AFRICA ( Commonwealth Union) _ The US State Department recently stated that the Wagner mercenary group from Russia has plans to transport weapons to Ukraine through its operations in Mali, a landlocked country in Africa’s Sahel region. Since a military coup in May 2021, Mali has been governed by a military junta led by Colonel Assimi Goita, which strained its relationship with France, a long-standing ally. This resulted in the withdrawal of French troops who had been combating terrorist groups in Mali for over nine years.
Taking advantage of the situation, Wagner deployed several hundred troops to the capital, Bamako, in February 2022, supposedly to train Mali’s struggling army. However, the United Nations claims that Wagner troops were involved in a massacre of at least 500 people near the village of Mouri in Mali’s Mopti region, just a month after their arrival. Wagner’s presence in Mali is likely funded through gold mining licenses, similar to its operations in Sudan and the Central African Republic, which contribute to financing its activities in Ukraine.
The US State Department has indicated that Wagner may be attempting to acquire military systems from foreign suppliers and using Mali as a transit point. The American ambassador to South Africa accused the Pretoria government of supplying arms to Russia after a sanctioned Russian ship, the Lady R, docked in a South African naval yard.
South Africa denied the accusation but did not provide an explanation for the ship’s presence. The close relationship between South Africa and Moscow has raised concerns, particularly regarding South Africa’s membership in the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a law that grants favorable trade access to US markets for certain African countries. South Africa’s AGOA membership is due for renewal in 2025 and is at risk, partly due to its reluctance to confirm whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend a BRICS summit scheduled for August.
Russia’s increasing involvement across Africa since the 2014 invasion of Crimea has alarmed Western powers, who suspect that Russian entities under sanctions may be employing illicit means to transport goods, minerals, and money, evading international sanctions.