The Russian deployment in Mali continues to expand with reports of Russian soldiers and private military contractors occupying a former French base. This occupation of the base has been preceded in recent months by various diplomatic actions conducted by the Kremlin and should come as no surprise to anybody who follows the situation in the Sahel.
Back in September, the Russians deployed private military contractors (PMCs) from the Wagner Group to the country, which was heavily protested by the French who had, at the time, recently suspended their operations due to a coup d’etat in Bamako. With the PMCs present the spread of the Russian sphere of influence into Mali was only a question of time.
On 6 January, Reuters reported on the Russian trainers entering a military base abandoned by the French in Timbuktu. The strength of this particular expeditionary unit is unknown, it has been estimated that approximately 1,000 members of Wagner Group were sent to Mali earlier in 2021.
Mali officials previously accused the French of abandoning them after the coup and continued seeking help from abroad. The Kremlin was the first to respond to Bamako’s search for an ally. Mali’s new government depends heavily on external intervention to maintain stability and order in the region. In recent years activities of various rebel groups, including the infamous ISIS (Islamic State in the Greater Sahara) have posed a severe threat to Bamako’s control over the region.
The Kremlin remains silent on the recent events in Mali and it is doubtful that any comments will be published in the near future. The influx of Wagner’s mercenaries amid the French withdrawal fills an inevitable power vacuum in the region. Given the groups past human rights abuses it is a worrying development for the already unstable region. Further expansion of the Russian influence may be seen in the coming months as relations between Mali and Russia continue to solidify. It remains to be seen if the situation in West Africa will have any impact on the tense situation in Europe.
Header: File photo from 2016 Russian drills in South Africa provided by the Russian Ministry of Defense