Paris threatens to withdraw its forces and units of its European and African allies from Mali. The Central African Republic scenario is repeated in Mali, and Russia seeks to expel France from the Sahel
As expected, Russia, through the Wagner security company, is preparing to fill the vacuum of the gradual French withdrawal from northern Mali, but Paris appears resentful of any role for Wagner mercenaries in one of the most traditional African countries under its influence.
While Mali’s putschists, led by Colonel Asimi Guetta, are trying to respond to France’s decision to withdraw its forces from the north of the country in early 2022, and end the Barkhane military operation in the Sahel, by seeking to compensate them with about a thousand fighters from the Russian “Wagner”.
French media accuses Malian Defense Minister Sadio Camara, who was trained in Russia, of leading negotiations to bring in 1,000 Wagner mercenaries.
In this regard, Camara has visited Russia several times, since the first coup led by Guetta in August 2020, according to the French “Mondavrik” website.
While Reuters says, the negotiations between Bamako and Wagner are “very advanced”.
Wagner operatives are expected to train (and accompany) the Malian army and ensure the protection of senior officials, as they do in the Central African Republic.
But the return will be expensive for a poor country such as Mali, where Wagner is negotiating to obtain 6 billion CFA francs ($10.8 million) and the rights to exploit several mineral mines, including gold, and this is what hinders the signing of the agreement.
According to a statement by a “high-ranking” French source, to the “Mondavric” website, the Malians believe that the financial compensation is “too high”, so “nothing has been signed yet.”
However, the Ministry of Defense Finance denied being aware of “such an agreement”, but announced that it was open to talks with everyone.
And this is a message from Bamako, to Paris, that it also has pressure cards and alternatives in case it decides to withdraw its forces and leave them alone in the face of terrorist organizations that are massively active in the north and center of the country.
The putschists in Mali were subjected to severe criticism from Paris, which suspended its military cooperation with them for a short period after the second coup of Guetta, last May, and also tightened the noose politically and diplomatically.
The putschists are looking for realistic alternatives to confront the French pressure, and Wagner represents one of these alternatives to save their country from a security collapse at the hands of terrorist and separatist groups.
It is not excluded that the attempted assassination of Gueta, on July 20, contributed to the acceleration of the negotiations with Wagner.
The leader of the putschists in Mali needs special protection from professional fighters, in order to face the dangers that threaten his life, from several hostile parties, in a turbulent security and economic light.
And if France and its allies decide to withdraw quickly from Mali, the putschists will find no solution but to fall into the arms of Wagner.
** European pressure on Bamako
The decline of French influence in Mali in favor of Russia, is not a result of today, but was preceded by loud demonstrations in Bamako even before the August 2020 coup, calling for Paris to leave, and calling for its replacement in cooperation with Russia.
Therefore, the atmosphere is prepared for Moscow, popularly and officially, for a military presence through the Wagner Company, especially since Bamako had solid military cooperation with the Soviet Union after its independence from France in 1960, especially during the era of President Modibo Keita (1960-1968).
Paris did not delay in expressing its concern about the cooperation of the Malian coup plotters with Wagner, and threatened to withdraw its forces quickly from the country.
On Tuesday, before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly (the first chamber of Parliament), French Foreign Minister Jean-Epp Le Drian considered that Wagner’s participation in Mali would be “incompatible” with maintaining a French force.
“It can’t be reconciled with our presence at all,” Le Drian said, hinting at the possibility of withdrawing the entire French military force from the whole of Mali, not just the north.
There are 5,100 French soldiers on the coast, and last June, Paris decided to end the Barkhane military operation and reduce the number of its soldiers by half.
Le Drian also warned that Wagner’s participation in military operations against armed organizations in Mali “is incompatible with the work of Mali’s coastal and international partners,” referring to the possibility of the G5 Sahel (Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, in addition to Mali) withdrawing its forces from the country, in addition to European special forces represented in Operation “Takuba”.
Chad is almost the only country in the G5 Sahel whose forces are present in Mali in the three-border area shared with Niger and Burkina Faso, which it has recently cut in half, after it reached 1,200 soldiers last February.
Germany also threatened to withdraw its forces from Mali, amounting to 1,500 soldiers within the “Takuba” operation, as well as within the international forces in the north of the country.
And German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer warned, on Twitter, that “if the Malian government signs such agreements with Russia, it contradicts everything that Germany, France, the European Union and the United Nations did in Mali 8 years ago,” and “will question” the mandate of German army in Mali.
These French-German pressures, which Chad may join, would either undermine the financial agreement with Wagner, or a quick withdrawal of the French and European Takoba forces, as well as Chadian units from the country, to create a security vacuum that is difficult for the Malian military authorities to fill, even if they reached an agreement with Chad. Wagner.
This would affect the international forces in northern Mali, which include German and Chadian forces, which may be exploited by terrorist groups loyal to al-Qaeda or ISIS to double their operations against government forces.
Not to mention the suspension of financial support and humanitarian aid to the Bamako authorities, with the aim of stifling the coup regime, and pushing it to either abdicate or collapse.
** Wagner crawls towards the coast
Wagner was expected to arrive in Mali, since French military officials announced their desire to withdraw from the Sahel region in December 2020.
The Central African Republic scenario is about to be repeated in Mali.
After France ended the military operation “Sangaris” in the Central African Republic in 2016 after its launch in 2013, Russia rushed to fill the void by sending about a thousand Wagner personnel, according to the “Africa Report” website.
Wagner trained the Presidential Guard and the army, protects VIPs in the Central African Republic, and participates in security operations against the rebels.
Moscow also sent heavy weapons to the capital, Bangui, in exchange for mining rights in several mines in the country.
Wagner is also present in Libya, and has military bases in the cities of Sirte and Al-Jafra in the center of the country, and it has a presence in the Fezzan region in the southwest, which France considers its historical area of influence, and Libya’s gateway to the Sahel countries, especially Niger and Chad.
Sudan is one of the countries in which Wagner is active in the field of mining and prospecting for gold, but it has a limited security presence in the country, especially during the era of the Omar al-Bashir regime.
Wagner’s spread in the countries surrounding the Sahel region, paves the way for its incursion into the region from Mali, but France does not show a quick desire to give up this region easily, which may postpone its withdrawal from it, or it will leave it collapse under the strikes of terrorist organizations and separatist movements.