Mali – Mali has triggered a storm in the Sahel region by its discussions over replacing the celebrated French troops with Russian mercenaries. The government is currently in talks with Wagner group, a Russian private military company that was first identified in 2014 when it supported pro-Russian groups during the conflict with eastern Ukraine. Since then it has been actively involved in countries like Syria, Libya, Sudan, and Mozambique. But many Malians feel that the decision of replacing French troops has been taken too soon.
French troops were celebrated across Mali when they first arrived in 2013 to counter Islamist militants who had threatened to seize control of the entire country. But the relationship between the two countries soon turned to a brawl when French President Emmanuel Macron announced cutting down the size of 5000 French soldiers to half. Mali Prime Minister Choguel Maiga then accused France of abandoning his country.
This infuriated France with its Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly accusing the government of Mali of “wiping your feet on the blood of French soldiers”. Despite of two coup attempts in less than a year of Mali’s military government, the majority of Malians have turned against the presence of French troops in the country.
French troops have been accused of failing to make any difference with their presence in region – its been eight years since French troops arrived but different jihadist groups like IS and al-Qaeda have spread to Sahel region nations like Burkina Faso and Niger.
How will Russia be different from France in Mali
Russia is projected to have a neutral presence in Mali. Oumar Cissé, a prominent peace campaigner in the restive Mopti region said, “Russia has no interest in Malian politics unlike France, which manages the conflict according to its economic and political interests.”
Some activists say that French troops prolonged the jihadist presence in the region with their opposition of negotiating with militants. Malians and Mali government, however, favored negotiations. But opinions over working with Wagner mercenaries are different. The Coordination of the Movements of the Azawad (CMA), a coalition of former Arab and
Tuareg rebels in northern Mali have said working with the Russian mercenaries would be a threat to 2015 peace deal. Russia has been an easy choice for Mali giving close ties between nations in recent years. On Thursday, four Russian military helicopters arrived in Mali. Replacing French troops with Russian mercenaries is also said to be advantageous to the Mali’s interim government – a convenient ‘excuse’ for the government to extend its term