Russian military firm in Mali could destabilise fight against terrorism, US claims

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  • The US is concerned about a Russian military company allegedly operating in Mali.
  • The US has rallied behind the Economic Community of West African States' (ECOWAS) decision to place Mali under sanctions for failure to hold general elections.
  • Mali's political stability is critical in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel region.   

The US says the alleged involvement of a Russian private military company, the Wagner Group, in Mali, will further destabilise the fight against terrorism in the Sahel region of Africa.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price, in a press statement issued on Tuesday, raised concern about "the likely destabilising impact of Russian-backed Wagner Group forces in Mali".

In December last year, a group of 15 western powers involved in the fight against jihadists in the region said they had observed Russian artillery arriving in Bamako, the capital city as well as mercenaries working for the Wagner Group and called on Russia to "revert to a responsible and constructive behaviour in the region".

But the largely military transitional government of Mali on Christmas Eve argued that it was Russian trainers who had arrived in the country to strengthen the capacity of the Malian national army.

READ | Sanctions-hit Mali facing isolation as neighbours cancel flights

Political stability in Mali was a key element for mainly the US, Canada, Germany, France and Britain - countries at the forefront of suppressing an insurgency that began in northern Mali in 2012.

The insurgency had since spread to Niger and Burkina Faso.

The situation was made worse by the Malian transitional government's refusal to hold general elections that were due next month.

Now hard-pressed to allow the democratic process to take its course, Mali had been put under sanctions by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

ECOWAS member states closed land and air borders with Mali, frozen Mali state assets in commercial banks and suspended "non-essential" financial transactions.

Since jihadist operatives thrived in countries where there were weak and corrupt state institutions, the US feared a delayed return to democracy would give terror groups space to grow.

Hence, Price said the US "commends the strong actions" taken by the regional bloc.

"We share ECOWAS's deep disappointment with the transition government of Mali's lack of action or progress toward organising elections, as it committed to do following the August 2020 coup d’état. We support ECOWAS's decision to impose additional economic and financial sanctions to urge the transition government to keep its pledge to the Malian people to return their country to democracy," Price added.

Like Zimbabwe, Mali insisted the sanctions were illegal.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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