Due to dissatisfaction over Western and UN efforts in Mali, Russia, and therefore Private Military Company (PMC) Wagner, have become a preferred military partner for the state’s armed forces (source). Western countries have raised concerns over Wagner’s activities in Mali since late 2021 (source). The Mali government, however, has not officially acknowledged the PMC’s presence in the country. Despite this, numerous reports and investigations have made clear that they are in operation (source). The government, instead, states that the Russian forces are simply ‘instructors’ for the Mali army (source). Reports indicate that Wagner mainly operates in the centre of Mali, including in the Segou and Mopti regions (source). Western intelligence services estimate that Wagner has deployed over 1000 personnel to Mali since 2021 (source). US intelligence has recently made allegations that Wagner is planning on sending weapons to Russian troops in Ukraine via Mali (source).
Key Judgement 1: It is likely that Russia’s growing partnership with Mali will lead to further arms sales and sustain Wagner’s presence.
Key Judgement 2: It is likely that, in the next 12 months, Wagner’s violence against civilians in Mali will spur recruitment for militia groups.
Key Judgement 3: It is highly likely that in the next 12 months, Wagner will transport weapons to Ukraine via Mali in a deal with Turkey’s arms industry.
KJ-1: It is likely that Russia’s growing partnership with Mali will lead to further arms sales and sustain Wagner’s presence.
a. An independent journalist posted a video on Twitter showing a delivery of military to Bamako, Mali (source). The post claimed that they delivered approximately 5000 vehicles to the Malian army from Russian forces. A news report confirms the video and states that a cargo plane from Russia to Mali delivered military vehicles (source).
b. The Mali government continues to be pro-Russian and is distancing itself from Western influences (source). The withdrawal of French operations from Mali contributed to this trend (source). Furthermore, last March, Mali banned broadcasts from French public media (source).
c. Mali seeks to reinforce economic cooperation with Russia in order to get preferential access to key markets (source)
d. Ties between Mali and the US have worsened over the past two years (source). For instance, President Biden suspended Mali’s free trade access to U.S. markets. Therefore, Mali does not have any good alternative security assistance to Wagner, as stated by Defense Analyst Raphael Parens.
e. In February 2023, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, promised continued military support for Mali (source).
f. Propaganda campaigns continue to be carried out, spreading a pro-Wagner message to gain public appeal (source). For instance, Russian disinformation campaigns in Mali spread anti-colonial messages and justify Russia’s presence in Ukraine (source).
KJ-2: It is likely that, in the next 12 months, Wagner’s violence against civilians in Mali will spur recruitment for militia groups.
a. In May 2023, the UN released a report after calling for an independent investigation into the extent of war crimes committed by Wagner forces in Mali (source). The UN report found that ‘foreign personnel’ perpetrated torture against civilians in Moura, Mali in March 2022 (source). Human Rights researcher Ousmane Diallo stated, “We all know that these people are members of the Wagner private military company” (source).
b. The UN estimated that Malian troops and Wagner forces killed 500 civilians during the Moura massacre (source).
c. Recent reports have shown that Malian troops and Wagner forces targeted the village of Adiora. Adiora is near Gossi in the Tombouctou region of Mali (source). The forces reportedly carried out an aerial bombardment on a market before intervening on the ground. Reports further suggest that only civilians were harmed.
d. Some Twitter users have reported atrocities committed by army personnel and Wagner forces near Gossi (source).
e. Local sources in Menaka state that on May 29, a physically disabled man was burnt alive in his home. Mali and Wagner’s forces have been accused of the attack (source).
f. Reports have suggested that civilian casualties by Wagner have given militant groups ammunition to stage retaliatory attacks and expand recruitment (source). This is supported by a Defense analyst who acknowledged that anti-government militant groups disseminate jihadist propaganda which emphasises groups massacred by Wagner.
KJ-3: It is highly likely that in the next 12 months, Wagner will transport weapons to Ukraine via Mali in a deal with Turkey’s arms industry.
a. On the 25th of May 2023, the US Treasury Department stated that Wagner employees have been attempting to acquire equipment in Mali for use in Ukraine (source).
b. A U.S. intelligence report, released in May 2023, found that Wagner would be willing to falsify paperwork in order to transit material acquisitions for Ukraine through Mali (source).
c. Leaked documents on the social media platform ‘Discord’ state that Mali’s transitional government confirmed that they could acquire arms from Turkey on behalf of Wagner (source). The document also shows that Russian mercenaries met with Turkish contacts at the beginning of February enquiring about ordering arms and equipment from Turkey to Mali.
d. Defence Analyst Raphael Parens has confirmed that Wagner does have a track record of illegally trans-shipping forestry and precious metals out of the Central African Republic via Cameroon and therefore it would not be uncharacteristic of Wagner to act in this way.
We have high confidence in KJ-2, moderate confidence in KJ-1, and low confidence in KJ-3. Our analysis is primarily based on think-tank reporting, documentation from ACLED, and social media sources. For KJ-3, we are assuming that Russia will continue supporting Wagner operations overseas even amid their tensions over Ukraine. Were this assumption proven to be incorrect, we would likely see Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin publicly speaking against President Putin. Further insight into President Putin’s relations with the Wagner group would reduce uncertainty.
Intelligence cut-off date: 13.06.2023