A video showing the landing of new Wagner paramilitary contractors (PMCs) in Mali has
surfaced online today, as Russia continues to spread its influence throughout the African
continent and especially the Sahel region.
The video from Russian state-owned media source Sputnik shows an official Malian delegation welcoming the PMCs in an airport. The Wagner forces, leaving a helicopter, are then met by Malian military and government officials.
Russia has been increasing its influence through its use of the Wagner Group, where
authoritarian African leaders are facing unrest, and since they cannot turn to Western
Democracies, they turn to Russia as a backer. The leaders are also dealing with anti-West
sentiment among the civilian populace, which they do not want to inflame by bringing UN
peacekeepers. The Wagner Group has been used in Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, Venezuela, and Mali.
The Wagner Group is used for highly-priority services, such as taking strategically important cities in the Syrian Civil War to being the personal bodyguards of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro during the height of protests against his regime. The forces were also being used in support of Khalifa Haftar during the Libyan Civil War as snipers and saboteurs. In Sudan, the Wagner Group was used as riot-control and to train the Sudanese military.
The Wagner Forces, while nominally do not have the support of the Russian government, are trained in Russian military camps and use Russian military transport aircraft for movement. The countries Wagner PMCs then trade the Wagner support in exchange for resource rights which then Russia takes control of.
However, it is strange that more Wagner forces are being sent to Africa instead of Ukraine,
where reportedly most of Wagner forces were recalled to fight in the lead up to the Invasion of Ukraine. According to The Times, 400 Wagner Group troops were reportedly used to attempt to assassinate Volodymyr Zelensky, one of two that the Ukrainian government blamed on the Wagner Group. As Russia increasingly suffers attrition of its forces, Wagner PMCs, which were used for specialized operations, are now being used for front-line service.
The Wagner Group has been accused of persistent human-rights abuses against the civilians in the countries it is deployed. Reports of looting, sexual abuse, massacres of civilians, and torture of POWs have all been attributed to the Wagner Group. The PMC is also frequently cited as harboring white-supremacists and Neo-Nazis. The groups founder and leader, Dimitry Utkin, reportedly wears a swatstika, SS lightning bolts, and the Nazi eagle as tattoos. The name “Wagner” is reportedly in reference to Adolf Hitler’s favorite classical composer.