Sunday

25th Feb 2024

'Hundreds' of Russian mercenaries in Mali, EU confirms

  • The EU has been training Malian soldiers for years (Photo: eutmmali.eu)
Listen to article

Russia already has "hundreds" of mercenaries in Mali, but there was no sign they were using EU-trained Malian soldiers, the EU foreign service has said.

"The presence of mercenaries from the Wagner Group is now confirmed by several sources. We understand that, so far, several hundreds of mercenaries are deployed in Bamako and in the centre of the country," an EU spokesperson told EUobserver on Monday (17 January).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • France had led Euopean military effort in former colony (Photo: eutmmali.eu)

"Based on precedents in other countries, it is our opinion that this presence will only aggravate the crisis and pose serious risks to human rights," they added.

Wagner Group is a Kremlin-linked mercenary force named after the military call-sign of its founder, Dimitriy Utkin, a Russian former special-forces officer.

The mention of "precedents" referred to the Central African Republic (CAR), Libya, Syria, and east Ukraine, where Utkin personally and his men stand accused of atrocities by the UN and EU.

The EU recently folded a military-training mission in CAR after it emerged that at least one EU-trained CAR battalion was fighting under Wagner Group's command for the sake of "predating" the country's mineral wealth.

The EU also has two military training and advisory missions in Mali - EUTM Mali and EUCAP Sahel Mali.

These have stayed open, alongside an EU embassy in Bamako, despite a putsch in May last year.

"For the time being, there is no indication that EU-trained Malian soldiers are being used by Wagner," the EU foreign service told EUobserver.

But "the possibility of Malian soldiers operating alongside or under the control of Wagner mercenaries is a very serious concern, whether the units have been trained or not by EUTM Mali. This point will therefore be closely monitored," the spokesperson added.

The EU missions were "continuing their advisory and training activities" and the EU embassy was still "engaging with the authorities", the spokesperson said.

But the EU might have to "adapt their posture, depending of the evolution of the situation", the foreign service said.

The EU missions were meant to help the Malian military to fight jihadist insurgents.

EU states also have soldiers in the so-called Takuba and Minusma international forces in the region.

But France was drawing down numbers, leaving what Russia's ambassador to the EU recently called a "security vacuum".

And Sweden might pull out of Minusma due to Wagner Group.

"It is our opinion that the EU should remain engaged militarily in the Sahel because the terrorist threat has not disappeared, to the contrary," the EU foreign service told this website.

"But it is clear that, collectively with our member states, we will need to re-adjust what we do in Mali given the current circumstances," it added.

In the meantime, EU countries are preparing to blacklist Malian individuals and entities linked to the junta.

They are also planning wider sanctions to "align" with those of the Economic Community of West African States, which recently imposed a travel and economic blockade on their neighbour.

Wagner Group's arrival in Mali comes amid high tension between Nato and Russia in a return to Cold War-type geopolitics.

"We are witnessing a growing presence of our strategic competitors from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa," the EU foreign service recently said in its draft 'Strategic Compass', a defence white paper.

Some of the Mali coup plotters were trained in Russia and Russian geologists have conducted field missions in Mali, according to reports.

And when asked by EUobserver if to leave Mali would be to hand it to Wagner Group and Russia on a silver platter, the EU spokesperson said: "We are and want to remain engaged in Mali and in the Sahel".

"We do not speculate on future potential decisions," they added.

Revealed: EU migration plans for Morocco, Libya and others

Leaked commission documents, dated earlier this month, outline draft migration proposals on Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. They also provide insights into bilateral moves by individual EU states.

EU blacklists Mali's prime minister

The EU has blacklisted Mali's prime minister for postponing elections, risking a fresh tantrum from a junta with ever-closer Russia ties.

Feature

Only Palestinians paying thousands of dollars leave Gaza

Despite the high risk of dying from war, starvation or disease, Gazans are still not allowed to enter Egypt. Except those who bribe the authorities. And the EU mission EUBAM Rafah cannot be deployed due to security reasons.

Latest News

  1. EU rewards Tusk's Poland on rule of law with €137bn
  2. UK-EU relations defrosting ahead of near-certain Labour win
  3. EU paid Russia €420-per-capita for fossil fuels since war began
  4. After two years of war, time to hit Putin's LNG exports
  5. Creating the conditions for just peace in Ukraine
  6. Energy and minerals disputes overshadow new EU-ACP pact
  7. Germany speeds up Georgia and Morocco asylum returns
  8. How Amazon lobbyists could be banned from EU Parliament

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us