Two of India’s greatest military allies – France and Russia are at odds in Africa. Recently, France warned the West African nation Mali against hiring Russian private security firm Wagner after reports suggested that the tiny country is close to ‘hiring’ thousand mercenaries.
Appearing before a parliamentary commission, French defense minister Florence Parly said if Mali entered into a contract with Wagner, “it would be extremely worrying and contradictory.”
“It is incoherent with everything that we have done for years and we intend to do to support the countries of the Sahel region,” she said, according to French news agency AFP.
Her remarks came days after Reuters reported that the Wagner Group would be paid about $10.8 million a month for its services. However, a spokesperson for the Malian Defense Ministry said that while the government is yet to sign a deal with Wagner, but did not reject that the negotiations were going on.
In 2013, Paris deployed soldiers to Mali after unrest broke out in the north of the country. But ties between the two deteriorated following a coup in August 2020 which toppled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
France suspended military cooperation with Mali in June and French President Emmanuel Macron affirmed that he will close bases in northern Mali and cut down the presence of French troops in the Sahel region.
The growing influence of Russian paramilitary companies and advisers has been witnessed in the Central African Republic, to the dismay of France. Forces from Wagner are also reportedly present in Libya, Sudan and Mozambique.
More than a dozen people with ties to the Wagner Group told Reuters it has carried out clandestine missions on Moscow’s behalf in Ukraine, Libya and Syria. Russian authorities rejected the allegations.
“[The Russians] try to fill the gap to counter geopolitically French influence in West Africa,” said FRANCE 24’s Payen. “In the [neighboring] Central African Republic, there is really a proxy war in the field because Wagner is taking care of the presidential security against the French, so it’s contaminating the relations between the two countries.”
“It’s turned very nasty on the ground between Russian and French diplomats,” Payen continued. “The idea is just to grab power for not too much because Wagner is used to, for example, taking care of mining companies to get money from the governments and France is not doing the same.”
Growing Concerns About Wagner Group
Earlier in June, Director-General of the EU Military Staff Vice Admiral Herve Blejean said he had urged the President of the Central African Republic (CAR) Faustin-Archange Touadera to end the association with the Russian paramilitary organization Wagner during a meeting.
“I was in the Central African Republic last week, and I saw Wagner. I saw that on the field. They are everywhere,” Blejean said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum.
“I have discussed that [Wagner presence] a lot with President Touadera last week and I told him ‘you have to acknowledge it is not a viable solution… When things will be done, you will have no control on Wagner and you will have lost some sovereignty to them and it’s not acceptable… you have to stop that too, you have to change your model and we can help you to do that with UN, EU, US partners, African partners…”
According to Blejean, Wagner forces bring nothing but atrocities and human rights violations to CAR and their aim is to extract natural resources in return for their military support.
Earlier, United Nations (UN) Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean Pierre Lacroix said he was very concerned by the allegations of human rights violations perpetrated by Russian military personnel in CAR.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov strongly rejected the allegations in the UN report published. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, there are more than 500 Russian instructors currently working in the CAR with the authorization of the UN Security Council.