was due to raise concerns about a Wagner deployment on a visit to Mali this week to meet for the first time with Colonel Assimi Goita, who took office in June after the country’s second coup in less than a year.
Macron’s trip was however scrapped in a cancellation Paris blamed on the Covid pandemic.
The Wagner Group has caused controversy through its involvement in Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic as well as the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
EU ministers in November agreed Monday to draw up more sanctions against Wagner.
Russia denies any government link with the Wagner Group but the unit has been linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman close to President Vladimir Putin who has been hit by separate sanctions over meddling in the 2016 US election.
Prigozhin, who has been dubbed “Putin’s chef” due to Kremlin catering contracts, denies any association with Wagner.
Mali is the epicentre of a jihadist insurgency that began in the north of the country in 2012 and spread three years later to neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso. France intervened in 2013 by deploying troops whose numbers are now being reduced.